Respect yourself, stay a virgin

he's shagging her lad!" The "she" looked embarrassed, but said defiantly:

"But we've been going out three months."

"I hate it anyway," responded the first, "poking away at you."

These are children speaking, barely 14 years old. Research shows that some girls lose their virginity in their early teens and then, having got it over with, don't have sex again for a few years. From what I can gather, many of our girls in S1-3 are sexually active.

Is it because it's a delightful experience? Or they feel it's the only way to get or keep a lad? Or maybe they think it's expected of them and don't feel much at all?

Support teachers hear too much sometimes and, while I'm willing to admit much of it is idle boasting, there's often a sickening ring of truth to it, especially when they are laughing about some girl who drunkenly gave a public performance the night before.

In the United States during the summer, I met a young couple who plan to marry this autumn. Both are virgins, and I wondered if their marriage stood a better chance than a couple who'd shagged about before they married.

We give a lot of information about sex to pupils, beginning when they are five. But we have a high rate of illegitimate children, abortion, and sexually transmitted disease. So are we actually teaching them the right way?

Everyone seems to have access to pornography and, if you think they don't at school, think again - because most know ways in. No one bothers about young children watching films rated as "18", or playing computer games intended for adults. Television might have a 9pm watershed for raunchy bits, but most pupils have a telly in their rooms.

A third of marriages end in divorce - and that hurts children more than we want to accept. Never let us go back to the bad old days when a bed made had to be laid on, but are we making it too easy to move in and out of relationships?

Some US schools encourage chastity, and abstinence from alcohol. I think I see the point. Our children are precious, our girls too fragile, to treat them badly. Hospitals spend Friday and Saturdays nights pumping teenage stomachs, most first sexual experiences happen when alcohol is involved and most girls regret it.

I'd like us to teach self-esteem first, with less emphasis on sex in our culture, and let everyone, boys and girls, appreciate their own value. I'd want our pupils to know about sex but, more importantly, understand about relationships.

I would like our young folk to value their bodies more and keep themselves safer by hanging on to their virginity just a tad longer.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher

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