Children are being taken to sexual health clinics for school trips which are designed to be “enjoyable”.
But critics have warned that the trips are “normalising promiscuity”.
School girls in Great Yarmouth who are identified as being at “high risk of teenage pregnancy” are being selected for the trips to NHS sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics.
In London a genito-urinary doctor who has been involved in trips in the capital said: “We are trying to demystify the experience for children who may have to visit later in life, and to make the clinic friendly and welcoming.”
The school visits to a West London STD clinic include demonstrations of how to use a condom, question and answer sessions about the risks of different sexual activities and examinations of diseases such as gonorrhoea under a microscope.
Dr Dawn Wilkinson, who leads a “You’re Welcome” project at the centre said: “We want to make the experience enjoyable, so that if they return to us, it is less intimidating for them”.
Tours in Norfolk currently involve five schools with groups of girls, aged 15 and 16, who have been identified as at “high risk of teenage pregnancy”.
Diana Baxter, from women’s charity GFS Platform, formerly the Girls Friendly Society, said: “We want them to see the reality of what happens, to meet the staff, see the treatment rooms, and some fairly graphic photos. It is a bit of a shock tactic.”
Following one tour, a group of 16-year-olds performed school assemblies and quizzes with 50 younger children, aged 13 and 14, about what they had learnt on their trip to the clinic.
Norman Wells, Director of the Family Education Trust, said by “normalising recreational sex” such initiatives were likely to create a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
“Schoolchildren don’t need organised visits to sexual health clinics any more than they need school trips to drug rehabilitation centres or alcoholics anonymous groups,” he said.
Jim McManus, from the Catholic Bishops Conference, also expressed concerns about the way the schemes focused on the practicalities of sex, without any moral context.
Mr McManus said: “If you take a group of teenage kids around a genito-urinary clinic, all that does is familiarise them with the idea that there is nothing to all this, that STDs are bound to happen.”
He added: “That is an incredibly distorted message, when what we actually need to do is to teach teenagers that sex is part of a moral and ethical framework, and to give them the confidence to make the right choices”.
Margaret Morrissey, founder of pressure group Parents Outloud said: “Of course children and teenagers need information about sex, but it needs to be in the context of a loving relationship.
“Taking a group of 14-year-olds to an STD clinic not only suggests that casual sex is normal, but will make many teenagers feel under pressure to rush into sexual relationships for which they are not ready.
“I really worry that yet again we are treating children as mini-adults, and storing up terrible consequences for society”, she said.
In March a senior Conservative MP questioned why there are no legal consequences for children who break the law by engaging in underage sex.
The Shadow Minister for Children and Young People, Tim Loughton, blamed the nation’s high teenage pregnancy rate on the benefits system, and the “easy lifestyles portrayed in the media”.