Christina Patterson: Better to be a brat than Born Again

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Teenagers are in trouble. According to a raft of recent reports, they're bunking off school in record numbers to lurk on street corners and slump in front of the telly.

Teenagers are in trouble. According to a raft of recent reports, they're bunking off school in record numbers to lurk on street corners and slump in front of the telly. They're rude, they're lazy and they're so fat they can barely waddle to the fridge. No wonder families have been fighting for the chance to send their spawn of Satan off to Brat Camp. No wonder growing numbers of teenagers are being classified as mentally disordered, neurotic or mad.

But there's one area where British teenagers still excel. They're brilliant - the best in Europe, in fact - at getting pregnant. They're also very good at getting and spreading sexually transmitted diseases. Not surprising, perhaps, when some young teenagers - too scared to buy condoms - confess to using clingfilm. A sex guide for teenagers, published this week, aims to dent both these achievements. Written by bliss agony aunt Tina Radziszewicz, The Love Guru's Guide to Sex offers wide-ranging lessons in getting laid. It will, no doubt, trigger the usual dose of Daily Mail disgust among those who would rather teenagers got chlamydia than learnt about cunnilingus.

My own sexual education came from Lady Chatterley's Lover. I couldn't bear to think that my parents had read it, too, and on family trips to Winkworth Arboretum, I would blush at the sight of the bluebells. But it was quite a while before the lessons of Lady Chatterley were anything other than literary. Not just because Surrey in the Seventies wasn't exactly swarming with sexy game-keepers, but because I soon found a more magnetic guide. DH Lawrence gave way to another lanky, dark man with a beard. No, not the beardy-weirdy guy in Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex (a book I discovered with much hilarity years later), but the Lord Jesus Christ.

I was looking for boys, but found God instead. Oscar Wilde might have called it careless, but he didn't go to a girls' grammar school in Guildford. My friend, Louise, and I knew that boys existed. We read about them in Jackie, but we very rarely met them. So when my brother's friend, Steve, invited him and us to a youth club, we leapt at the chance. We didn't smell a rat. We didn't know that The Millmead Centre was, in fact, a church.

Here, at long last, there were boys in abundance: boys in tatty jeans and leather jackets; boys with spiky hair and gleaming motorbikes. Louise and I were in heaven. At 14, she had a brace and I had a scattering of pimples on my forehead, but we were treated like royalty. Had we chosen our O-levels? Gosh, really. What music did we like? Abba, how interesting. Would we like to play volleyball? Oh, and would we like to come along to a Sunday service?

The answer to everything, like the name of the favourite band of the boy I fancied, was generally, "Yes". So, a few weeks later, when the minister explained from the pulpit that heaven was not actually a youth club, but a lovely place from which, sadly, most of the world's population was barred, we listened carefully. Most people, apparently, were going to hell and we were, too. This was a bummer, but could be instantly rectified if only we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Did we want to be in the same place as the boys Pete, Andy and Geoff? Would we repent of our sins and accept the Lord? Yes and, again, yes.

Unfortunately, it was not a decision to enhance our romantic prospects. While we now faced a glorious eternity with Pete, Andy and Geoff, hurling golden crowns at the lamb who was slain, the chances of a quick snog or a fumble were dramatically reduced. We were to treat our brothers and sisters in the Lord with respect - which meant, apparently, not touching them. The Bible, which we now had to read every day, a bit like brushing your teeth, was very clear that sex before marriage was forbidden. You weren't, obviously, allowed to go out with "non-Christians" (the couple that prays together, stays together, etc) but you couldn't really go out with Christians either. Not unless God had told them and you that it was His will - a matter on which He was sometimes strangely silent.

Even then, according to a talk on "relationships", you mustn't kiss someone unless you were pretty sure that you wanted to marry them. I knew I fancied Andy, but did I want to marry him? Well, actually, a Big Mac and Saturday Night Fever would have been fine. I wish I could say that this was a phase, but it lasted through university and beyond - long enough to see a flurry of post-graduation weddings with Christian Union couples desperate for a shag. How did a sceptical teenager turn into a born-again raving loony? I've no idea. I wish I hadn't lost my adolescence. I wish I hadn't had it so late. Perhaps all teenagers are a little bit mad. Perhaps they all need The Love Guru's Guide to Sex.

Poets? They've no rhyme or reason

There is, says psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, "a tremendous fear in our culture about madness", but "no particular enthusiasm for the idea of sanity". It's an idea he has turned into a book, Going Sane - a lucid exploration of a state that's generally defined by an absence. Peppered with references to Hamlet, John Clare, et al, it aims to fly the flag for a state which rarely warrants a mention in literature or art.

There are, he points out, no histories of sanity, or professional experts, or "famously sane poets". He's right, of course, but as someone who has spent many years working with poets, I can't say that conspicuous sanity is often top of the list of the traits they share. It could be a legacy of the "mad, bad and dangerous" Romantic tradition or it could just be that you have to be... let's say, pretty unusual to devote your life to something so little prized and so badly paid. It is, I fear, one instance where you don't have to be mad etc, but it probably does help.

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