A few years ago, the fame show Family Feud posed the question: “What do twelve year olds wait for?” A phone call, their report cards, and Christmas were among the top answers. But one day last month, a twelve year old at the North York Crisis Pregnancy Centre was waiting for something else. You guessed it- the results of her pregnancy test.

Jesse Beck, Director of the centre, glanced at the youngster sitting in her office- hair dishevelled, dark eyes forlorn, her feet barely touching the floor. She took a deep breath and ran through a mental checklist of the issues she would calmly address with the girl.

But before she knew it, she heard herself demanding: “What that heck do you think you are doing?” the girl shrugged and fidgeted nervously with her belt buckle. Beck remained silent waiting for an answer. Finally, the girl muttered something about “only doing it once,” because she wanted to find out what “all the fuss was about.”

An isolated case? Unfortunately not. A 1992 study commissioned by Ortho Pharmaceuticals and endorsed by The Ontario College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found that 42% of girls engage in intercourse before the age of 14. and Crisis Pregnancy Centres across the country are reporting that they are seeing an ever-increasing number of sexually active 10-13 years olds.

Bev Hadland, founder and director of Straight Talk Youth Counselling says she recently counselled a 14-year-old girl who had already had ten sexual partners. So while sexual activity is either remaining the same or falling in general among teenagers, sexual activity among the 10-13 year old age group is increasing, which begs the question, why are the older teens getting the message while the younger ones are not?

Earlier and earlier promiscuous sex education is certainly  one possible reason. “Sixth graders learning how to put on a condom- it’s absolutely ludicrous,” says Hadland. “By the time they’re in grade either they think something’s wrong with them if theyre not having sex,” she points out. “A young girl recently told me that asking her to abstain from sex was like asking the Pope not to pray,” says Hadland, with a sigh.

Jesse Beck is also furious with sex educators. “A young boy I know was recently marked wrong for listing abstinence as a birth control method,” relates Beck. “How can we expect kids to abstain when adults have this mentality?”

But she doesn’t just blame educators for this lamentable new trend. “Contraceptive manufacturers must equally share in the blame,” Beck claims, pointing to a particularly misleading Trojan ad which ran on the TTC last year. “If a picture tells a thousand words, then little kids who can’t even read yet are getting the message that condoms are impenetrable,” asserts Beck. The ad depicted a bent arrow against a shield-shaped condom. “How can they get away with it?” she demands to know.

Meanwhile, Hadland contends that parents must share the blame as well. “If you can get through, I dare you to call Planned Parenthood’s 1-800 (463-6739) sex line and have a listen to the garbage they’re feeding our kids,” she challenges parents. “Also have a look at what they’re watching on T.V. or listening to on the radio. It’s all about sex,” says Hadland, pointing to the more than 30,000 acts of physical intimacy which were broadcast on prime time television last year.  “When you combine this with the systematic problems of our society like broken homes, sexual abuse, and latch-key kids it’s no wonder they’re throwing themselves into sexual relationships at younger and younger ages,” asserts Hadland.

As a mother of two pre-adolescents, I can also testify to the fact that eight year olds are now talking about sex as if it’s a recently discovered game or hobby. Ten year olds are conducting surveys among their friends to see who will be the first to have it and twelve year olds are bringing condoms to school and passing them out.

In facing up to the fact that early sexual has become the new “rite of passage” into adolescence for many pre-teens, we must bear in mind that these are children of parent who are themselves, products of the sexual revolution. They fought to make it happen. They see it as a great freedom. And they can’t imagine why their kids would be any different.

So even though their youngsters are getting sexually involved at much younger ages than they did, they put it down to earlier onset of puberty.

It’s scary but it’s true. In search of answers, next month, I’ll go to the streets and talk to the pre-teens themselves. So turn off Much Music and Married with Children and stay tuned.