Opinion: Why mags like 'Bliss' are not ignorant

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The Independent Online

In all the calls for teen magazines to be stamped with age restrictions, one pivotal question has gone unasked: why do teen magazines contain information about sex?

Teen magazines receive hundreds of letters a week asking for advice and information about sex. Editors are faced with a generation of readers which is terrifyingly ignorant about contraception and sexual health. As a result, the UK has the worst rate of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy in Europe

Research shows that young people whose families discuss sex without embarrassment become sexually active later and are more likely to use contraception. Until sex education at home or at school improves, teen magazines are often the only accurate and responsible source of information. The idea of a cut-off point, below which girls must not be educated, is grossly naive.

All magazines aimed at teenage girls are already regulated by the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel (TMAP) and its strict guidelines. TMAP's members, all parents, include two doctors, a professor of psychology and a barrister.

The latest adjudication concerned the May 2003 issue of Sugar, which enabled readers to order a free condom through Marie Stopes International UK. The piece was prompted by a survey which showed a high level of ignorance among 11- to 15-year-olds - Sugar's core readership. Four out of ten believed it was illegal to buy condoms. TMAP rejected complaints about the article and emphasised the need to remove any stigma from condom use.

Age-stamping would be counterproductive and impractical. A young person could still buy any adult magazine or newspaper, watch any TV programme, and access sexual material on the internet, yet they would be prevented from buying a magazine with appropriate and accurate content.

Teen magazine editors are accused of having an agenda - they do. It is to empower young women and equip them with the facts and confidence they need to respect their bodies and make informed choices about their sexual lives.

The author is head of public and legal affairs, Periodical Publishers Association (PPA)