YESTERDAY the Scottish Government’s health and sport committee said we need to review how and when children receive sex education.
A lot of that report talked, quite rightly, about looking at teenage pregnancy as a symptom of health and social inequalities. But the real headline grabbers were about teaching sex education at a lower age and making contraception available for children as young as 13.
This is a subject which always stimulates debate and that’s because it’s not pleasant, or indeed comfortable, for us to think of children as young as 13 being sexually active. But if we pretend it doesn’t happen we’re only helping to put children at risk.
It might seem ironic that in an age where everything is sexualised many young people have a definite lack of factual knowledge or realistic ideas on what makes a healthy relationship. Boys and girls often lack the confidence to deal constructively with pressure to be sexually active, either from peers or partners.
That’s why it’s vital to start talking to children in schools and in our homes when they’re young and to help them understand what makes a good relationship. It is not one where one person is possessive, or demanding, or abusive.
As they get older the conversation can then move on to sexual relationships – not just the act of sex itself. We know it’s not an easy subject but the message this gives out is that if you’re prepared to talk about it your children are more likely to come to you if they’re uncertain.
It’s also important to remember that we’re not proposing to randomly dish out contraception to any 13-year-old that asks. Teenagers can only get access to contraception other than condoms via a health professional.
If we truly want to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies then giving young people access to factual information and teaching sexual health in the context of relationships has to be key.
• Anne Houston is the chief executive of Children 1st