To be sussed is a must: Celine Bell, on where young people go for their sex advice now that copies of Just 17 aren’t being passed around the back of the bus.
How is it that a story published in Just 17 about 23 years ago still haunts me? A young girl had a holiday romance. She hadn’t slept with her summer fling, but on the last night there was some fiddling and rubbing (I think the correct term is “mutual masturbation”) and she got pregnant. GOD, can you imagine… And for some reason I remember this story really clearly – and when I was chatting with some friends about our girlhood influences (my primary influence was ABSOLUTELY these magazines) I wasn’t the only one to remember this girl.
Surely it’s a fake? A made-up story. Apparently not, says a friend who worked in publishing at the time. “They were real letters, from real people. The advice we gave in return really mattered.”
And our knocked-up heroine had nobody to turn to, so she wrote to Anita Naik and Nick Fisher, the agony aunt and uncle who doled out no-nonsense advice and always pointed out that, “To be sussed is a must, but sex under 16 is illegal.”
I can’t remember the advice she was given – I can only remember being convinced that going within 10 feet of a sperm would get me pregnant. (The benefit of hindsight, and the bittersweet realisation that conception is as much about luck and perseverance as anything else, has taught me otherwise.)
But by delving into charity shops I’ve found a couple of old issues. The advice on these pages was sensitively handled, with an emphasis on consent and mutual respect, always referring the troubled reader to speak to a teacher or parent if in real trouble. Now that young adults pick up much of their sex education from the Internet and pornography, have we gone backwards in these 23 years? And what about the influence of social media – Instagram and Snapchat will be yesterday’s media by the time my tiny toddlers are old enough to be exploring this minefield (and just typing that makes me shudder), but unless they’ve been replaced with the vintage 70s bush and Marilyn figures that were on the pages of Playboy, handed round the back of the school minibus, then I fear they will still show ultra-slim, impossibly young-looking hairless women in enforced subservience (apologies to anyone slim, young-looking and with an excellent hair removal schedule who likes being spanked). And, as now, there will be instant access to these unrealistic images. And that isn’t the reality of the sex that anyone I know is having. (To be fair, we are all parents, and knackered, and so on a Saturday night if it’s a debate between a shag and another glass of red and the next episode of Ozark, the telly wins remarkably often. And I’m not sure that’s the way sex should be represented either....)
The questions I’m asking are multiple. Where has this fantastic, empowering advice gone? Is Ask.fm the new equivalent? Please, no!! How do we encourage our teens to keep their pants on ‘til they are ready, and to like themselves enough to make good choices? What lies in wait for our beautiful, tiny babies, who will grow into awkward, spotty teenagers?
We will fail our young people unless they have somewhere to go for this advice, somewhere that is both positive and realistic about sex. Fanny farts, wobbly bottoms, hairy bits and all.