Boys' sex talk is the key in drive to cut teenage pregnancy

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The key to reducing the number of unmarried mothers could lie in encouraging teenage boys to talk about the emotional and physical aspects of their relationships, a government minister said today.

As part of a national programme to be launched in May, Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, wants schools and community groups to work with young people to focus on relationships "in their whole sense".

The Government is urging boys to get in touch with their feelings, in a bid to tackle Britain's record of having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe.

Ms Jowell said: "Young boys tend to judge relationships by sex. If we can get boys to be more in touch with their feelings and talk about them, I think it would be a marker for progress."

The move has been welcomed by sex education and family planning experts who say there is a need to move away from the macho British culture and to encourage boys to express their feelings.

Alison Hadley, of Brook Advisory Centres which offer contraceptive advice to young people, said: "Whether or not a young woman uses contraception is influenced by her partner's views and we know from research that boys have very little sex education other than from their peers.

"Improving communication about sex is the key to making progress but we must help boys reflect and express their feelings as well as girls.

"The British culture of `boys don't cry' makes this very difficult. To make progress boys need male role models of good communication, at home from their fathers, from older boys, as well as from soap operas, footballers and magazines."

Every year, around 7,500 under-16s become pregnant in Britain, although half have the pregnancies terminated.

But there are marked regional differences in the rates of teenage pregnancies. Apart from the deprived London district of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, there is a clear north/south divide, with the deprived urban areas in the North having the highest rates.

The Government aims to tackle these regional inequalities through local targets set by health authorities.

Ms Jowell said: "There is also a role for parents and for teachers. Having sex at 12 or 13 robs you of childhood and it is the job of parents and teachers to safeguard a childhood."

Focus groups to look at the issue, involving young people, parents and teachers, will be set up in the spring.