Originally published in The Skinny
Sometimes I get up in the morning, read the news, and wonder which century I have been transported to. I also question the time traveller’s motives, but that’s only before I’ve had some coffee.
I experienced this curious sensation when I read about the actions and beliefs of Nadine Dorries, for example. She is quite an unsettling woman, having brought two suggestions to parliament; both startling in their anachronistic absurdity.
First, she attempted a thinly veiled attempt to give Christian groups more influence over the counselling provided to women considering abortions, by putting forward legislation that would require it to be “independent” of abortion providers. On the face of it, not a bad plan. Unfortunately she supported it with false accusations of bias and inadequacy against existing counselling providers, such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who are not only doing an excellent job according to government statistics & service user studies, but they are doing so according to government guidelines.
What’s most horrifying about this particular motion of Dorries is that despite losing in parliament by 368 votes to 118, the government health minister is currently still trying to push through the “spirit of [the] amendments” by adjusting the government guidelines. Evidently I’ve been transported back to theocratic days.
Dorries’ other suggestion – which sent me reeling back into the middle ages, was that we should provide extra sex education classes for girls only, on “the benefits of abstinence.” So you’d like to single out girls for lessons on how to defend yourselves against those sex-crazy boys, Mrs Dorries? Not planning on teaching the boys that saying no is a positive thing, too? Or maybe just not trying to force archaic, unsuccessful forms of sex education upon our children?
You see, there is absolutely no evidence that abstinence education is successful. Every single respectable study into its efficacy has shown that it does not work in preventing teen pregnancy. This one by the AIDS Policy Research Center & Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, and this one by John B. Jemmott III, PhD, for example. For a working example just look at the US – a country which actively encourages abstinence-only education: it has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the world – by an enormous margin of 52.1 per 1000 births, according to a report by Unicef.
Both of the suggestions put forward by Dorries resulted in protests, petitions and satire – which is exactly what to expect when you go around insisting that, “Teaching a child at the age of seven to apply a condom on a banana is almost saying: ‘Now go and try this for yourself’.” Not only has she entirely misrepresented the way sex education is taught in primary schools, but she also doesn’t seem to quite understand teenagers’ attitudes towards sex: last time I checked, they needed no encouraging.
Nadine Dorries isn’t the only reason I feel chronologically dispossessed, however.
I recently discovered that a BBC-made sex education video has been described as “pornographic” by some children’s parents. You know what this purportedly “pornographic” content was? A cartoon of a couple making love, and a computer-generated animation of intercourse from a biological perspective.
These parents believe it is obscene to teach their children both the mechanics and emotional significance of the act of reproduction. Were it up to them, their children would probably have to figure it all out for themselves; that certainly wasn’t a great experience for me, and I don’t think there’s any reason that this generation should have to go through it.
I genuinely believe these people were displaced from the Victorian era and planted here by a rogue time traveller, in an attempt to retard the development of the British people for a century or two.
The Dutch have the right idea: they give their children comprehensive sex education from s early as five years old, teaching them about the biological and psychological implications of sex, pregnancy, and relationships. They teach teens that saying no is absolutely fine, in balance with telling them everything they need to know when they do have sex. As a result they have one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world – just five births per 1000. Maybe they’re getting help from more benevolent time travellers than we are.
You know who else had the right idea? Monty Python. Their sketch showing bored children watching a sex education class, where the teacher has sexual intercourse in front of them brings into sharp relief the real issues. It isn’t the education that’s the problem, but the social attitude. As long as a natural, biologically necessary subject is still taboo, we haven’t a hope of teaching our kids how to enjoy themselves as well-informed, responsible individuals.