Sex Education

This story is from a while ago (I drafted this post and forgot to publish it – oops). But it’s still relevant. The UK Government is currently debating whether or not to provide sex education to primary school children. The plan has met with criticism from so-called ‘family campaigners’, who think that educating children about sex will lead to all manner of relentless fornication. I must say, that kind of talk pisses me off. For one thing, it’s never been clear to me that being in favour of the traditional family unit, and thinking it’s a good thing to teach young people where babies come from, and how to avoid making them, are mutually exclusive. For another, have people not yet realised that no matter how carefully they closet their children, they will pick up ideas about sex from the world around them – TV, magazines, books, the internet, other children are all a source of information. Some of it better than others, which brings me to my next point. As Dr. Trevor Stammers (a GP and lecturer in healthcare ethics) has pointed out, learning the mechanics of reproduction won’t do much to combat the number of unplanned teenage pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases unless it is accompanied with education about sexual behaviour, sexual relationships, and so forth. Some friends of mine run a group that provides sex education of the latter sort in schools, and from what they tell me, it is sorely needed. I suspect many adults know very little about the things children (in some areas) pick up about sex and sexual relationships. In the schools where my friends work, sex is still something that boys do to girls, who let them – reluctantly enough to avoid being labelled ‘a slag’, but willingly enough to avoid being called ‘frigid’. There is still a sense that boys are entitled to girls’ bodies – which, I hasten to point out, is a double-edged sword: girlfriends are under pressure to let boyfriends ‘give it to them’; boyfriends are under pressure to ‘give it to’ girlfriends, and laughed at by their peers if they don’t. What people expect to do or have done to them – or at least what they think others expect to do or have done to them – is the stuff of pornos: oral, anal, the ‘facial’, etc. When asked to name five things that you can do with someone to show them that you love them apart from have sex, one eleven year old suggested ‘fisting’. Another child named ‘dildo’ as a form of contraception. Here’s the Virgin News report – although I suggest not reading most of the comments if you share my views on sex and have high blood pressure. Read them a while back, and still feeling stabby.

There’s a related story about sexual bullying in schools here.

10 thoughts on “Sex Education

  1. the director of christian voice says (in the virgin news article you link to) “I believe sex education should come from the family and should emphasise chastity. A child should stay a virgin and marry a virgin to have a better chance of having children.” erm…what?? better chance to have children? erm…what?! it’s just so wrong in so many ways!

  2. My daughter is now in her late twenties. She commented recently that she is very happy that her Dad and I gave her lots of information about sex by the age of nine. (We had some great books that we originally bought for her older brother, and she wanted to read them too.) She found it interesting, and had a few questions and comments, but, she now says, she had no feelings about it and was not invested in it, so she was able to absorb all the information without feeling embarrassed or threatened or weirded out. Kids benefit from learning all kinds of things. Sex is just one among many. And I seem to remember empirical findings indicating that the more young people know about sex, the later they wait to become sexually active. They have less of a sense of doing something forbidden, and more of a sense of gradually becoming ready for an important stage of life.

  3. Empirical evidence actually indicates that the more kids the the worse things are. My empirical evidence–1.) abortion rates, 2.) teenage pregnacy rates. Liberals generally have the tendency to discount/not believe that truth that is right in front of them. Notice that abortion rates and teenage pregnancy rates have followed the increase in sex ed. programs over the years.

  4. Steffan, a correlation between two phenomena doesn’t show that there is any causal (or other) kind of relation between them. So showing that a rise in abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates has accompanied a rise in sex-ed programmes doesn’t show that the latter has any role to play in the former. In fact, there is evidence to show that the reverse is true – as introvertica notes in the comment above yours.

  5. Monkey: Exactly. I just did a search on google and on the NY Times for “sex education.” Study after study shows that it reduces pregnancy, abortions and HIV infections.

  6. In 1972, the abortion rate of women aged 15-19 was 19.1 per 1000, and the pregnancy rate was 95.1 per 1000. After rising to a high of 43.5 in 1985 and 115.3 in 1991, respectively, these rates dropped dramatically. In 2002, the abortion rate was 21.7 women aged 15-19 per 1000, and the pregnancy rate was 75.4 per 1000. (Statistics are from here (PDF).) So there can’t be a simple correlation between all three of sex ed, pregnancy rates, and abortion rates, since the latter two peaked six years apart.

    Further, while there’s been a slight decrease in discussions of contraception and birth control in sex ed (corresponding to a slight increase in abstinence-only sex ed) over the last 12 years or so, the number of teenagers who have had formal education about contraception and birth control has risen dramatically since 1972. Yet the abortion rate has risen only slightly, and the pregnancy rate has dropped. So there can’t be a simple correlation between either sex ed and pregnancy rates or sex ed and abortion rates, since the former (in each pair) has increased while the latter has either stayed the same or decreased.

    You might think that there’s some more complicated causal connection here, and the historical data reflect the additional effect of some other factor that’s cancelling out the effect of sex ed. But then, first, your claim that `abortion rates and teenage pregnancy rates have followed the increase in sex ed. programs over the years’ is still empirically false, and second, you need to identify the other factor (or factors) and show that it does have the effect that you claim it does, viz., pushing abortion and pregnancy rates back down.

  7. There is a variety of factors at work here. It’s important to remember that the situation in the US is never the whole story. In Western Europe and in Canada, birth rates have declined precipitously in all age groups. In Canada, for example, adolescent pregnancy is much lower than in the US. To fully understand the relationship between pregnancy rates and sex education we would at least need to know a) what the influence of religion is in different areas (the US is now a much more religious nation than are Canada and most of the nations in Western Europe); b) how widespread sex education is (my guess is that there isn’t much of it in some of the bible belt areas of the US); c) the content of the sex education (if it consists partly of “Just say no” or “Wait til you’re married” it won’t be very effective); and d) the availability of contraception to minors.

  8. I agree with most of the comments so far. Remove the emotional baggage and fear surrounding adults’ views about sex education, and sex won’t be so much about transgression or finding out about a forbidden truth, and more about whether teenagers feel ready for it. More information also prepares children and teenagers for fending off (or working through) unwanted attention. As Introvertica suggests, a good sex education isn’t just about the mechanics of sex, but the kinds of human relationships that are possible, and how to articulate to others one’s own needs and desires. It also gives children the knowledge and confidence to know when they would rather not be touched.

    Teenagers are more likely to experiment safely and at their own pace if they’re not burdened with adults’ moral baggage and stigmas. If a girl believes that if she engages in any sexual behaviour then she’s a ‘slut,’ she’s more liable to cede control of her sexuality to others. Once she does anything sexual, she may feel that she’s already ‘spoiled’ and that there’s nothing left to defend. But sexuality is an ongoing part of life: it’s not just about losing your virginity (and this is the only aspect given any notice by the abstinence-only approach).

    An example: There’s a troubling case in the UK at the moment that is getting a lot of negative media attention, and public responses to it are compounding the difficulties these teenager parents are going to face in the coming months and years:
    Religious/family values groups are saying that this is all about sex education (if you don’t tell them anything, they won’t do anything). What I find most disturbing, though, is the public exposure that these teenagers are being subjected to. In Australia, at least, the media are not allowed to name or photograph children alleged to have commited a crime. These children are being hung up as examples of the moral depravity of youth, and that’s hardly addressing the problem of teenage pregnancy. All that moral posturing doesn’t help anyone.

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