Women want sex Broadbent

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Hydeia Broadbent: HIV/AIDS Activist

If you've ever watched a woman with a pushchair trying to board a bus you will know that motherhood can be a struggle. As aspirations go, you wouldn't think being a mum would appeal to the young. And yet new figures out last week showed how the of babies born to teenagers in this country each year has risen to just under 40, babies, despite the millions of government money poured into tackling the problem.

The UK still has the highest teenage birth rate in western Europe.

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In the borough where I live and teach, one in 16 toyear-olds gets pregnant each year. I have 20 students in my A-level class and not long ago, I found myself rocking Alice's grizzling baby to sleep in a lesson so that she could concentrate on metaphysical poetry. Her mother was unable to help with childcare that day so she brought her baby in rather than miss Marvell's To His Coy Mistress. We oohed and aahed and resisted saying, "But you will never be free again" and "Is the father still around? Alice has a fierce intelligence and a determination to finish her education.

But, as with women of any age, it happens out of curiosity, carelessness, cluelessness, coercion, defiance, drunkenness, desperation, love, lovelessness, lust What is different in the areas where teenage motherhood are highest, is the decision to go ahead and have the baby. When I was a teenager in the 70s, having a baby while still at school was on a par with the death of a parent.

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Of course it happened, but it was rare and the social stigma was unforgiving. A generation later, there are now some places in the UK where it is considered odd not to have had a baby by the time you are As if becoming a mother is almost an existential act; the only way to be someone. But clearly not all teenagers who are sexually active want to become mothers. Plenty want to use contraception, but, other than the pill, the condom is the only real choice. And despite the no-nonsense enthusiasm with which it is promoted in sex education, the condom is not without its problems.

The ones distributed free by clinics are one size, one colour and smell unpleasant; many men refuse to use them. To discuss all of this requires a level of openness about sex and relationships that goes well beyond practising putting a condom on a banana, and that frankly does not exist in most classrooms or relationships. Once a teenager finds she is pregnant, she may feel unable to speak about it until it is visible, by which time becoming a mother is the only option. Although half of teenage pregnancies end in abortion and one in four women will have an abortion by the time she is 40, abortion is rarely discussed.

Schools do not talk about it with the same openness as contraception and HIV. If it is addressed, it is usually as an "is abortion murder? Abortion in this country is legal and safe.

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If done before nine weeks it is a non-surgical procedure. After that time, when surgery is required, it can be done under a local anaesthetic. It is hardly surprising, then, that many teenagers see it as dangerous and shameful.

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Abortion is not something that any woman undertakes lightly, but neither is it necessarily emotionally shattering nor morally ruinous. As part of its drive to prevent health inequalities, child poverty and social exclusion, the government wants to halve teenage births by Making teenage motherhood more unacceptable than abortion needs to be part of that strategy if such a target is to be met.

While the rest of Europe has seen dramatic falls since the early 80s, the UK's teenage birthrate has remained largely static since So what are we doing wrong? Could it be that we are less explicit about relationships than we are about sex? At least, less so than the Scandinavians, who claim they talk openly to children about sex and relationships at home and at school. There, teenage pregnancy rates are far lower than ours and teenagers become sexually active later. Many of the teenagers I listened to talked of the pressure to become sexually active. I wonder how much real choice Alice thought she had about the matter of sex or pregnancy.

Alice is an assertive year-old. But teenagers are not so different to the rest of us in sometimes feeling a kind of speechlessness about sex and intimacy.

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Helping them articulate the unspeakable has to be a step in the right direction. Let's talk about sex.

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Sabrina Broadbent on why so many teenage girls in the UK are getting pregnant. Sabrina Broadbent. Topics Society Gender Health Sexual health. Reuse this content.

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