A quarter of 11 year olds having sex
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A quarter of 11 year olds having sex implies the BBC!   Eh?

Radio One, is the BBC’s pop music station, mainly listened to by teenagers.   On 27 Feb 2003 its “Newsround” bulletin ran the following headline:

“More than a quarter of 11 year olds say they know of a classmate of the same age who is having sex.”   

The story was attributed to Marie Stopes International, a family planning charity campaigning for more government spending on contraception in schools. 

The BBC website ran the story under the headline: 

“Children 'having sex at 11'.    More than a quarter of 11-year-olds in the UK know someone their age who is having sex, according to a new survey.”

Why is the state broadcaster recycling a misleading statistic being peddled by a pressure group?  

The figure is based on self-reported data, with all the unreliability that implies.   Even if correct, it tells us nothing about the true rate of sexual activity among 11-year-olds.   The children could all be acquainted with the same sexually active 11-year-old.    The sexual activity is undefined.  At age 11 much of it presumably consists of pre-pubertal children inspecting each other’s genitals, an activity that most people would regard as a normal part of growing up.   Finally, the statistic is produced by an organisation in whose interest it is to make us all panic about teenage sexual activity.    They know that most listeners will mishear the headline, as I did the first time, as 25 percent of 11-year-olds having sex.   

The charity’s motives are clear, albeit unattractive.  It intends to use the findings to win support for a new campaign to supply children logging onto its website with free condoms.  Such cynical manipulation of the data might get them some extra funds, but it will also mislead teenagers about the sexual activity of their of their peers, and encourage the very thing it claims to want to prevent, unwanted pregnancy.  

But what are the BBC’s motives?  It did not need to lead with that statistic.  The charity’s press release does not contain the 25 percent statement.   Presumably the BBC had to search through the whole survey, which I don’t have to hand, to find it.   Possibly they even made it up.  The Guardian did not use it. 

It is bad enough being taxed to fund a pop music station, but paying to encourage teenage sexual activity so the BBC can get a cheap headline is worse.   Join the campaign abolish the licence fee today (click here).   


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Last modified: November 12, 2006