Innocence was no help to Sarah

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The Independent Online
Yesterday, the Tory MP Peter Luff claimed he was on a noble crusade to protect teenagers from sex education - or "porn" as he prefers to call it - printed in teenage magazines. He wants a "return to innocence" where teenagers are sheltered from all talk of sex. Ironic on a day when the media spotlighted a glaring example of what such "innocence" can breed - a girl like Sarah Cook.

This 13-year-old has jetted off to Turkey, married her 18-year-old dream hunk, Musa Komeagae, andwants to live happily ever after. Now she says she's desperate for a baby by the time she's 14. Her mother has helpfully pointed out that, as she has big feet, she won't have difficulty giving birth. Not the sort of advice you would find in the pages of a teen magazine like Sugar.

I feel deeply for Sarah Cook. Despite the fact that Musa has now been charged with rape and holding his child bride prisoner, Sarah claims he is the one person who makes her feel special. She fled, in desperation, to a man who makes her feel loved and more "beautiful" than anyone has ever made her feel. It's a normal fantasy that many teenagers dream of fulfilling.

The difference is that most of our teenagers are thankfully given a lot more rational guidance than Sarah has had. In an ideal world she would have been able to nurture her own self-esteem and found beauty and worth in herself. Ideally, Musa's attention may have delighted her but not filled her with gratitude and the conviction that he was her one chance of happiness.

Most teenagers derive feelings of self-worth from various sources. Tragically, many of those sources have failed Sarah. Her friends, it is claimed, called her fat and ugly. And her parents have encouraged her in her love for a much older boy in an illegal marriage.

A magazine such as Sugar is a source that teenagers can turn to for information, reassurance and comfort. When we write about sex, we're saying to girls like Sarah that they must understand that rushing into a sexual relationship (particularly at such a young age) leads not to fulfilment, but yet more pain and self-loathing. We'd tell Sarah that while a little baby may love her, raising a child without parental support in a foreign country could be a living nightmare - big feet or not. We'd urge Sarah to come home, finish school and most of all, develop her self-esteem.

So yes, while we might advise Sarah and other teenagers about sex and relationships, it is information they need to stay based in reality. If on that plane trip to Turkey, Sarah had had a copy of Sugar, perhaps she would have turned around at the airport and headed back to Essex.

The writer is editor of 'Sugar' magazine.