So the debate went on, for a small while, and then it was rejected outright by David Cameron and Nick Clegg; it’s the topic that so often we just don’t want to talk about, but the recent debates brought it into the public eye with a lot of coverage.
The issue was brought to a head when Professor John Ashton called for a lowering of the sex age to make it easier for those under the age of 16 to look for advice and help; an article in the Times quoted him as saying that, ‘Because we are so confused about this and we have kept the age of consent at 16, the 15-year-olds don’t have clear routes to getting some support. My own view is there is an argument for reducing it to 15’. Primarily, his argument here is, as he said that, below the age of 16, there is a pressure that is put upon seeking the council that you might require.
Figures by the FPA, a sexual health charity, show that on average, a third of men heterosexual men and a quarter of heterosexual women had sex below the age of 16, and the same research showed that the average median age for heterosexual men and women having sex is 16. So what can we take away from that? One issue is that, with sexual health and activity statistics, we also have to account for a certain level of discrepancy; the studies and research cannot always be trusted completely because, as you might imagine, some people do not like speaking honestly about the subject, but even so, this research must mean something?
…certain terms, like ‘frigid’ – have become bywords of social embarrassment…
So perhaps there is some argument that, under the sixteen, there is a pressure to have sex; if that is the case then, why? Speaking with a friend, we discussed the topic and the conclusion that we reached was that, at that age, we don’t remember the pressure as being specifically to have sex, rather we remember the pressure as being specifically to be ‘cool’. At school, and within such a highly peered environment there is a constant bombardment of interaction – certain terms, like ‘frigid’ – have become bywords of social embarrassment, with those labelled as ‘frigid’ feeling a pressure to fit in with those people that are not.
As with so many things, the few lead the many and, in general, it is a minority of people that are at the head of any trend, or in this case social expectation. As the FPA research shows, under sixteen it is the majority of people that have not, in fact, had sex; but as a result of the few who have, the pressure builds so that it seems a necessary thing to fit in. It is the same as with, say, smoking or drinking; although it is not, in fact, the social norm, the few that do it put a certain pressure to try it upon those that do not.
…there is also a difference in sexual education with the British system…
So a few other figures that may be relevant to the study: statistics revealing the percentage of births under the age of 20 show that, in Europe, the least of these occur in the Denmark with a percentage of only 1.59, second we have Netherlands with 1.67, and a mere .02 behind is Italy with 1.69. What is interesting is that the sexual consenting age in both Denmark and the Netherlands is 16 – and in Italy the age is 14. So is there anything here indicative of the consenting age being a factor? It’s is difficult to say, but what I can reveal is that, according to these results, published by The Independent, the European leaders in percentage of births under 20 is Britain, with a staggering 7.09 per cent, and according to the World Health Organisation, in the Western countries, we are second only to the United States. So how do we take this?
The above study led David Cameron to make a statement saying that the research is evidence of his claim that Britain has become a ‘broken society’; with his, and others, suggesting that it is the breakdown in familial and marital values that has led to this statistic. Siebe Heutzepeter, head teacher at a school in Amsterdam put the percentage down to the ‘English [being] embarrassed to talk about sex. They are too squeamish. Here adults and children are better educated.’ According to the same report, there is also a difference in sexual education with the British system being disconnected from emotion and feeling, and being specifically geared toward the biological method of reproduction, whereas the European equivalent takes into the psychological elements too.
…it would be a prudent step to implement some measures that would remove some of the stigma…
So with all of the above, is there any way of fully concluding the discussion? On a personal level, I would have to agree with Professor Ashton – although other studies show that the consensual age being the same in other countries does not lead to such a high percentage of births under 20, there is clearly some difference that means that we, as a nation, have a higher number – there is definitely something to be said for lowering the age. If, as the statistics do suggest, there is a percentage of the population having sex before 16, then surely it would be a prudent step to implement some measures that would remove some of the stigma attached to seeking advice below a certain age.
To my view, Cameron’s outright rejection of the proposal and his statement that the research only confirms his earlier assumptions does little to alleviate or address the problem. It seems that, for whatever reason, his answer to every problem is the self-coined ‘broken Britain’, but the time is long gone that he has been able to brush things under the carpet with this deluded label. Whether Cameron admits or not, and whether it is something that any of us want to talk about, this is a topic that will need some sort of discussion. If the percentage keeps rising then where will we be in ten years? And if we do not address the nature of our own dealings with it, then can we do anything about the rise?