The mating game

30th January 2004 at 00:00
A group of teenagers tell Hilary Wilce what they think about three new resources for sex and relationships education

There's no doubt our teenagers are in a mess about sex. Teen pregnancies are the highest in Europe and rates of sexually transmitted diseases are rocketing. How are we going to get the message across that sex and relationships are things to be approached thoughtfully and responsibly? It would help if society at large weren't such a value-free zone in this area, or if advertisers didn't constantly use sex to sell. But since this is unlikely to change, schools and parents have to do the best they can.

A clutch of new resources is trying to help, and TES Teacher assembled a group of 15 and 16-year-olds to trial them. They thought all of them should be used by children younger than the ages suggested. "It has much more impact at about 11 or 12. By our age you've heard it all so often," said one veteran of PSHE lessons.

Even so, they were intrigued by Contraception: the Board Game, developed at Salford University and launched via a business enterprise two years ago.

The game can be played by up to six players, who move contraceptive-shaped counters (condom, pill, cap) around a board and who, depending on where they land, pick a card which can prompt a discussion on anything from missed pills, to boasting about sex or premature ejaculation. Barbara Hastings-Asatourian, director of community and learning disabilities nursing studies at Salford, based the game on health and social care research with the aim of increasing young people's knowledge and getting them to think about choices.

The young testers found it all a little in-your-face at first. The board unfolds to show coloured diagrams of male and female sexual organs, and some of the cards prompted giggles - "Using the condom demonstrator, show your group of players how to put on and take off a condom safely."

They thought it might take a class a while to break through the embarrassment barrier but after that it would be a fun and useful way of learning practical things about contraception and discussing things such as how much risk you take if you sleep with someone you don't know. "And you don't have to look at people while you're doing it," pointed out one. "You can just look at the board, and your cards and that would make it easier."

What happens if you fail to heed the lessons of the Contraception Game? Ben, Nat and Baby Jack is an excellent video and teaching manual on teenage parenting. It comes from Multimedia Education and Training and follows 15-year-old Nat and 18-year-old Ben through a year and a half after Nat accidentally gets pregnant.

No big surprises here. The young couple try their best but argue under the strain of bringing up a baby when there is no space, no money and not much maturity. Jack gets caught by the police for trying to steal a toy giraffe while Nat struggles alone at home. "It's so unfair. My mates, they came round earlier, they were just standing there and talking about lads they fancy. And there's me in an old dressing gown talking about nappies and poo."

The video has 13 short scenes, each raising questions - "What does Ben need to think about before making a decision?" - and with plenty of background information, news-paper cuttings and useful facts for teachers on sex-related topics and also wider issues such as the cost of bringing up a baby and the legal rights of unmarried fathers. The teen viewers thought the story was slightly sanitised, with both Nat and Ben nicer than they would be in real life, but both were so well played by actors from the Loud Mouth Educational Theatre Company that they quickly got drawn into the story and cared about what happened.

They did not feel as enthusiastic about the young actors in the interactive Sense, Sex and Relationships CD, developed by Sense Interactive CDs and the National Children's Bureau. "Oh, just yurrrgh", as one said, shuddering. A pity, as the content of that video clip, an intense discussion about the pros and cons of having sex, what you mean by sex, what's involved in gay sex, how to consider your partner's feelings and where to go for help, contains lots of the kind of nuts-and-bolts information that most teens want to know but don't like to ask about. The CD also includes discussions of relationships, sexuality and clips from "a virtual clinic". It comes with a booklet for parents and carers, and will probably be mostly viewed by children exploring it alone, rather than in a class. But there is definitely a need for such a resource. A third of young people still think a condom is unnecessary if a girl is on the pill, and according to a survey commissioned by the makers "a staggering 86 per cent of young people said they feel pressured to have sex". Yet only one in three feels comfortable talking about the subject with their parents.

Contraception EducationBoard game pound;50; CDversion pound;39.95 + pound;2 Pamp;P from Amazon, Nat and Baby Jack pound;60 inc VAT and delivery (reductions for bulk orders), Sex and RelationshipsFrom pound;75 (single-user); and pound;284.12 (unlimited users)

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