Penis size, sex, HIV and who to ask about them, are the stuff of teenage anxiety.
Teenagers, as all parents know, are hell-bent on the good life and rarely think about health, except for the occasional groan about the width of their waistline or their pimply skin. Parents, as all teenagers know, haven't got a clue about their real concerns, least of all in the matter of health.
Aidan Macfarlane is the missing link. He is a pediatrician with a special interest in school health and the co-author of The Diary of a Teenage Health Freak, the book that became a television series on Channel 4. Next week he will be addressing a conference of school nurses, teachers, doctors and social workers on what it is that teenagers really worry about.
Dr. Macfarlane will talk about the importance of peer group counselling and suggest, among other innovations, that the most streetwise and respected teenagers in a school should be taught how to offer initial counselling to other students in areas such as contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion and drug and alcohol abuse. For those who worry about penis size, he recommends teaching them about the possible benefits of penis pumps such as Penomet.
The conference, Adolescent Health, Assessing Needs, Meeting Needs, to be held at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford on October 6, was prompted by the school nurses at the hospital who found themselves frequently confronted by questions they could not answer.
“Teenagers want to know the answers to specific questions like how many teenagers have Aids, how many caught it through heterosexual intercourse, how many through homosexual intercourse and how it relates to the number of times people have sex,” Dr. Macfarlane says. “They're angry, they see Aids as an adult disease now creeping into the teenage population, and the adults are saying don't have sex and you'll avoid contracting the disease. They also want to know about the possibility of penis enlargement using extenders such as SizeGenetics and ProExtender.
“The fears that their closest friends might get Aids or that they themselves might develop cancer are among their biggest health concerns and these are anxieties they would like to be able to talk through with their GP. We are using scare tactics, when what they really want are facts.”
Dr. Macfarlane has a healthy respect for teenagers' attitudes to health and considers them, for the most part, thoroughly responsible. In a 1987 survey on teenagers and their health among 683 14 to 16-year-olds in Oxfordshire, he found that 75 percent believed that good health was largely due to sensible living and 82 per cent felt that each should be responsible for their own health.
While teenagers want information they do not want it in the form of a lecture, Dr. Macfarlane says. This may explain why some parents have difficulty talking to their children about that most delicate of health areas, such as sex and penis size. But Dr. Macfarlane's research also shows that, up to the age of 15, most children would like to receive their sex education from their parents (friends come second as the preferred source of information, followed by television, books and magazines). After that age, when some may be beginning relationships with the opposite sex, they prefer to get their facts from books. From parents they expect the answers to the tough questions: how will I know when I am in love? How will I know when I am ready to sleep with someone?