The NHS has brought in an actress from TV soap Hollyoaks to help persuade twelve-year-olds to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Year eight girls – aged twelve and 13 – who opt for the jab will be able to enter a competition to become postergirls for the next advertising campaign, posing with Hollyoaks actress Carley Stenson.
According to sites devoted to Hollyoaks, Miss Stenson’s character Steph Cunningham has been involved in casual sexual relationships since she first appeared on the soap as a school girl.
The news about the competition comes in the same week as researchers revealed a link between the TV programmes teenagers watch and their sexual activity.
The researchers tracked more than 2,000 American teenagers for three years, monitoring their exposure to programmes like Friends and Sex and the City.
They found that sexually active teens whose exposure to the programmes was highest were twice as likely to become pregnant or get someone else pregnant as those who watched them the least.
The controversial vaccine, which has been rolled out across the UK, protects against the human papillomavirus.
The virus is a sexually transmitted infection and a leading cause of cervical cancer.
But one leading researcher said last week that the injection has not been properly trialed, and that the vaccination programme should have been delayed.
Meanwhile, parents and family campaigners have warned that the scheme will give young girls the message that they are expected to be engaging in sexual activity.
They say it could backfire by leaving teenagers with a false sense of security about the risks of STIs.
One school has refused to allow pupils to have the vaccine, which governors had earlier described as a “sticking plaster response” that risked “encouraging sexual promiscuity”.
Such concerns are unlikely to be allayed by the news that twelve-year-old girls in the Midlands are being encouraged to have the jab by a TV actress from Hollyoaks, a soap where characters frequently move from one casual sexual relationship to the next.
Last week a widespread survey found that a third of eleven-year-olds are worried about their bodies.
Earlier this year, the Mental Health Foundation and Girlguiding UK found that pressure on young girls to engage in early sexual activity was threatening their mental health.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, commented at the time: “We are forcing our young people to grow up too quickly and not giving them the spaces and experiences they require to be safe and confident. We are creating a generation under stress.
“This is our responsibility as adults and adult society to put right.”