LONDON, July 14, 2009 — -- Great Britain has long struggled with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe. Now a local government initiative in northern England is trying a new and somewhat controversial approach to sex education -- encouraging teenagers to masturbate.
In a new National Health Service leaflet entitled "Pleasure," teenagers are encouraged to exercise their right to "an orgasm a day."
"Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes' physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?" says the leaflet, which Sheffield's Primary Care Trust has circulated to parents, teenagers and youth workers in and around the city.
The leaflet has caused quite a stir. Many people say they believe it will encourage teenagers to engage in underage or unsafe sex.
Steven Slack, one of the authors, disagrees. He was unavailable for comment to ABC News, but previously told the Daily Telegraph that the leaflet does the opposite, and, in fact, encourages teenagers to delay losing their virginity until they are certain they will enjoy the experience.
Slack also said that by encouraging teenagers to experiment with sex, the pamphlet could dispel the myth that "there is only one way to have 'proper sex.'"
Psychologists who specialize in sexuality and family health in the United States generally supported the message, but disagreed about the method to reach teens.
"These are still minors, and the parents, even if they are supportive of the idea, might be a bit scandalized to see their children being talked to directly about sexuality without taking the parents' consent into account," psychologist and columnist Pepper Schwartz wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com.
"I think talking about and demystifying masturbation is a great idea -- but it should be done with parent cooperation rather than bombarding their child with information without context or respect for their own cultural and historical traditions," she said.
Experts Disagree About Pro-Masturbation Pamphlets
Other psychologists specializing in sexuality, however, were completely supportive of a comprehensive education campaign, including covering masturbation.
"Generally speaking, I see nothing inappropriate in suggesting that masturbation is both pleasurable and healthy for both young adults and older adults," New York City-based psychologist and author Joy Davidson said.
"If one is old enough to be potentially sexually active, one is old enough to deserve honest, comprehensive information about all aspects of sexuality, including desire and pleasure, and to be encouraged to learn about one's body via self-stimulation," she said.
"It's long past time that appreciation of one's sexual feelings, blended with emotional awareness and knowledge of safer sex practices, replace methods of fear-provoking and shame-instilling sexuality mis-education," she said.
This leaflet is just the latest in a succession of U.K. government initiatives to try and reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies. Earlier schemes have generally involved educational classes and courses designed to teach teenagers how to practice safe sex.
However, shock tactics have also been tried. In one video, teenagers were shown running across a school sports field to watch a fellow student giving birth. The video was an attempt to convey to teenagers the harsh reality of parenthood at such a young age.
Earlier this year, another leaflet was distributed to parents to encourage them to talk to their teens about sex without judgement, explaining that there is no "right" or "wrong," rather that generations simply view sex differently.
Finally, the U.K. government has proposed relaxing the rules on condom advertising and allowing abortion clinics to advertise their services on TV and radio, despite doctors' calls for these advertisements to be banned.