Jemima Lewis: Sex, teenagers and the liberation of abstinence

I was lucky enough to be educated by nuns: the world leaders in anti-sex propaganda

Share

I don't watch much television any more; it's all just chavs having sex with each other. But a few weeks ago, lying on the sofa, I channel-hopped on to something truly startling: a bunch of chavs not having sex at all. The BBC2 series No Sex Please, We're Teenagers, which finished this week, charted the progress of 12 teenagers who had pledged to give up nookie for five months.

Most of the teenagers, aged 15 to 17, had been at it like rabbits for years - though not always with much enthusiasm. Jenine, a mouthy rebel who became the show's star, admitted she had lost her jewel-above-price in a toilet, and didn't think sex was "all it was cracked up to be". Her dream, she confessed, was to "be in love with somebody and do it in a bed".

To help to make that dream a reality, she had enrolled at the Romance Academy: a scheme set up by two Christian youth workers heavily disguised as normal, funky twenty-somethings. Rachel - all skinny jeans and blond highlights - looked like a refugee from Atomic Kitten; Dan, in hip-hop sportswear and a blinging gold crucifix, gave the game away only when he referred to sex as "doing a whoopsy".

Rachel and Dan hoped to persuade their young disciples to "swap sex for old-fashioned courtship rituals". They took the teenagers to salsa-dancing lessons, gave them makeovers to show them how to dress with class, and flew them to Florida to meet members of the Silver Ring Thing, a Christian youth movement that preaches total abstinence before marriage.

American-style chastity didn't agree with our teenagers at all: they giggled through the touchy-feely meetings and baulked at the fundamentalist Bible-bashing. But celibacy itself, without the God element, seemed to do them a power of good.

Alone with the camera, each teenager confessed that he or she felt liberated by abstinence. All of them had come under intense pressure to have sex: the boys to show they were not "batty", the girls to prove they were not "frigid". Most had caved in - simply because, until they joined the Romance Academy, they could not think of a single reason to say no.

It's a chastening thought: we have created a society so liberal that it traps children into promiscuity. There is a lazy consensus in Britain that teenagers are bound to have sex anyway, so all we can do is try to make it safe for them. Although schools are supposed to teach "Sex and Relationships Education", the relationship part - and especially the part that involves waiting - tends to be rushed through en route to the more practical issues of condoms and morning-after pills.

Health workers, trained to be scrupulously non-judgemental in matters of jiggy-jiggy, bend over backwards to accommodate the contraceptive needs of children. At a conference in Belfast this week, Angela Star - recently crowned the 2005 Sexual Health Nurse of the Year - described how she had given a girl a contraceptive injection in the lavatory of a McDonald's.

Many teenagers, she explained, were reluctant to visit clinics so, instead, she goes to them. "I have been known to go to the school gates with a glass of water so I can give a girl emergency contraception," she declared.

I am not against plying teenagers with contraception; I just think it should be accompanied by a thorough talking-to. There is nothing wrong with telling teenagers that sex can be awful - and that the younger you do it, the more you are likely to regret it. If grown-ups won't tell them the truth, who will? I was lucky enough to be educated by nuns: world leaders in anti-sex propaganda. Our headmistress, Sister Caroline, was small and half-blind, but no less intimidating for that. She wore a severe black wimple and an enormous pair of spectacles. Her right eye was magnified to Cylcopean proportions, while the left was shrunk to the size of a raisin.

One afternoon, she summoned me to her office and, with a flourish like Hercule Poirot producing the murder weapon, laid a sheet of pills on the desk. "We found these contraceptive pills in your desk," she thundered. "What will your mother say?" Although I had nothing to fear - I was a virgin, and they were vitamins, and what was she doing rootling in my desk anyway? - the look of outrage in Sister Caroline's giant eye made quite an impression. I waited a long time after that to do my first whoopsy.

If modern teenagers are to be persuaded to wait, however, it cannot be left to Christians to cajole or intimidate them. There aren't enough Christians to go round. It is up to the rest of us, atheists and liberals, to help them to achieve that modest dream - of sex in a bed, with someone they love.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game