SHE grew up in Big Rock, Illinois (pop 250). Her father was high-up and mysterious in the FBI and now drives a hearse; her mother runs a ladies clothing store and mourns professionally on the side. She's got a PhD in philosophy, claims to type at 120 words a minute, and thinks she might be a sex addict. She used to be a film critic but changed career 'because of the recession'.

Karen Krizanovich, 33, is Britain's wackiest agony aunt, one of the group of 20 who last week declared their support for the campaign to equalise the homosexual age of consent. As 'sexpert' to Sky, the ultra-cool lifestyle magazine for teens and twentysomethings, she is billed as the 'Sharon Stone of agony aunts' - a reference to her blonde bombshell looks, her take-it-or-leave-it attitude to underwear and unique approach to sexuality.

Take her recent advice to 'AF, Bruton' whose boyfriend's testicles are 'increasing at an alarming rate': 'So are they bigger than his head?' asks Karen. 'Are they ripping through his trousers? Are they starting to speak? Without having a peek myself (and without going to medical school for a billion years), I can't tell you what's going to happen next. Maybe he's hiding another girlfriend in there; I dunno. If they're hurting or feel weird, he must get to a doctor before they take over his entire body. But hey, look on the bright side. It could, er . . . you could, er . . . Damn, there isn't a bright side. But I am giving you my permission to PANIC - or try to sell them to the nearest museum.'

In her salmon pink, west London living room, Karen explains: 'They won't listen to me if I'm patronising, or too sincere. Puts 'em right off. Because when you're a teen you want advice that's tough and expects you to be an adult. I make jokes of my problems because if I don't they just get too big]

'But there is always some kind of advice in there. I got a letter from a boy who was being sexually assaulted at school by a group of boys, so I gave him some numbers to call and told him to fly to Brazil. I got this six-page letter back saying, 'I didn't follow any of your advice. But you saved my life.' He photocopied the column, left it on the bullies' desks and it stopped. I'm not really worried about giving the wrong advice. As long as people do something instead of just sitting there.'

At least 30 per cent of Karen's letters are from young gay men. She supports lowering the age of consent on the grounds of improved access to safe sex education and advice.

She receives between 50 and 100 letters a month of which she answers seven in her column. 'It's like beggars on the street. You can't help everybody but you can help one or two.' She has a lot of weird illegal problems. Popular, printable problems include masturbation (do I do it too much?), penises (is it the right size and shape?) and homosexuality (I'm confused). 'I get a lot of medical problems, too. People should just go to their doctors] By the time the letter gets printed, their genitalia could just rot and fall off. Terrible.'

Her overall message? 'You're going to make mistakes. Just make sure they're your mistakes. Think for yourself and don't be afraid. If you've got a problem go to a bookstore and look it up. If I can learn a lot from books, anybody can. When I was 15 I bought The Joy of Gay Sex, and I learned a lot from that. Boy] It was the Seventies, when gays had sex because it was fun. I thought that was perfect.'

What else qualifies Karen for the job, apart from in-built curiosity? 'Nothing,' she says. 'Anybody could be an agony aunt - if you vaguely care about anybody, if you've vaguely heard anybody's problems and if you've got a lot of reference material.'

The lady is too modest. For a start, she's American. 'We've got a culture of talking about our problems and boring everybody rigid with 'em.' Then, she had more than her fair share of teenage angst.

'I was really boring and really ugly and really horny and nobody wanted to sleep with me' - except, unhappily, an older male relative. Her first husband, whom she married at 24, taught philosophy; they split up after moving to Britain, where Karen spent a year in a bed-sit, with no work permit, listening to Radio 4 and sticking her foot in the oven in a futile effort to keep warm, shouting at her husband for wasting money on Polos. When she was 28 she left him and tried transactional therapy.

''As far as I could tell, the transaction was only that she wanted to be paid immediately after the session . . . dollars 25 for 50 minutes. Fifty minutes] You're still getting comfortable.'

Now she's into yoga therapy and is happily cohabiting. She reckons she's solved 'about 75 per cent' of her problems, though she's still worrying about sex addiction. 'A guy came up to me in Hyper Hyper and said, 'Karen?' I thought, 'Have I slept with him?' Then he started bowing down, going, 'I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy, I love you, I love you' ' - in other words, a fan. Join the club.

(Photograph omitted)