One In Three Teens Now
Has Sex Under 16
By Lois Rogers and Nicholas Hellen
The Sunday Times - London

The average age at which teenagers first have sex has dropped to 16, its lowest recorded level, according to a comprehensive government-funded study of sexual habits in Britain.
Final analysis of the data is expected to indicate that at least a third of teenagers are having sex before their 16th birthday - the legal age of consent.
Despite millions of pounds spent on tackling the problem, the downward trend has continued, bringing with it large numbers of unplanned pregnancies and increasing rates of sexually transmitted disease.
Critics believe the emphasis on sex education in schools has fuelled the trend, while charities providing advice for teenagers argue that many young people still lack even basic knowledge about sex.
Others point to increasing levels of alcohol consumption as a factor contributing to children as young as 12 or 13 losing their inhibitions and indulging in unprotected sex.
"Many young teenagers regard getting drunk at weekends as a completely normal part of life," said Ann Furedi of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
The £1.4m National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles took three years to complete and was commissioned from Kaye Wellings, Britain's leading expert on trends in sexual behaviour.
Wellings, director of sexual health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, led a team of social scientists who will publish their findings in The Lancet next month.
The study is a repeat of her team's 1990 report on the nation's sexual mores, which almost foundered when Margaret Thatcher decided it was prurient and unnecessary. It was subsequently funded by the Wellcome Trust.
The latest inquiry, which was supervised by the Medical Research Council, asked intimate questions of 12,000 randomly selected 16 to 44-year-olds. It has particularly focused on emerging patterns of sexual behaviour at the younger end of the age spectrum.
The average age for people to lose their virginity has dropped from over 20 in the 1950s, while the number of pregnancies among single teenage girls has risen steadily.
About 8,000 girls aged 15 or younger become pregnant in England and Wales every year, one of the highest rates in Europe.
Three years ago the government committed £60m to a Teenage Pregnancy Unit to co-ordinate local efforts to provide sex education, contraception and sexual health services.
It has been set a target of halving by 2010 the number of pregnancies in girls aged 17 or younger from the current level of more than 40,000 a year. An interim target of reducing the rate by 15% within three years now looks unlikely to be met.
Leigh Daynes, a spokesman for Brook Centres, a charity providing advice for teenagers, blamed inconsistencies in sex education, increasing use of alcohol and the "overtly sexualised nature of modern culture" for giving teenagers mixed messages about how to behave.
"Sex is used to sell everything from yoghurt to furniture. It is all around us," he said. "It is vital that teenagers are provided with impartial advice to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and disease."
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