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But by university age, 70 per cent have not had sex, which is high by European standards.

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.

The more open parents are to discussing sex with their children, the more likely the children are to postpone having sex, says Caroline Spillane of the CPA.

According to the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), nearly all GPs - a handful of conscientious objectors excepted - believe that they have a "duty of care" to prescribe oral contraception to young teenagers who request it and, furthermore, that they are legally justified in doing so under a UK precedent, known as Gillick Competence.

In a celebrated case 20 years ago, Victoria Gillick challenged her UK local authority's right to prescribe contraceptives to teenage girls under the age of 16 without their parents' knowledge.

Dr Eamon Shanahan, speaking on behalf of the ICGP, says that demand for the contraceptive pill in underage girls comes mostly from those aged 14-and-a-half and upwards. GPs make pragmatic decisions on a case-by-case basis.

We have a duty of care to do what is best for the patient irrespective of age.

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