Parents today! It's a wonder all female teenagers aren't up the duff

They seem to prefer to leave sex education to some hard-pressed biology teacher, or to EastEnders, to demonstrate the problems associated with teenage pregnancy

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It's a big surprise in this day and age of
Eurotrash, with its pan-European display of male and female wobbly bits (ratio 1:100, but we have to pay lip-service to the real or imagined gender equality that we have today), and tabloid newspapers doubling up as masturbatory material for the hard of imagination, that many parents still find it excruciatingly embarrassing to broach the subject of sex education with their children.

It's a big surprise in this day and age of Eurotrash, with its pan-European display of male and female wobbly bits (ratio 1:100, but we have to pay lip-service to the real or imagined gender equality that we have today), and tabloid newspapers doubling up as masturbatory material for the hard of imagination, that many parents still find it excruciatingly embarrassing to broach the subject of sex education with their children.

A study carried out by the sexual health charity Marie Stopes International has discovered that there is strong resistance on the part of about a sixth of parents to ever mentioning sex and its attendant horrors to their equally unwilling offspring. It seems a quarter of parents have not attempted any mention of "it" to their 15-year-olds, preferring, perhaps, to leave it to some hard-pressed biology teacher, or to EastEnders, to demonstrate the problems associated with teenage pregnancy and the like.

If you haven't seen EastEnders, let me just fill you in. A current storyline involves a 15-year-old schoolgirl, remarkably insecure about her nice but not stunningly supermodelish looks, who, without any warning, gives birth to a child at home on the settee - to the detriment of her as-yet-unconsummated relationship with the best-looking boy in the square. (Still, not a bad excuse for turning down sex ... "I do beg your pardon but I think you'll find that particular area is occupied ... Oh my word, it's a girl.")

What is the covert message here? It seems to be that you forfeit some really good things by getting pregnant as a teenager, most importantly a tasty geezer; which is a more effective message, I suppose, than some grown-up telling you you're wasting your life, which is your full-time job as a teenager anyway.

Despite the reluctance of parents to inform on the pros and cons of copulation, children seem to be maturing much earlier sexually. Having witnessed the terrifying spectacle of five-year-olds hopping about at parties screeching "If you want to be my lover!" at the top of their voices, wearing Spice Girls crop tops and seeming ("seeming", of course, being the operative word) for all the world like far more sophisticated madams than their ages would suggest, I must admit that I had assumed all their sex education was out of the way just after potty training - certainly at a much earlier age than in the Sixties when I was a nipper.

In fact, all I can remember is the risible sex education we received in biology lessons which used words such as "insert" and "rhythmic", making the whole affair sound like an examination by an unpleasant friend of your dad's, as opposed to the bloody marvellous activity it can be.

When it comes to sex education we have failed as a society, too, to take into account different cultures, classes and expectations: so, unless parents want their kids to be on the receiving end of the standardised, physiological, generalised tosh that is meted out at school, they have no choice but to tell their children about things themselves.

We also need to remember that kids need different information at different stages of their lives. A friend of mine maintains that it is best to catch them young, before they are too embarrassed and before you are. So, when your six- or seven-year-old asks where babies come from, get stuck in there with some facts, rather than diverting them down Euphemism Alley with a load of old tosh about storks and gooseberry bushes, which has to be hastily revised when they realise that gooseberry bushes contain only horrible, hairy old gooseberries.

Obviously, the really difficult stage is when your kids metamorphose into Kevin the Teenager - which many seem to be doing at the age of nine or younger. They would rather hang, draw and quarter themselves than listen to you droning on about "really fulfilling relationships" and "a sensible approach to contraception".

Someone's got to do the dirty deed. But who? Well, if you're a right-wing Church of England vicar, for example, you're hardly likely to want a trendy teacher/eco warrior to lead your child towards group shenanigans, swinging from the trees with a load of Swampy lookalikes. Equally, an unreconstructed hippy couple aren't interested in their children being taught sex by a twinsetted, menopausal matron.

Thus, one's political views will have a huge bearing on all this. Lord knows what sort of thing Peter Stringfellow might be passing on to any child of his about the value of women and their place in society.

So how do we teach sex? Elements of sex education split between the physical - how not to get pregnant and how not to get a disease - and the emotional side of lurve.

You have to use someone whom the kids respect. We can all call to mind fairly easily the top five yoof role models. Why not enlist a few pop singers? And then you think, "Ah, yes, Eminem, very popular, sings a charming song about murdering his 'ho'." Maybe not.

Some other factors must be taken into account: like the bumbling, insensitive bravado of boys driven by peer-group pressure, and the almost tangible and painful wish to please that some young girls have, which might prevent them from asserting their right to be on the receiving end of a condom. Add to this copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, consumed to dull nerves and embarrassment, coupled with a compulsion to behave in exactly the opposite way to how your mum and dad want you to, and it's a wonder the entire female teenage population isn't up the duff.

Until teenage girls value and assert themselves more, and teenage boys are not driven by the insatiable mix of testosterone and the encouragement of their mates to be Conan the Barbarian, sex education will be as unpleasant a task for parents as having to tell their child it cannot have Nike trainers but only some rank old plimsolls bought in Woolies. Until then, let's just be thankful that only a sixth of parents can't face it.

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