“Let’s talk about sex baby, let’s talk about you and me …” (Salt-n-Pepa from their Blacks’ Magic album 1991)
Can you remember being told about the ‘facts of life’? Was it your best friend, teacher or worse still … your mother who tried to explain what went on ‘down below’? It may well depend on your age and background, but if you are over 35 the chances are it was a quick explanation when you were around 12, possibly involving a drawing and almost certainly a lot of red faces, then if like me you still didn’t understand it, a quiet word with your Biology teacher at the end of a lesson.
When someone recently told me Years 7 and 8 of a local school were shown a dildo during their PSHE class that was used to demonstrate how to put on a condom, my jaw hit the floor with incredulity and I was horrified at the thought that my son would be subject to this level of ‘education’. But when I suggested this was unacceptable to the person imparting his greater knowledge, I was shouted down and told it was essential children were told every detail.
It was in the middle of a friend’s Bar-B-Q so not either the time or the place, but given a different time and location, I would have stood my ground and argued the point.
But am I out of touch? Perhaps it really is essential our children are drilled with endless quantities of sexually explicit material so that they can avoid the pitfalls our forebears suffered in the form of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancies being two of the more life changing consequences.
To give you some idea of what we are up against, in 2011 there were 196,082 abortions and 3,258 of those were for girls aged 16 years or younger and in 2009 there were 482,696 new cases of STDs reported and two thirds of these were amongst females aged 15-24.
So does sex education ‘educate’ or does it encourage experimentation and exploitation?
The history of sex education is a little vague, although condoms, made from a variety of materials including sheep gut and leather, have been around for centuries.
Ancient Egyptians used pessaries to prevent conception made from various formulas including acacia gum, a mixture of honey and sodium carbonate and crocodile dung.
But following the Great Plague of the mid 14th century, in their effort to repopulate Europe, the Church policy was to destroy all knowledge of birth control so midwives for instance, were persecuted and accused of witchcraft!
But as we moved into the Age of Enlightenment, the 18th century Casanova used “assurance caps” to prevent impregnating his mistress.
In America, following a serious outbreak of STDs in the second half of the 19th century, public schools started to educate children in an attempt to control the spread of disease.
In the UK, whilst Marie Stopes was a pioneer in educating women during the 1920s and 30s, most of the education that took place in schools prior to the Second World War was based on personal hygiene for girls and the dangers of ‘temptation of factory and workshop life’ to the boys.
Following the Second World War, population migration combined with the influx of soldiers, led to a change in national policy and children were educated in an attempt to halt the spread of syphilis and gonorrhoea.
But from the 1970s sex education became part of the curriculum and since the emergence of the AIDS virus in the 1980s there has been a national campaign to raise awareness as to the dangers of unprotected sex.
In recent years, the lessons have encompassed a whole raft of other issues that are socially motivated e.g. relationships, homosexuality and masturbation.
There continues to be a parental option to withdraw your child from the class but given the consequences of this i.e. peer pressure and victimisation, even allowing for parents’ reservations, it is likely every child will be educated at some point during their school life.
But even with quite explicit sex education children often learn more from friends or the media however with 26 girls in every 1,000 aged between 15-19 falling pregnant, the UK still has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe; this compares with the Netherlands where it is just 5 in every 1,000.
Diane Abbot , Shadow Minister for Public Health, said “the rising number of girls having under age sex is alarming … The underlying cause must be the ‘pornification’ of British culture …”
A survey of sexual activity showed men averaged 9.3 female partners in a lifetime whilst women had 4.7 male partners and 20% of the men questioned said they have had under age sex compared with 14% of women (the age of consent in the UK is 16 for both heterosexual and homosexual activity).
Conversely only 30% of men would seek contraception advice compared with 45% of women with men preferring to buy over the counter supplies and women seeking advice from health professionals.
2010 data showed a high but stable rate of STDs, the most common being Chlamydia with 189,612 cases and genital warts with 75,615 cases reported.
England is one of the few countries that has established a specific programme for prevention and control of Chlamydia, the National Chlamydia Screening Programme.
So what is it that is going wrong, with children as young as four being sexually educated and teenage conception rate at 40 in every 1,000 under 18 year old girls, it would seem our saturation of sex education is not having the desired effect.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out one of the main problems we have that Diane Abbot touched on, the culture that has developed over the years is one of binge drinking, excessive behaviour and lack of respect and these three combined will lead to promiscuity.
But it is wrong to expect the school s to re-educate children when the seed of illicit behaviour has already been sown, it is family life and parenting where the rot sets in and it is also here where the standard has to be set.
But what hope of that?