Anecdotal evidence from teachers suggests that rising numbers of girls are beginning puberty in primary school, yet there is still no statutory obligation to provide sex education to the under-11s.

Anecdotal evidence from teachers suggests that rising numbers of girls are beginning puberty in primary school, yet there is still no statutory obligation to provide sex education to the under-11s.

Children grow up in a highly explicit culture where sex is used to sell everything. Television soaps and dramas regularly have people falling into bed with one another without discussing the rudiments of contraceptive planning.

The limited sex education children get at home and at school does little. Most explanations focus on biology. Few help young people to explore sexual feelings and the difficulties they face with forming and breaking relationships, or saying "no" to sex.

Research into sex education consistently finds that it does not lead to earlier sexual activity. A Dutch girl under 16 is five times less likely to have a baby than her British counterpart even though sex education is explicit in the Netherlands and the age of consent is 12.

Yet we still think there is something smutty about sex. The most liberal parents find it hard to talk about sexual matters with their children. Many excuse this abandonment of responsibility with "they know it all anyway" or "they pick it up from their friends or the telly".

Well, they don't. Dozens of unanswered questions mill around young people's heads. "Why do people have sex?" Or: "Can I get pregnant from a blow job?" In one survey, 25 per cent of pupils aged 14 to 16 thought the Pill gave protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

A quick explanation at home or a video at school is never going to give them the whole picture. Adults feel uncomfortable discussing sex with children but we are failing the young badly by refusing to prepare them adequately. Good sex education is every child's right, as vital for a healthy, happy adult life as learning to read or understanding a balanced diet.

The Terrible Teens: What Every Parent Needs to Know, by Kate Figes, published by Viking on 13 June at £9.99

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