COLLEEN SMITH: Sorting out the teen sex issue
I LOVE sex. It's the best thing in the world. But if my children (or yours) happen to pick up this copy of the Herald Express and read this, I think I may need to qualify that statement.
We might have to sit down for a few discussions about love, and relationships, and personal safety, and about knowing how to say 'no' and understanding that 'no' really, always means 'no'.
And then I'd also like them to undertake a detailed and thorough human biology course.
Then perhaps we could talk about contraception and self-esteem and pregnancy and personal responsibility and peer pressure and being comfortable with your own gender, whatever it might be.
What next? Oh yes, it might be a good time to chat about drugs and alcohol and all the stupid or possibly dangerous things that happen when you (or more honestly, me) are under the influence.
Next we could cover the way sex is portrayed in the media, and about the easy accessibility of porn. And we'd need to have quite a long talk about Facebook and text messaging and all that social media, modern communication stuff.
But after that I'd still say want them to know that sex is supposed to be good and healthy and wholesome and fun, because I don't want them to get any hang-ups.
I could say all that (and have tried to do that with my own girls as they became young women, growing up in Torbay at a time when teenage pregnancy rates have been among the worst in the country).
Statistically the odds may have been stacked, as we live in the Tormohun ward, which still has one of the country's highest rates of teen conceptions (94.2 per 1,000 compared to a national rate of 35.5), but I never had any doubts about them becoming one of those numbers.
Talking about sex has to go on throughout years before, during and after adolescence.
And it's not easy, wondering if I'd covered all the bases with my children (trying not to gross them out by talking about inappropriately sexual things too soon, but making sure they have all the information and social skills they need to make the right choices, when they are good and ready).
It's a tough and sometimes uncomfortable job, but parents can't shy away from it. The reason sex education is on my mind today is that I write this after returning from the Reducing Teenage Conceptions in Torbay conference, where I had been invited to speak at the Herald Express representative.
I was glad to be there. As a mum, nothing could be closer to my heart. And if writing about it helps, I'm more than ready to help.
Firstly, the news is good — despite the public perception, Torbay is no longer the worst place in England. In fact we are now 54th highest nationally for teenage conception, although we are still the worst in the south west.
It looks as if all the hard work by many agencies is finally starting to have a real impact.
Health workers at the conference said it really annoys them that young people still see Torbay as the worst place in the country. And they reported that this negative image actually contributes to the problem, because some young men actually see it as a badge of honour (in the same way that getting an ASBO supposedly had kudos).
So, children. Here's the good news. It's no longer true. There are now 50-something other towns which are worse than us.
Chairman of the Torbay Teenage Pregnancy Partnership Board Dave Butt said the 'adverse publicity both locally and nationally had a negative effect by creating a local social norm ie if young people think all young people are having sex and getting pregnant, then this leads to more young people actually having sex and getting pregnant'.
It's that 'everybody else is doing it' mentality. And I can see how there might be something in that argument if it wasn't for the fact that the teen conception rate was exactly the same 12 years ago, before Torbay got this pram-pushing-young-mums' reputation.
Despite that, and despite the fact that it's supposed to be a no-blame culture, the media still always gets the blame...no change there either.
So, how can the media help?
Two things I've been asked to pass on. Firstly, there is the Sexwize website at www.s-wize.co.uk which has all the information about the sexual health and contraception services within Torbay (for parents and young adults alike).
The other is to flag up the C-card, a confidential service which runs throughout Torbay. Anyone aged 13 to 24 years old can get free condoms, lubricant, as well as sexual health information and advice. If they register for the C-card they can pick up condoms from more than 60 locations locally.
During the 15-minute registration chat, young men and women can learn about safer and more effective use of condoms (look at the Sexwize website to find out where to register).
Before signing up, young people are asked to think about:
You feel you could say no if you wanted to
You can have fun together without having to have sex
You are not being pushed or bribed into having sex
You want it for yourself, not for the other person or to fit in with friends
You have agreed to use condoms and contraception, and you know why they are important
You may be excited or nervous, but not afraid
Pass it on to your kids.