Teen love gets serious

Children are having sex younger than ever. So why do so many not use contraception? Ann Treneman finds out
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Indy Lifestyle Online
EVERY morning 13-year-old Aaron Melville gets up and watches Teletubbies with the prospective mother of his child, 16-year-old Susan Turner. Sometimes they join the Teletubbies in having a bit of toast. Then Aaron goes to school and Susan settles down in front of the television. "Susan loves cartoons," says Aaron, who is saving pounds 5 out of his pocket money every week for the baby.

Their story should have been just another childhood romance. Aaron teased Susan - a classmate at Bell Baxter School in Cupar, Fife - about her shoes. "He'd run along the corridor shouting `shiny shoes, shiny shoes'," says Susan. "I liked him. He was really cute." So cute, in fact, that they started going out together. They say things went slow at first. "We started going out on 28 February, we first kissed at the end of March. Things didn't get really serious until May," says Aaron. Things got really serious, though, after Susan got pregnant during a caravanning holiday.

Their parents were shocked - though they too had been on that caravanning holiday - not at the sex but at the lack of contraception. "I thought they were using contraception," says Aaron's mum. But, Susan explains, she wasn't on the Pill and she hates condoms. Now she is busy drawing up a schedule for Aaron to follow after the baby arrives at the two-bedroom council house they share with Aaron and his parents in Auchtermuchty.

They told their story yesterday to the Daily Mail. It was a good day to do so, for, running alongside, was the paper's lead story of the day, headlined "One in 10 Girls on Pill by 15". Clearly Susan was one of the nine who wasn't. As such, she provided a welcome blast of reality to match the Mail's blast of morality.

No parent likes to think that their child is having sex, and yet Brook Advisory Centres say that the age at which young people today report their first experience of sex is 14 for girls and 13 for boys. (The age at which a majority of 16 to 24-year-olds lost their virginity was 17, however).

Reasons for this vary from the fact that puberty arrives earlier these days - many eight-year-old girls are now considered pre-pubescent - to the fact that we live in a "Wonderbra" society where sex is used to sell everything from ice cream to insurance. Teenage magazines are bursting with advice on the subject (as well as featuring some rather inventive sexual positions to have a go at). Sex and young girls is everywhere. In fact, if you had turned a few pages in yesterday's Mail you would have found another example in a story about a 12-year-old model in full make- up and very few clothes. "What kind of mother would allow a daughter of 12 to pose like this?" asked the headline.

Good question - though it must be said that the paper did run a rather large picture of said daughter - and many of the same people I spoke to yesterday who thought it only sensible that young girls having sex obtain contraception were much less comfortable with the idea of a 12-year-old in sexy clothing. But, though that is an extreme example, today's teenagers do grow up in a sex-saturated world and it is hardly surprising that they are so keen to try it.

"We have a snigger approach to sex," says Phillip Hodson, agony uncle and author of the book What Kids Really Want to Know About Sex. "We make it sound so interesting. I mean, what are we talking about here? There are something like 42 basic positions and only so many things you can do. You can reduce this whole thing to a matter of boredom if you try. Instead we give it all of these almost magical properties."

The Mail, however, lives in a much simpler world, though it is not necessarily an accurate one. The Department of Health yesterday had tracked down the study used in the contraception story and said the figures were released three weeks ago. It showed that 59,000 girls under the age of 15 - i.e. one in 10 - did make contact with a family planning clinic. But, of those, only 23,000 actually sought advice on the Pill and other methods. "That means that 3.9 per cent of under 16s or, to be precise, one in 25.5 sought this," said a Department of Health spokesman.

Not exactly one in 10. Nor, according to Brook Advisory Centres, are any girls handed the Pill with no questions asked. "It's not like we are out on the street handing out contraceptives to teenagers who are not already having sex," says Alison Hadley of Brook. She says that 98 per cent of the girls who come to the centres are already sexually active. "Recent research shows that up to a third of under 16s are sexually active. If only one in 10 are attending clinics for advice and contraception, clearly many more should be asking for help."

The Government would agree. Britain has the highest level of teenage pregnancy in Europe and the Department of Health has set up two working groups to study unwanted pregnancies. They are due to report to a mini- summit this spring and it is safe to say that we pay too high a price for teenage pregnancy for it to join those who want clinics banned from giving contraception to under-16s. "If they are going to have sex, then it is best that they do so safely and don't fall pregnant," said a Department of Health spokesman.

It is sensible advice, and all evidence shows that it is only sex education that manages to delay teenage sex. Here, perhaps Britain can learn from Holland, where there is a prime-time TV programme, called Sex With Angela for "sex starters". "In Holland they are called sex starters. In Britain we call them under-age law-breakers," says Phillip Hodson. "You simply couldn't do it here." And that is too bad, because it is precisely the kind of thing that a young girl named Susan Turner who likes cartoons might have seen before she decided she didn't like condoms and got pregnant instead.