Friday, 3 April 2009

Condom Advertising relaxed in light of rise in teenage pregnancies

Here is an article I have written for my column in Leeds On.

With the news that the ban on condom company’s advertising before the watershed is going to be lifted and that pregnancy advisory services will also be permitted to advertise, Adam Burns ponders exactly what this will mean for the plight of Britains sexually charged teenagers.

I have long tried to understand the reasons to why Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe. The figures were all ready embarrassing, but with new figures out in the spring, word on the grapevine is that the number of teenagers falling pregnant on our Great Island has risen for the first time in five years. I find it hard to fathom how children of such a young age become sexually active and how little is being done to combat this social epidemic.

Now you may think that my use of the word epidemic is slightly sensational but take the case of Alfie Patten, the 13 year old who for about two weeks became Britain’s youngest father, earlier this year. Unfortunately for Alfie fatherhood was short lived, and even before the men from the Guinness Book of records could get round to his house, a DNA test proved Alfie was not the father. In fact it turned out that a number of young boys had spent a night of romance with 15 year old Chantelle. The Daily Mirror reported “The result will be a blow to Alfie who was "devastated" by the boys' claims and "adored" Maisie”. Luckily Alfie’s mum eased the pain by buying him a new Spiderman suit.

O.K I’m sorry for making jokes but if this is a snapshot of Britain in 2009 then get me on the next plane out of here. The Netherlands who sit rock bottom of the table and heading for relegation seem to be getting it right, but what are they doing differently? Well for a start both forms of sex education are compulsory in the Netherlands whereas in Britain only the biology part is, parents can opt to take their children out of the personal and social side of the subject. As well as this Dutch schools have nationally set attainment targets for sex education whereas Great Britain has no such targets. Another major difference is the openness that the Dutch seem to exude when dealing with sex, this is often mistaken for permissiveness, but if the British were less reserved when dealing with sex then it would surely not be such a taboo and not so appealing to teenagers. The British reserve was illustrated excellently to me not so long ago. I was watching a film with my dad and my girlfriend earlier this year, and as Leonardo Dicaprio ripped off Kate Winslet’s clothes on Revolutionary Road, my Dad decided it rather conveniently that it was time to make a cup of tea. Later in the film when Kate cheated on Leo with the neighbour my Dad decided it was time to feed the cats. This was mildly amusing, and it got me thinking about when I was a teenager. Back then my Dad didn’t just find a job to do, when the screen was filled with rumpy-pumpy, he used to censor the film for me, by “checking the news”. I’m sure this is a familiar story for most of you, and I believe it is because of this type of behaviour that sex still remains a taboo, I’m not suggesting that children should be allowed to watch gratuitous sex scenes, but the total disregard to acknowledge what is the most natural thing in the world seems to be the wrong approach.

My opinion of the recent shake up by the Advertising standards Authority is still a dubious one. There decision to allow condom’s and pregnancy advice to be advertised before the watershed is undoubtedly a controversial one, well we are in Britain after all, but what impact will these adverts have on teenagers thinking about indulging in a game of bed sports. My opinion is probably very little; I believe the buck stops with the parents and to some extent the schools. If children are properly educated about sex then surely they will be able to make the correct decisions.

What is clear is that we are inline for some potentially titillating adverts. Durex the market leader in prophylactics has had some great slogans in the past, “Durex.Crowdstopper” and “For a hundred million reasons”. The best one I have found is a French advert which depicts a son and father in the supermarket, when the father refuses to buy his son some sweets the boy screams the place down; the tagline reads simply “use condoms”.

I do hope that the introduction of condom and pregnancy advisory services helps the number of teenage pregnancies decrease, if not for the teenagers who are cutting their own childhood short, then for the children they are bringing into the world who stand very little chance of a happy existence. I am however quite confident that this will not be the case. In my opinion we are in a vicious cycle, children are having children who will most probably have children when their just children. It will take something drastic to change the state of “Broken Britain”, any jobs going at the Daily Mail are there?

I leave you with the news that Alfie Patten has recently joined the fathers for justice campaign, you know, them dads who dress up as superhero’s and climb up Big Ben, apparently Alfie isn’t quite sure what fathers for justice is all about, but he does have his own Spiderman suit.

Adam Burns

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