For the last four weeks, Channel 4 has been broadcasting its latest supposedly educational series on sex. Each of the four episodes began with the claim that the average teenager has had three sexual partners by the time they reach 16.
The real facts about teen sex include:
- Less than one-in-three men (30 per cent) and only one-in-four women (26 per cent) aged 16-19 first had sexual intercourse before the age of 16.
- About four-in-five 16-24-year-olds used a condom when they first had sex and less than one-in-ten used no contraception at all their first time (7.4 per cent men, 9.8 per cent women).
- 16-19-year-olds account for more than a third of some sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia, which can cause infertility.
The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles II, 2000-2001 surveyed over 12,100 adults aged 16-44. In contrast, the survey quoted by C4 was based on a biased sample of just 1,200 individuals who visited a certain high-street pharmaceutical retailer.
The impact of The Joy of Teen Sex is captured by the report from one counsellor who observed that one of their clients said the programme made her feel 'way worse' about being sexually different. The despair among health professionals, educationalists, parents, and young people prompted a good number of them to write a letter to the Chief Executive (David Abraham) and Commissioning Editors recommending a way forward to ensure future programming is improved. You can read this on the website of UCL Social Psychologist and Sex Researcher Dr Petra Boynton. Here is the attempt we made a couple of years ago to depict the impact that sexual relationships can have:
As for the programme's obsession with image and techniques over identity and respect ('and love' to quote Fiddler on the Roof!), to quote one commentator, 'Vajazzling† has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with the cruel logic of identikit, production-line womanhood, in which "fun" means slavish adherence to the joyless motifs of corporate pornography and "confidence" means submission to a species of surveillance whereby your nether regions are forcibly reshaped into a smile.'
I'll conclude by handing over to Rachel Gardner, from Romance Academy:
† This she describes as 'The term refers to the burgeoning celebrity craze for shaving, denuding and perfuming one's intimate area before applying gemstones in a variety of approved girly patterns. The end result resembles a raw chicken breast covered in glitter.'
Wellings, K. et al. Sexual behaviour in Britain: early heterosexual experience. Lancet, 2001: 358; 1843-1850
National Centre for Social Research et al., National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles II, 2000-2001 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], August 2005. SN: 5223.