More than a quarter of young women today lost their virginity when they were below the legal age of consent, an NHS survey has revealed.
According to the study 27 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds had underage sex. By comparison, just four per cent of women now aged 55 to 69 first had sex when they were underage.
NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said: “The survey paints a picture of sexual behaviour which is changing over the generations, with younger women beginning to have sex younger.”
Across all age groups, the statistics show that 14 per cent of women lost their virginity before the age of 16 compared with 20 per cent of men.
The average age for losing virginity was 17, although for those now aged 16 to 24 it was 16.
Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: “Over recent years we have witnessed the systematic removal of every restraint which in previous generations served as a disincentive to underage sexual activity.
“Sex education in many schools has had the effect of breaking down the natural inhibitions of children with regard to sexual conduct, and the age of consent is rarely enforced, so young people no longer have any fear of legal proceedings.”
Rebecca Findlay, a spokeswoman for sexual health charity FPA (formerly the Family Planning Association), commented: “We must remember that most young people under 16 aren’t sexually active.
“Society has changed dramatically in the last 50 years and the nature of relationships has too.”
She also claimed there was an “overwhelming need” for statutory sex and relationships education in schools.
Diane Abbott, the Shadow Public Health Minister, commented: “The rising numbers of girls having under-age sex is alarming.”
She argued that the underlying cause was “the ‘pornification’ of British culture and the increasing sexualisation of pre-adolescent girls”.