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Sex and Radio 1

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Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 13:16 UK time, Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Andy is a bathroom fitter. He's young - a keen Radio 1 listener with a wife and two small children. I spent some time with him recently - not because he's doing my bathroom - but because I went to talk to him while he was doing a job near Basingstoke and I wanted to get his thoughts on what we do journalistically.

Radio One logoYou see, we editors do occasionally come down from our ivory towers.

Broadly, he's a fan, but one thing does make him very angry.

Your editorial line - he said, accusingly - is promoting sex. "You are always going on about STI's, condoms and safe sex... and giving the impression everyone's doing it with multiple partners. But you don't talk about monogamy or abstinence!"

This got me thinking: sex is one of the Radio 1's audience key concerns; with the western world's highest rates of teen pregnancies, huge rises in STI's and spiralling depression - often caused by relationship or self image issues - it's hardly surprising we get more listener interaction on these issues than any other. The appetite for these stories is huge.

So am I some sort of latter-day Paul Raymond - presiding over a sleazy world of promiscuity and porn, surrounded by page 3 wannabes whilst signing up kiss-and-tell stories to shame the News of the World? No, clearly not. That never has been or will be, part of the brief (no pun intended).

But what we are providing is public service information in any area where many young people feel they are seriously uninformed. The reality is that for many of our audience, sex - often risky, sometimes disastrous - is a regular part of their lives.

It's not our job, I believe, to preach, to stand in judgement or to make moral judgements. It's not a role I seek or am qualified to do - nor would my staff want to. It is our job to make the best information available to our young listeners aged in their late teens and early twenties so they can make informed choices if they wish to. We even have a specialist youth health reporter, Helen Neill, to help us to address this editorial area with real focus.

I said this to Andy - he thought for a bit and said, smiling, "but you could tell them about abstinence and being faithful to one person couldn't you? There are some young people like that, you know".

Maybe he's got a point.

(PS: Click here to find out more about Radio 1's 'Bare All' campaign.)

Rod McKenzie is editor of Newsbeat and 1Xtra TX


The last two posts on this Editors forum have been insecure ramblings of paranoid editors with the subliminal message 'oh dear are we doing the right thing?'

Who cares about your angst?

All this is protesting too much. Okay we get it. You think about your job. Whoop de doo.

Now write something interesting.

  • 2.
  • At 02:32 PM on 25 Jul 2006,
  • Matthew Burdett wrote:

There are people like that. I'm 17, i'm one of tese people you refer to - a teenager who's never had sex... and in a 8 month relationship....

  • 3.
  • At 03:31 PM on 25 Jul 2006,
  • Magyar Hettie wrote:

"It is our job to make the best information available to our young listeners aged in their late teens and early twenties so they can make informed choices if they wish to."

One of the choices teenagers can make is Andy's and Matthew's and I'm sure this can be presented in an inoffensive manner.

I think, faithfulness is the way forward since the less partner you have sex with the less likely you contract a disease and contraception can be discussed and planned properly within a relationship and you don't have to use condom, which is always good news, isn't it ;)

  • 4.
  • At 04:31 PM on 25 Jul 2006,
  • Mr S wrote:

I didn't have sex until 18 and I felt like such a freak! Shows that there is an acceptance that sex when much younger is ok.

Worryingly, society seems to think of being faithful as an old tradition I think. I hate the fact that so many people cannot remain faithful to their partner!

But, education is necessary. Youngsters need to know about sex and the dangers inherent. They will learn the pleasure themselves but they also need to know that just because it's there, doesn't mean you have to do it.

  • 5.
  • At 04:46 PM on 25 Jul 2006,
  • Matthew wrote:

... and then you get shows like Big Brother, Celebrity Love Universe and the like.

  • 6.
  • At 04:57 PM on 25 Jul 2006,
  • Imtypingonakeyboard wrote:

Duh Trev, editors have to make these choices, and this is one the best ways to get feedback from its audience than to actually ask them.

This is a serious subject to deal with and for you to just wave it away with being an angst Editors comments trivialises what is a major cornerstone of public service broadcasting is, social awareness campaigns.

I for one believe that Radio 1's sex survey back in May seemed to be just sniggered at by presenters at breakfast and afternoons. Light humour is good, but Mr Moyles and Colin & Edith seemed to use the items to be puerile entertainment links instead of getting to the nitty gritty. I am not a Moyles basher, he is brilliant talented broadcaster, but he is useless at getting serious information across.

Everything through the day output seemed to be on shagging and its consequences. I understand that it was to promote safe sex, but there didn't seem to be much about no sex at all.

Look at that, constructive feedback that in Trev's blog mindset might have never filtered back to the top.

Sex is one thing, drinking is another, and often they go togeher. In fact, amongst Radio 1 listeners the two things are probably quite tightly linked. Now, I'm all for a good time lubricated by alcohol, but is it responsible for Radio 1 DJs to condone people who come on boast about their drinking adventures? I remember Jo Whiley from a few weeks ago saying something like 'Must have been a good weekend then' when her caller mentioned he could remember going into the bars but not out of them.

Ha ha.

Jo should have taken the opportunity to put the willies up him (figuratively) by pointing out not only the damage her caller is likely to be doing to himself, but also how drunk people are far less likely to use condoms, and that Radio 1 listeners are the most vulnerable cohort when it comes to STIs.

Still laughing?

  • 8.
  • At 09:04 PM on 25 Jul 2006,
  • Candadai Tirumalai wrote:

I am both surprised and encouraged that several of your young posters have developed a mature attitude to sex, which enables them to resist powerful peer pressure and their own adolescent urges. The young bathroom fitter whom you met in Basingstoke could not have been more decided and forthright in his views: I would guess his children are forunate in him.

Isn't the target audience of Radio One 5-7 years old or something like that? Do children that age need tohear about sex at all?
I stopped listening a few years ago (because of the shallow showbiz chat and predictable playlist) but I have occasionally heard some sort of "Agony Aunt" type programme at the weekend, where very balanced advice was given on a range of issues.
I'm one of those people that thinks ANY sex education is better than none, but 1FM is the last place I'd expect to find it. The sub-tabloid spiel of "personality" jocks is puerile nonsense. Anyone who looks to 1FM for information of importance to life is going to be sadly disappointed.
If the remit of Radio 1 includes sex education for teenagers and young adults, then it's clearly not having a very positive effect.
Anyway, I've had a lot more sex since I moved to Radio 2.

As one of this set of young people who choose to abstain, I would agree that the overwhelming impression from the media (not just the BBC) is that casual sex, often underage and promiscuous, is not only normal but something which is beneficial. In that sense alone, it would be nice to see some coverage of the other side of things.

However, to say that you are not making a judgement is nonsense. By choosing to not talk about such things as abstinence you do preach, and make a judgement which you are apparently "not qualified to make"! From your current choice of coverage, I'm not so inclined to disagree at the moment....

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't talk about these moral issues, but rather that you should stop babbling the cop-out and make a proper moral decision about it. If this involves disagreeing with your audience, so be it, or if it involves carrying on as you are, so be it. But at least have the courage to be honest about what you're doing.

  • 11.
  • At 09:26 AM on 26 Jul 2006,
  • Sarah wrote:

Its nice to see that others share my point of view on this topic. I'm 25 and I've chosen to wait until I meet the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. This isn't always the easy choice, especially since I'm 25, and after waiting for what seems like many years! But sex being everywhere in the media really doesn't make it easier as the only point of view put accross is that everyone's doing it all over the place. It can be an alienating decision to make because of the emphasis on sex on the tv, in magazines, music videos, and the radio.

I suspect that this is the view that presenters take because they don't want to be seen as old fashioned or out of date with their audience. But I think there is an ironic danger that in going on and on at young people about contraception and protection can make them feel like 'everyone else must be doing it to need this advice and therefore I should to fit in'.

If the decision to wait was represented more fairly in the media, it might enable more to make that decision based more on what they want rather than what they feel they should do.

  • 12.
  • At 10:01 AM on 26 Jul 2006,
  • MC wrote:

What you've essentially got here is a thread on the so-called ABC approach to sexual health and HIV prevention.
A for abstinence; B for be failful; C for use a condom. George Bush and the Christian right in the US are very keen on A and B, but won't mention C unless it's in the context of their (very low) failure rate.
Although it might seem very attractive to focus on A and B, there's overwhelming evidence from the States that young people who are denied comprehensive sex education end up having riskier sex when they do finally have sex, higher rates of unwanted pregnancy, and more STIs.
And although the focus on A and B in HIV prevention has been highlighted as a success in recent years, epidemiological evidence actually shows that its D for death that has caused the biggest drop in HIV prevelance in some countries.
Young people deserve the truth.

  • 13.
  • At 01:29 PM on 26 Jul 2006,
  • Baz wrote:

Well, I'm a 20 year-old virgin. Do I feel pressured to have sex? Not really, because as a rule of thumb I find I abhor many of the sections of media that seem to promote it (Big Brother, Gossip Magazines etc). I'm a firm believer in loyalty and faithfulness, and have just entered into what I hope will be a long-term relationship. Sex hasn't even been mentioned yet; it'll happen when we're both good and ready - and since we'll both be each other's first, I'm sure it'll be that bit more special too!

  • 14.
  • At 06:12 PM on 26 Jul 2006,
  • Charlotte wrote:

I chose to keep my virginity until I was 24 years old. It was the best decision I ever made and well worth feeling like a freak since the age of 16. I'm so glad that someone in the media has finally started to consider this aspect of sex education, after all without the inclusion of abstinence and faithfulness, the education cannot be comprehensive can it? Sexuality is such an important part of being an adult that being comfortable with your choices should be of paramount importance.

The current trend to promote promiscuity and early sexual activity is damaging to our children. Give them all the information, not just the trendy information. It has nothing to do with morals - it is to do with choice. Stop making decisions for teenagers - let them make their own choices.

  • 15.
  • At 08:51 PM on 26 Jul 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

To poster #5, it has been a long time since you listened to Radio 1. Radio 1 stopped calling itself "1FM" in 1995. :-)

On a more serious point, I think poster #7 has raised a very important issue regarding the way in which Radio 1 DJs appear to encourage or condone excessive alcohol consumption by their listeners. This is either done through on-air calls with listeners before or after a night out, or features where presentation teams spend a lot of time talking about themselves.

Radio 1 has been called to account on Radio 4's Feedback a number of times, and the station's response has been feeble. Radio 1 has either claimed that the item was meant to be ironic or the station is merely reflecting the activities of its listeners.

  • 16.
  • At 10:54 PM on 26 Jul 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

"Andy is a bathroom fitter. He's young - a keen Radio 1 listener with a wife and two small children. I spent some time with him recently - not because he's doing my bathroom - but because I went to talk to him while he was doing a job near Basingstoke and I wanted to get his thoughts on what we do journalistically." Rod McKenzie: editor of Newsbeat and 1Xtra TX

Do listeners with other points of view get personal, out of town visits from BBC programme editors to be sounded on their wishes? It seems a little strange that one, not-so-young, abstinence-until-marriage-then-lots-of-offspring advocate would get singled out for such courtesy, as it sounds from the way it is written up. Did his wife also get included? It sounds like she didn't.

As do many women, worldwide, I had abstinence forced upon me, very unwillingly. In my case until I was 26. So an advocate of abstinence would need to have to make an extraordinary case to persuade me that it needed promotion for other than his own religious objectives.

What everybody writing on this topic here seem to miss, is that individuals, including "youth", have different needs when it comes to sex, intimacy, relationships, commitment, etc.. Some just don't need any of those. There isn't a lot of benefit a national radio station trying to press people to go against those personal needs. So people of one set of needs trying to advocate that others do the same should be resisted. Indeed Radio 1 should, I would suggest, be helping people resist such pressures, wherever they come from, and instead find what is right for themselves and live by that. What is needed is to let people know that such individual variations are OK, and, where necessary to help them get access to whatever information they need for their safety and happiness, appropriate to their needs.

To raise one specific issue: how much education does Radio 1 do about oral sex (heterosexual and homosexual, male and female), which is rapidly increasing in occurance and seem subject to huge misunderstandings and lack of information on safety. I wonder if you asked the bathroom fitter if he would count oral sex as abstinence?

  • 17.
  • At 02:02 AM on 27 Jul 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

When I read this column, my first thought was exactly the same as Meandering Trevor Blog's was in comment #1. Assuming Rod McKenzie is telling us the truth, it shows unbelievable insecurity that an editor of BBC would feel compelled to defend the programming policy of an entire station in public in light of an off handed criticism by young Andy the bathroom fitter. What happened to market research, polls, test audiences, and the like to determine what listeners want and accept? So now Andy has the remarkable power to strongly influence BBC Radio 1. Congratulations, Andy, I'll bet you didn't know your own strength. Keep it up and become a master fitter and before you know it, the Prime Minister will be phoning you for advice before he appears in Parliament.

I think its somewhat reassuring that in a world of ever increasing religious/moral zealotry (US Christian fundamentalists, Islamic militant groups, Zionist groups, the Catholic Church, and er, New Labour) the BBC can talk about issues where moral pressures are often so strongly applied, without taking sides.

Now, I don't always approve of Radio-1's content (for example, what is with all that dance music you guys play at weekends? Get some more rock on!) but in this area you guys got it right. You're sharing information with people who need it, without judging how they use it.

Perhaps, the license fee is used well afterall...

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