Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

How Sex Terrifies Children. (Education)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

How Sex Terrifies Children. (Education)

Article excerpt

John was watching a TV programme in which someone died of Aids. He became terrified he would get it and die, too. Only his sister was in the house, but she was unable to console him, so he called a counsellor to get advice. The counsellor talked to him and agreed to stay on the line until he eventually calmed down.

John was not sexually active and hadn't been using needles. He wasn't even HIV--positive. In fact, he was a nine-year-old boy calling ChildLine.

John is one of an increasing number of young children growing up terrified of sex and Aids. In 1993, ChildLine designated Aids as the primary reason for its calls. Children, many under the age of 11, ring up crying: "I pricked my finger in needlework and I'm scared of Aids" or "I kissed someone and now I feel sick. Could it be Aids?" Last month, a survey by Marie Stopes International UK and NOP Family said that 66 per cent of 11-to 15-yearolds were worried about getting Aids -- substantially more than were concerned about bullying or doing well at school.

The survey questioned more than 1,000 children from a variety of backgrounds, rich and poor. Over half the respondents didn't know condoms could prevent HIV and STIs, and only a third were confident in their knowledge of contraception. The survey pointed to an overwhelming anxiety over adult issues. Tony Kerridge of Marie Stopes concluded: "There is a sense of paranoia. There are young people who must be feeling very vulnerable."

Sex education is a hot topic, and there are plenty of people exchanging views over the national curriculum, government targets and alternative foreign models. The debate will goon; what is new is a worry that we are bringing children up in a climate of fear. A recent report by ChildLine called Can You Get it From Toothpaste? concludes: "... it is clear from our study that some under-11s are confused, fearful and influenced by myths and horror stories about HIV and Aids". …

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