The publisher of a teenage magazine has defended giving a 16-year-old girl explicit advice on performing oral sex, as WH Smith and Sainsbury joined the list of retailers who have withdrawn the title from their shelves.
The managing director of Attic Futura, publishers of TV Hits magazine, said yesterday that the advice, published on its problem pages, was in response to demand and that the issue had been handled responsibly.
"From the age of 11 or 12, teenagers receive sex education in schools. This exposure and subsequent schoolyard conversation can provoke many fears and concerns in teenagers' minds," said Neil Raaschou in a statement.
"Many of the letters we receive are from teenagers with no one to turn to, and the advice pages are amongst the most popular regular features in teenage magazines." He said the subject was "not part of a regular feature or sex guide" and was published because of the many letters received from readers on the subject of oral sex.
Mr Raaschou's statement follows the decision by WH Smith, Sainsbury, Asda and Tesco to withdraw this month's edition of the magazine following complaints from parents about the item.
In it, an anonymous reader asks the question: "I know this sounds really stupid but what is oral sex?" She says she is being urged to perform it by her boyfriend, also 16, who practised it with his former girlfriend. The couple have been having sex for six months, she claims. The reply, written by counsellor Nikki Groocock, under the pen name of "Mandy", graphically describes oral sex and advises her that "practice does make perfect".
A spokeswoman for WH Smith said yesterday: "It is inappropriate for the audience for which it is aimed at, 10 to 16-year-old girls." A spokesman for Sainsbury's added: "It is never our intention to sell any magazines which would offend or embarrass our customers."
Harry Greenway, a former teacher and Conservative MP for Ealing North said the piece was outrageous. Baroness Blatch, Home Office Minister, said: "I am horrified material such as this is available to young people".
The magazine's editor Pauline Haldane said she was unable to comment further yesterday and was said to be "stunned" by the response to the item. But Alison Hedley of the Brook Advisory Centres, which provide family planning information for young women, defended the magazine's straight- talking. "Questions about blow jobs are pretty common at that age," she said. "They want to know if it will make them pregnant, or if they can catch Aids. We get people ringing our offices and writing in all the time."
She added that studies by Brook indicated that giving teenagers information about sex did not encourage them to practice it. "Perhaps it's not the ideal place to put it, but where else are they going to get it? It's not going to be explained at school, and it's not something they're going to want to get from their parents. As long as it's presented honestly and accurately then I think young people sift through and just take what they need to know."
Sex education and teenage girls has always been an emotive issue and yesterday many similar titles were cautious in their response.
Lesley Johnston, deputy editor of Mizz magazine, reiterated Ms Hadley's point but added that Mizz would not be quite as explicit. "Teenage magazines are under an obligation to entertain as well as inform," she said, adding that "real-life problems" were a major selling point. "We obviously respond to demand ... but we tend not to go into as much detail."
The teenage girls targeted by the magazine said yesterday there was nothing in TV Hits that they had not seen elsewhere. "They all have stuff like that. In this month's Sugar, it's got someone writing in asking 'what's wanking yourself?'," said Liz Prior, 14, from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire.
She said she bought the magazines "mainly for the gossipy stuff and real life stories", but that problem pages were good "because sometimes you have that problem". She added: "It's easier to look at it on a problem page because it's private. In class if you wanted to know the answer to something you would have to put your hand up and that's really embarrassing in front of your mates." She described the advice given at school as "useless", saying it was too biologically based and did not encompass emotional issues. She said she did not believe there was anything that should not be discussed on a problem page.
"Just because it's in the magazine doesn't mean you're going to rush out and do it. It's better to be informed."
A diet of sex and gossip? What the leading teenage magazines offer
Price: pounds 1.40,
group: 11-19-year-olds . Average readership age is 14.4
Typical features: Heavy emphasis on pop, film and television features and advice column. Current issue includes: "Exclusive! Boyzone in Spain!" and "Scoop Photos! Take That on tour!"
Problem column: "Got a problem?" by "Mandy", alias counsellor Nikki Groocock, and male sidekick "Vincent"
Controversial material? Apart from the oral sex item, not particularly. One 16-year-old virgin is worried that she is "abnormal" because she can't stop thinking about sex. She is encouraged not to rush into things, and to make sure she is in a loving relationship when she decides to make such a "life-changing move".
Price: pounds 1.40,
monthly. Published by Attic Futura.
Target age group: 13-18-year-old girls. Current issue has "lush male model calendar" offer
Typical features: Interviews with pop and soap stars, fashion and real- life stories. January issue includes: "First time sex: how to get it right". "I sent my dad to jail" - One girl's tragic story"
Problem column: "Dear Emma" by trained counsellor Emma Marlin. They also have a boys' problem page, called "Dear Tony".
Controversial material?: This month's problem page includes a request for advice on mutual masturbation. The letter-writer is advised not to be pressurised into anything and encouraged to take her time deciding. There is no advice on technique.
Published by IPC.
Target age group: The older teenager. Lesley Johnston, deputy editor, says: "Information is an important part of Mizz, from teenagers in the third world to oral sex. We don't beat about the bush."
Typical features: Fashion and pop news, plus a regular column which explains sexual slang terms. Features in the current issue include: "Could you be pregnant? How to find out - now". "He's gorgeous, loaded and 21 - so why shouldn't you go out with him?"
Problem column: Serious and medically-based "Body and Soul", by counsellor Tricia Kreitman.
Controversial material? A 15-year-old writes to ask if condoms are safe. She wants to have sex but is afraid. The letter writer is encouraged to "wait a bit" and to talk things through with a trained adviser.
Published by Emap
Target age group: Believe they have the broadest range of readers in the teen market, but clearly focused at the 13-17-year-old.
Typical features: Fashion and pop news, plus environmental features on seal pups. Current issue includes: "Gotcha! Secret agent tips for boy- trapping". "I'm dating my married cousin."
Problem column: "Advice" by trained counsellor Anita Naik. Plus a "boy's view" advice column by the ubiquitous Nick Fisher.
Controversial material? A 16-year-old girl writes to say that she regrets having sex with her boyfriend, as he ignores her when they're not in bed. She is advised to be clear about the difference between love and sex and to think whether the boyfriend is "really worth so much effort and pain".
Published by DC Thomson
Target age group: 12-15-year-olds. Current issue has a free sample of Clearasil
Typical features: Magazine adopts the safe approach. Gossip on television and pop stars, real life stories. Current issue includes: "Hollyoaks special!" and "Win a day out at Live and Kicking".
Problem column: "I feel left out" by "Cathy", a freelance columnist.
Controversial material?: No - typical problems include one from Claire, 15, worried that she has not started menstruating and another from Carrie, 14, who feels like crying because of her spots. Claire is advised that she is perfectly normal, and Carrie that she should visit her doctor for help.Reuse content