Teenage Sex Crisis ‘Due To Drink And Drugs’

Teenagers are in the grip of a sexual health crisis fuelled by a “celebrity culture” that condones alcohol abuse, drug addiction and promiscuity, Government-funded advisers warn today.

{mosimage}A daily diet of celebrities in sexualised poses, taking drugs and getting drunk has led to increasing numbers of children “defining their lifestyle” around drugs, alcohol and sex in their early teens, with Britain now having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies and sexual infections in Europe, they say. Despite this, Government campaigns have failed to make the link between drugs, alcohol and sexual health – even though many drugs increase sexual desire, leading to more sex and more drinking, the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) on Sexual Health and HIV reports.

At the same time, “distorted messages” mean young boys wear football shirts emblazoned with alcohol brands while girls read magazines portraying them as sex objects, or purchase “sexualised” dolls. The strongly-worded report concludes that there is “no national and joined up Government approach” to deal with the problems.

Restrictions on the advertising of contraceptives on television, as well as the lack of compulsory sex education in schools, are exacerbating the problem, and the Government is using the wrong language when it talks to young people, the group says.

Its report paints an alarming picture of the extent to which teenagers are in thrall to the world of celebrity and will make uncomfortable reading for the Department of Health, which funds the group. The findings follow a Unicef investigation that put Britain last in a table of 21 countries for children’s well-being and found that more British children had sex by the age of 15 than in any other country. They were also the third highest users of cannabis and more had been drunk by 11, 13 and 15 than anywhere else.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said last night: “The Government has set targets for the reduction of teenage pregnancies but they are going to fail to reach these. It’s vital we improve sex education and advice, but also family and community structures which support young girls in the most deprived areas.”

The IAG’s chairman is Baroness Gould, an influential Labour figure who fought to liberalise abortion laws. As a former head of the Family Planning Association, she opposed attempts in the Lords in 2001 to halt over-the-counter sales of morning-after pills to teenage girls. Her group’s report said young people were exposed to conflicting messages, with “explicit or subliminal” advertising and coverage of “celebrity” behaviour being prevalent, while other information was restricted.

There were restrictions on advertising condoms before 9pm on television and on showing a picture of one outside its wrapper. At the same time, sexually transmitted diseases rates had risen greatly over the past 12 years, with chlamydia and HIV both increasing by 300 per cent, gonorrhoea by 200 per cent and syphilis by 2,000 per cent.

In a single act of unprotected sex with an infected partner, adolescent girls have a one per cent chance of acquiring HIV, a 30 per cent chance of getting genital herpes, and a 50 per cent chance of contracting gonorrhoea.

Caroline Flint, the health minister, said the Government would examine the report. “We are continually looking at new ways of working to ensure a joined-up approach that places individuals, in this case young people, at the heart of the work we are doing.”