Responsible: Sugar and Bliss, with editor Johnston (inset)
The editors of teenage magazines Bliss, Sugar and CosmoGIRL! have hit back at critics who are outraged that the publications are now being used in school sex education classes.
Ten schools are currently trialling a course that sets 12 to 15-year-olds studying teenage magazines and attempting to decode their messages about sex and relationships.
In the past, teachers have called for the titles to have age restriction stickers on the front amid fears about their sexual content, while headteachers have described the latest lessons as “ghastly”.
But Helen Johnston, editor of Emap’s Bliss, said thousands of teenagers were “desperate for help” on sex issues that schools were not providing.
She said: “Teen magazine editors passionately believe there’s a need for more comprehensive sex education in schools.
“There isn’t a specific national curriculum on it, so it varies from school to school, and while some schools do it well, in some it’s done by the geography supply teacher on a rainy afternoon when PE’s cancelled and everyone giggles and is embarrassed.
“Magazines are one of the few places that teens can get information.
“We know this from thousands of letters, emails and texts we get every month from girls desperate for help.”
The Media Relate project, devised by the Institute of Education in London, tells pupils to look at the content of teen magazines and debate it through role-play discussions. They also look at problem pages over recent decades and discuss the advice offered.
Annabel Brog, editor of Hachette’s Sugar , said: “A lot of critics only read the covers or the headlines, which are very engaging and entertaining, but if they read the articles they will see there is not one thing that is irresponsible or unprofessional in there.”
Miranda Eason, acting editor of CosmoGIRL! , said magazines followed set guidelines on sex advice very closely. She said: “We follow them to the letter and beyond. Every article and advice piece is thoroughly researched and we work closely with Sexwise, the FPA and Brook, as well as referring to our own rigorously trained experts.
“We are absolutely not encouraging teenagers to become sexually active.”
Last year, education secretary Charles Clarke met with teenage mag editors canvassing their advice on a national sex education curriculum, programme, but since then the government has dropped the issue.
Johnston said: “It died a death, but not through lack of effort on the part of the magazine editors.
“Maybe the people who could have made it happen lost their nerve.”
A spokesman for the DfES said that sex education was the responsibility of individual schools and was not dictated by central government.
By Alyson Fixter