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"But it's not a good idea to assume that sexual activity is not happening in the leafy suburbs," warns Dr Stephanie O'Keeffe, research manager with the Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA). Larger studies show that the age at which teenagers have their first experience of sexual intercourse has plummeted by three years in the past decade, from an average age of 19 for girls and 18 for boys, to an average age of 15-and-a-half today, with some starting kissing at 12, heavy petting at 13 and full sex at the age of 14.

When combined with teen fertility and abortion rates, this puts Irish teenagers in the lower half of the European league on measures of teen sexual activity.

She lost her case on the grounds that the degree of parental control varied according to the child's understanding and intelligence, and that parental rights only existed so long as they were needed to protect the property and person of the child.

This precedent has never been tested in Irish case law.

"We would actively encourage every girl to seek parental consent before we prescribe.

If the girl refuses, the vast majority of GPs would prescribe the [ contraceptive] pill if, in their considered judgment, the girl is at greater health risk from pregnancy than she is from being prescribed the pill," he explains.

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