The next feminist frontier: how to stop teenage promiscuity

'Experts are now saying sex education and the morning-after pill may encourage risky behaviour'
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The Independent Online

My daughter turns nine next month and all I feel is foreboding. Not the usual sort that you always carry in you like another heartbeat from the minute your child is born, but a pulsating, loud panic which seems to be driving out hope.

My daughter turns nine next month and all I feel is foreboding. Not the usual sort that you always carry in you like another heartbeat from the minute your child is born, but a pulsating, loud panic which seems to be driving out hope.

The awesome changes in her face, body, language and personality, the anticipation of a spring birthday party and the relief that we have survived another year – all reasons to be grateful – seem unable to divert me away from the thumping fear that my daughter, incredibly innocent still, is about to enter a sordid popular culture.

Powerful, immoral people will manipulate her desires and appetites (even more than they have done already with their dolls), and turn her into a needy, restless little soul who will be made to feel that she is nothing unless she looks like Britney Spears. Not long after that, I imagine, she will be persuaded, by her also brainwashed peers, that something is wrong with her if she hasn't had sex, or if lusty boys don't find her attractive enough meat.

Please don't tell me it was ever thus. That is a lie perpetrated by libertarians and merchants who profit from turning children into sex machines. British children, boys and girls, have never before been under such relentless pressure to see themselves and others purely in terms of how shag-worthy they are. And no, I am not some highly strung prude who has problems with sexuality. Sex is precious, fantastic, for most people an expression of who they truly are. But children forced into sexualising themselves by society are too immature and vulnerable to understand any of that. A Lancet survey last year found that although young people were having sex earlier, many of them regretted this as they got older. Drinking and drug taking has increased sharply among children between 11 and 15 and official figures show that under-age abortions have risen by a fifth in 10 years. The real figure may be higher because abortions on young teens are often hidden by private clinics.

Experts say that sex education and the morning after pill may encourage risky, uncontrolled sexual behaviour. Under-age promiscuity in Britain is now so widespread that it is fast becoming just another teen norm, like bad tempers, slammed doors and smelly rooms.

This being the case, we parents are supposed to simply accept the inevitable. It is one of those things which just happens, like drugs, and lap-dancing clothes for tots in respectable shops. Just roll over. We don't want to come over all Victorian, do we? After all, we are modern parents who must learn to be friends with our children and encourage them to define their lives and values. So what if 10-year-old girls now wear make up to parties, or walk and talk in ways to make a seasoned tart blush? If you try to stop them they will only get more rebellious and, besides, they may face bullying in schools and find themselves miserable. And like the best and the worst parents, I too feel lost about what I can or should do.

I abhor the violations and cruelties that are perpetrated by some Asian parents on their children, but I do understand that many of them are resorting to this because they too are shocked and agitated about the way this country's values have crumbled. No, I am not about to dispatch my daughter to spend the next few years in the Convent of the Little Sisters of the Ayatollah in Isfahan. No such place of escape exists and I have no such plan to escape from my responsibilities or deepening anxieties.

The interesting news is that, for the first time that I remember, some feminists are starting to worry too about what has happened to girls. Why isn't the brilliant empowerment they are acquiring at work making them less vulnerable to these other pressures?

The right to say "no" or to decide when has not taken hold; instead, girls are being pushed into a position where, as Germaine Greer noted, they feel they must always say "yes" to sex, and look as if they are worth it. Some of these feminists are beginning to explore how young men are affected by these pressures.

At events to mark International Women's Day this year, this topic kept bubbling up. The speeches were much less about the wonders of womanhood, and more about teenage promiscuity and how we should deal with it.

Few seemed to believe that more sex education was the answer and fewer still that we wanted to promote the oppression of young people by their families. But almost everyone felt that to surrender to the brute forces sexualising our children is no longer an option. I suggest the next campaign for British feminists needs to directed at those advertisers, broadcasters, celebrity pedlars, newspapers, magazines, pop stars and others who have made this carnal hell for our young ones, and who still insist that none of this is anything at all to do with them.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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