“Teenage sex may be linked to issues of self-esteem, poor job prospects, pressure from friends and mixed messages about sex in society.” It is a complex issue to which we don’t have a complete answer but we do know these things:
“Many teenagers are not fully aware about contraception. They don’t know where to get advice and services. They don’t know whether it’s legal to get the Pill when they’re under 16.
Rates of teenage pregnancy in the UK have halved in the past two decades and are now at their lowest levels since record-keeping began in the late 1960’s.
It is a dramatic turnaround: in 1998, England had one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Western Europe. In 2016 the Office for National Statistics released data revealing the fall in the conception rate among females aged 15 to 19 as the standout success story in the public health field: just 14.5 per 1,000 births were to women in their teens, with drops in all age groups under 25.
The drive to reduce teenage pregnancy was given 10 years to achieve a 50% fall in under-18 conception rates.
In 2015, there were 20,351 conceptions in girls under 18, down 10 per cent from the previous year.
Reasons given for the drop include better sex education, improved access to contraception, a shift in aspirations towards education, and increased stigma towards teenage mothers.
If the opportunity arises, try to suggest that in the context of a loving, stable relationship sex can be a great thing, a positive experience, something to cherish. (Note: no need to go into graphic details!) A healthy reaction is that teenagers will be appalled at the idea of ‘parents’ enjoying sex but it may sink in for future reference.
Talk about sex in everyday situations, doing the washing-up, cleaning the car, link in to current news stories – ask open questions that require more than a yes or no response – ask for their feelings as well as their thoughts. It’s never too early, or too late to start talking about sex with a child. Keep the chat light and friendly to avoid everyone getting embarrassed.
Discuss contraception with your child. Do they know what it is, how it works and how to obtain it? Do they realise that contraception can and does fail.
Be honest about your own struggles or any mistakes you made when you were a teenager exploring sex and relationships for the first time. Offer to share your own moral values and standards but do it in a sensitive and non-judgmental way.
Studies have shown that many teenagers regret their first sexual experience, and wish they had waited longer. You can help both daughters and sons by telling them that it’s OK to say ‘No’ to sex, and that there’s no rush to lose your virginity – even if all your friends have ‘done it’. Many first sexual experiences occur under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, which can make young people particularly vulnerable, and less likely to use contraception.
Does your child know how to say “No” – explore together circumstances where they might feel pressurised – rehearse how they could ‘walk away with dignity’ if they chose not to engage in sexual intercourse. Talk about abstinence – is it an option worth considering?
Talk “Double Dutch!” Girls who plan to take the contraceptive pill still need to insist that their partner use a condom to protect against sexually transmitted infections. Both sexes need to be made aware of sexual responsibility.
Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes. Communicating with your children about sex, love, and relationships is often more successful when you are certain in your own mind about these issues. Think about your response to the following kind of questions:
- What do you really think about school-aged teenagers being sexually active – perhaps even becoming parents?
- Who is responsible for setting sexual limits in a relationship and how is that done?
- What do you think about encouraging teenagers to abstain from sex?
- What do you think about teenagers using contraception?
If you can’t get a dialogue going, at least provide leaflets or books on sex education and contraception. Check with your child’s school to see what information it is providing.