LONDON – Britain's National Health Service has a message for teens: Sex can be fun.
Health officials are trying to change the tone of sex education by urging teachers to emphasize that sexual relations can be healthy and pleasurable instead of simply explaining the mechanics of sex and warning about diseases.
The new pamphlet, called "Pleasure," has sparked some opposition from those who believe it encourages promiscuity among teens in a country that already has high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The National Health Service in the city of Sheffield produced the booklet, which has a section called "an orgasm a day" that encourages educators to tell teens about the positive physical and emotional effects of sex and masturbation, which is described as an easy way for people to explore their bodies and feel good. Like more traditional sex education guides, it encourages demonstrations about how to use condoms and other contraceptives.
Some professionals have hailed the new approach as a welcome antidote to traditional sex education, which they say can be long on biological facts but short on information about the complexity of human relationships.
The booklet suggests ways in which teachers can encourage sexual awareness and responsibility while teaching young people that sex is something that is meant to be enjoyed.
Steve Slack, who helped produce the leaflet as Director of the Center for HIV & Sexual Health in Sheffield, said one goal is to help young people learn to resist peer pressure and delay having sex until they are emotionally ready.
"Far from promoting teenage sex, it is designed to encourage young people to delay losing their virginity until they are sure they will enjoy the experience," he said.
Slack said some of the ideas in the booklet came from the Netherlands, which is well known in Europe for its liberal attitude toward sexual behavior.
But the pamphlet is condemned by some educators who believe it will lead to more casual sex among teens.
"Some of it is good sense, but I think it's wrong is to suggest that 16-year-olds should wantonly enter into having sexual intercourse for pleasure," said Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College, a school for teens. "I think this is medically wrong and emotionally wrong and will increase teenage pregnancy and impact negatively on the formation of a long-term loving relationship."
He said teens should be taught about the value of a long-term commitment, not simply about the pleasures of sexual intercourse.
Ruth Smith, news editor of Children & Young People Now magazine, said one goal of the new booklet is to help young people become more comfortable with their sexuality and to let them know they can speak out if they are abused or forced into a situation they don't like.
"Research shows young people feel pressured to have sex before they're ready," she said."This booklet is intended to give them the skills to discuss it. It's not a license to go out and have sex, it's saying if you do, do it, wait until you're ready and enjoy it. It makes them more confident and more able to say no."
She said the instruction guide will not be given to students but is intended to suggest ways in which teachers can start a conversation about sex.
"It's trying to find what works with young people," she said.