When I was 13 I read Jackie and My Guy magazines. They contained photo stories where girls faced dilemmas about which guy to go out with: the office boy with the terrible jumper or the bad lad with the motorbike? The problem pages were taken up with period pains, acne and friends' dads winking inappropriately.
10 years later I was a tutor to a class of Year 10 girls and obliged to confiscate a copy of More magazine. It had been a while since I'd perused such publications and boy, did I get a shock. Not least because the magazine fell open at a page featuring my university pal, Martin, talking about his decision to be circumcised in the hope of greater sensation during sex. Fortunately there was no accompanying photo.
It was clear that my class of 14- and 15-year-olds had already acquired the sort of knowledge about matters sexual, emotional and chlamydial that it had taken me an age to amass. For some, their understanding of sex and relationships wasn't merely theoretical, it was practical. And, given all the sex tips they were reading, the practical was probably pretty bloody good.
In the intervening decade, concepts like shame, chastity, waiting for Mr Right, sexual guilt and burning in hell for eternity had all evaporated to be replaced by a Spice Girl-led assault by girls on boys. Or 'fellas' as the magazines term them. The 90s saw the rise of women called Chantelle, the dominance of the push up bra and the end of the watershed as we knew it.
In times past, access to the adult world of sex was tricky. You might have a friend with a brother who knew where his dad kept his stash of porn. There might be an approachable sixth former who'd explain what a blow job was, or you might pull off the biggie and actually get off with somebody at the school disco. These days, kids are so much more sophisticated. They are not going to school discos. They are going to festivals and gigs and parties posted on social networking sites. They are viewing stuff on the internet that belonged to the world of sexual mythology (or Germany) when I was at school. In so many ways innocence is an impossibility for them. Virginity is a dead weight to be shrugged off at the earliest opportunity and Personal, Social and Health Education lessons the place to learn the best way to do it.
This is the cultural landscape we have created for them. A world of instant gratification, dehumanised sexuality and superficial relationships where Jeremy Kyle sits in judgement and rakes in the proceeds.
In this uber-sexualised culture we have a responsibility to provide as much support as we can about the environment our children are inhabiting and that means providing places for that support to occur. To this end, and as a mother of a teenage boy, I applaud Solent NHS Trust and NHS Southampton, in the news this week, for their strategy to provide sexual health clinics within schools. The views of people like me however, did not feature prominently in the coverage of the story.
Instead, lots of irate people took to the airwaves to condemn the move, which has seen teenage pregnancy rates drop by 22% over the past three years. The beef held by these vociferous parents, championed by anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-sex (maybe that's why she's so uptight?) MP, Nadine Dorries, is that young people can access these services 'easily' and be offered contraceptive implants without the knowledge or consent of their parents. All girls are encouraged to tell their parents about their treatment, but ultimately that is a matter of choice for them. The story was sensationalised because some of the girls who have referred themselves to these clinics have been as young as 13.
Let me make it clear. I find the thought of 13-year-olds having sex as distressing as the next person. Quite honestly, it depresses me beyond words, but it does not surprise me. There is a biological imperative at work here; hormones really do influence the way we behave. Add to that a splash of Hollyoaks, a dash of peer pressure, some bravado, a little low self-esteem, some classroom competition and a whole heap of Facebook face-saving and it happens and it's no good pretending that it doesn't.
Difficult as it might be, we need to front up to teen sexuality and stop being frightened of, and embarrassed by it. It's important that all kids have access to the same, high quality information and treatment that will help them make safe, confident choices about who they sleep with and when.
I hope that my children would want to talk to me about their relationships and I've certainly brought them up in an atmosphere of openness and trust, but I also recognise that this rite of passage will be an intensely private experience for them and I have no official place in it. I look up at my adolescent son, with shoulders that threaten to fill doorways, and I am happy, proud and sad all at the same time. I want to protect him, but better still, I want him to protect himself.
What's worse than discovering that your teenager, in a demonstration of maturity and autonomous self-determination, received confidential contraceptive treatment? Two spotty faces looking at you earnestly telling you they're going to have a baby, that's what.
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