Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sex Education: No Irresponsible Headline Here...

When I read on ConservativeHome this morning that two Conservative MPs had signed a letter to the Telegraph calling for sex education for five year olds I was livid. How could MPs who call themselves Conservative have done such a thing? I decided not to blog about it on the basis that I was so angry I would have written something both libellous and insulting.

Only now, eight hours later, having read the letter in the Telegraph, do I realise they did no such thing. Yet the Telegraph's and ConservativeHome's reporting of this letter has meant that thousands of their readers believe that John Bercow and Robert Key both suppport giving sex education to five year olds on the basis that they have put their names to a letter supporting appropriate sex education for relevant age primary school kids. For the avoidance of doubt, here is the full text of the letter to the Telegraph...
SIR – Although rates have fallen over the past 20 years, Britain still has by far the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe – five times the figure in the Netherlands, three times that in Germany and twice that in France. The most recent figures for teenage abortions and sexually transmitted infections are equally depressing, despite efforts to reduce them, with 42,784 abortions to teenage girls last year and 32,000 new teenage cases of chlamydia.

Yet Ofsted in England and Estyn in Wales have reported that provision of good sex and relationship education is still very patchy, with too many young girls reaching their first period without knowing what is happening to their body. International evidence suggests that high-quality sex and relationship education that puts sex in its proper context, that starts early enough to make a difference and that gives youngsters the confidence and ability to make well informed decisions helps young people delay their first sexual experience and leads to lower teenage pregnancy levels. Young people and their parents continually ask for sex and relationships to be taught in schools.

We call on the Government to guarantee
appropriate sex and relationship education in every primary and secondary school by putting personal, social and health education on a statutory basis as part of the national curriculum.

Nowhere in this letter does it talk about five year olds. This was the headline used by ConservativeHome.....

Two Tory MPs join call for "appropriate"

sex education for five year-olds

The story should never have been headlined in that way. It was irresponsible and provocative. However, they were only taking their lead from The Telegraph whose headline was

Pupils Should Have Sex Education From the Age of Four Say MPs

If you use the term "primary school" I suppose in theory you could draw the conclusion that the letter was indeed calling for sex education for all primary school age children, who would include four year olds. But that is not what the letter says, and I am confident it is not what the letter meant to imply.

In some people's minds, teaching sex education is not the solution but a symptom of the problem. Instead, much of the answer (see the ConHome post) relates to abstinence counselling. I am not qualified to judge the effect of that. But whatever the effects of it might be (I suspect they would be negligible in this country), nowhere do ConservativeHome or the Telegraph address the problem of teaching girls in particular what is happening to their bodies.

Girls start their periods much earlier nowadays, it seems - often way before they start at secondary school. It breaks my heart to think of kids with a single digit age even knowing about sex, let alone becoming sexually active. But I am afraid we are dealing with the world we are in rather than the one we might like it to be. Yes, I would love kids to retain their innocence for as long as possible. But we have to recognise that many parents - even today - shy away from explaining periods and puberty to their children (daughters in particular), partly because they are embarrassed and partly because they don't have the faintest idea how to do it. They leave it ... and leave it ... and leave it ... and then it's too late. The child has to cope on its own. Many do, some don't.

Let's face it, some eleven year old girls are having sex nowadays. Are most of them doing so because they know what they are doing, let alone what the implications are? I doubt it. Surely to God it would be better for an eleven year old to understand what she (or he) is doing and the consequences of it, rather than being kept in a state of ignorance until it is too late?

It is right, of course, to ask where one draws the lines. Kids reach sexual maturity at different ages. Some girls start puberty at the age of nine, others not till fourteen. I am not qualified to make the judgement of where the line is drawn, but I can offer an opinion. And that opinion is that I too would have been happy to sign the letter published in the Telegraph today. And I too would oppose sex education for five year olds. But that, of course, was never on the table.

55 comments:

Libertarian said...

Iain, I fundamentally disagree with you on this. Educating children about sex, reproduction and the risks of early engagement with sex is carried out in many western European countries, not least the Netherlands. That country, despite it's perceived liberalism, has far far lower cases of teenage pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases than the UK; and it begins the education of children on these matters at a very young age. No-one I am aware of in that country believes that this education in any way takes innocence from the child or ends the child's enjoyment of its formative years. Why are British conservatives so opposed to education, when it is plainly obvious the alternative approach is failing and has failed?

Iain Dale said...

Libertarian, did you actually read a single word I wrote? if you had, you would realise that I agree with you. Why do people post comments when they haven't read the original article? It never ceases to amaze me.

Libertarian said...

Iain, I think the point I was trying to make is that sex ed for 11 year olds is already prevalent in most schools and it is clearly not working. So the idea that you start that a much much younger age (even five) which you clearly didn't agree with, is the point I was trying to make. By the way I read every word of your articles and by in large find them interesting and informative!

Iain Dale said...

I cannot think how you read my entire piece and came to the conclusion you did, unless my powers of self expression are defeating me! I explicitly said I would have been happy to sign the letter to the Telegraph.

Anonymous said...

Have you followed the Harrys Place stuff?

http://jennadelich.wordpress.com/2008/08/26/ucu-and-the-david-duke-fan/

http://jennadelich.wordpress.com/2008/08/26/don%e2%80%99t-panic-if-harrys-place-disappears-briefly%e2%80%a6/

maas101 said...

Perhaps the teenage pregnancy rate would also be curbed if it wasn't seen as a fast track to a council flat, child benefit and the social security gravy train.

For many the benefits system has been made into an elective choice.

canvas said...

Iain, The most interesting bit of this post written by you is the realisation that you are clearly learning to control your crazy knee jerk reactions. Amazing....

Never thought I would see the day!

:)

Anonymous said...

Now if they had been Lib Dem MPs would you have given them the benefit of the doubt?

Wallenstein said...

Iain, I wish there were more sensible Tory responses such as this post.

I cringe whenever the abstinence-only lot get going. It smacks too much of "back-to-basics", and we know how well that worked in practice.

Instead, much of the answer (see the ConHome post) relates to abstinence counselling. I am not qualified to judge the effect of that.

There are plenty of studies out there that show abstinence-only education is spectacularly unsucessful in preventing teenage pregnancy and STDs.

The Tory party stand little hope of appealing to intellifgent floating voters if they persist in these outdated, knee-jerk, victorian reactions to sex education.

Another libertarian said...

Iain, I think it's you who didn't read what libertarian said. He SUPPORTS sex education for five year olds, you said the very idea makes you extremely angry.

Iain Dale said...

He didn't say that in his first response. See, you've caught the disease now!

Libertarian said...

I appreciate that my first post was unclear, but appreciate the support from another libertarian! A case of a kneejerk reaction from Iain methinks - sorry, just being cheeky!

Tom FD said...

Well said, Iain. I was similarly confused when the ConHome article bore no resemblance to the sensationalist headline.

PS What are you wasting your time on Heroes for? It's rubbish! Try the new Battlestar Galactica instead.

D Thomson said...

The context of sexual reproduction, the menstrual cycle, physical development and pregnancy are all covered in the English national curriculum in Year 7 (aged 11/12).

This is of course in the context of science, and when teaching it there is little time to consider it in a wider context.

This is where PSE, PSHE, PSHCE, Citizenship, or whatever you want to call them (it was PSD when I was at school) comes in. However, different schools all run their programmes completely differently, probably down to there not being a definitive curriculum that everyone goes by.

It would astound me if there wasn't any form of sexual education in a secondary school's PSHE plans as it is an absolutely vital role.

It strikes me as quite simple to have basic sexual education at late primary school age, with the scientific context as it is, followed by more in-depth and relevant sexual education in secondary school. I feel it should be mandatory, too, with the government providing a programme of study, if you will.

Anonymous said...

As a 17 year old it often strikes me as rather funny how people assume teenagers sexual conduct can be seriously affected by education. All that is needed is several lessons. After all there's only so much to teach on the subject.

All the people I've known who have had unprotected sex, when in a normal state, are perfectly aware of the risks. Without exception they were drunk at the time. It doesn't help that the costs are so low. When they wake up the next day they just have to go to the pharmacy and get the morning-after pill. Simple.

Teenagers like getting drunk and being promiscuous and pictures of grotty looking genitals, at any age, won't stop us.

As far as kids of 10 or 11 having sex go I can't imagine that's widespread. All the same I know I'd been to a couple of sex ed lessons before that age.

Chris A said...

Daughter of a friend of my sister has started periods last year at age of 8.

Anonymous said...

One of the many advantages of single sex education. The periods talk was done in a science class of my prep school in the early 80s in 3rd year juniors (yr 5 now I think?). I don't remember any details about the catalyst for reproduction so-to-speak but there was certainly enough information to stop young girls suddenly thinking they were bleeding to death - a terror which appears to have been pretty common in my mother's generation. Allowing for the societal changes over the last 20-odd years I don't think it would be inappropriate to take the lesson on into sex and the responsibilities associated with it. I am assuming all this stuff is taught in mixed classes now and wonder whether it may be more successful if tailored to single sex teaching?

Ben said...

Iain: like you I was extremely angry to read the letter in the context of the Daily Telegraph headline. Having read your piece, my anger is somewhat abated.

But only somewhat. As Libertarian says, the plentiful sex education already prevalent clearly isn't working. Before pressing for more of the same, why can't the signatories of the letter stop to examine why this could be? Have they considered the possibility that there might even be a causal relationship between increased sex education and increased promiscuous sex, teenage pregnancy, abortion, STDs?

Anonymous said...

As an ex Primary School head, I'd just like to say that sex education has always been undertaken in year 6 (10 to 11year olds). There were never any problems with pupils or parents, although I had to keep a straight face as I pointed to important parts of the male wedding tackle during a slide presentation.
I've no idea how helpful it all was.

Anonymous said...

As an ex Primary School head, I'd just like to say that sex education has always been undertaken in year 6 (10 to 11year olds). There were never any problems with pupils or parents, although I had to keep a straight face as I pointed to important parts of the male wedding tackle during a slide presentation.
I've no idea how helpful it all was.

bebopper said...

Re libertarian

Anyone who says he "fundamentally" disagrees with you has to be a monumental bore.
He's on a par with people who issue "categorical" denials.
God save the Queen's English!

Wrinkled Weasel said...

When I was at primary school, a pal informed me, most earnestly and confidentially, that a rubber johnny was often worn by MPs and used to pee in when there was a long debate in the HoC when they were unable to leave their seats. (As a kid at school, during lessons, I experienced considerable duress due to the wait for a pee break and thus fully understood the problem)

It made sense. Do they still do this Iain?

Anonymous said...

Iain, this is one of the most sensible posts I think you've written.

Newmania said...

Iain the headline MP`s sign letter supporting sex education for 4 year olds was the Telegraph headline Conservative home have, in effect, only pointed out that Conservative MP`s were included in the list. Read the subtext ,and this is an aggressively Liberal statement laden with all the divisive errors of the sixties from which we are only just recovering Conservative home are right to register dismay that Conservatives have foolishly associated themselves with it .

The infinitesimally small incidence of eleven year olds engaging is full penetrative sex is will not be helped by books showing copulation available to children , as young as four . I do not believe the bourgeois myth of the young mother who got pregnant by falling on an erect penis whilst paying ringa ringa roses. It has the political and soulless purposes of inventing an emergency which justifies state intrusion in to this most private sphere . From Cider With Rosie to Romeo and Juliet we well know that such early knowledge does not need a school at all! It comes naturally .Control within societies boundaries is the priority ,maturity and a chance to develop in innocence.

This will not be provided by willy books and sniggering Liberals sticking their grubby fingers in the souls of the nation. I have three boys and when I feel the time is right I shall say “ Right ...you stick your penis in her vagina ejaculate and she may well get pregnant “ . Job done, should it be needed , which I very much doubt.

Anonymous said...

Dear gods, god help all your children. Newmania, I guarantee your sons will need a bit of sex ed, even if they have inherited the full force of your personality, and it might be helpful to tell them how they can prevent pregnancy rather than presenting it as a foregone conclusion.

Chris Paul said...

There is surely "appropriate sex education" even for four and five year olds Iain? Potentially? Might not even be recognisable as sex education to some among us.

Newmania said...

There is surely "appropriate sex education" even for four and five year olds Iain? Potentially? Might not even be recognisable as sex education to some among us.

On the basis that it looks sounds and actually is playing with custard or running around shouting woo woo then knock yourself out .As teachers will be responsible I expect it to be more along the lines of "How to shag your way around the Common room in a year "

Matt said...

I found myself commenting in general terms on the piece and then picked up the Telegraph saw the article and the letter and avidly read the letter to see the offending statements. To my amazement the letter did not reflect the tone of the article at all. There were aspects of the issue that still concerned me but I felt somewhat conned by the paper.

Chris Paul said...

Newmania = 100% mania, 0% new! Yada yada yada.

JJ said...

Teaching children about sex does not remove their innocence because that is intrinsic to the state of childhood. Only when they are mature enough to really comprehend what is means could it remove their innocence, and thats the time they need facts.
Let's remember that children are little people not some kind of otehr worldly beings.

canvas said...

Iain, aren't you 'outraged' at the recent headlines declaring 'the Tory War' on FAT people? hahahaha.

Is that a BRIGHT Cameron idea?

No more Soames, no more Pickles...how fab.

maybe DC has thought this through very carefully !!

hahaha the Tories can be so naff sometimes.

kathleen said...

I think Iain has taken a very sensible and practical view on this. I'm not comfortable with sexualising childhood, but then it is the world we live in rather than the one we'd like too.

Anonymous said...

"The Tories decry single-parent families and say they oppose teenage motherhood, which clearly does damage life chances; but then they attack an alleged increase of teenage abortions when that option might be in the best interest of the girls' health and welfare.

The rational indicator in this area is teenage maternity or at least overall teenage conceptions, which the Tories curiously fail to cite.

Boris Johnson is understating it when he calls Tory family rhetoric "piffle". "

Dr Evan Harris MP
Lib Dem science spokesman

Zeddy said...

On the subject of the MP's rude reply to a constituent, Iain, you have some nerve lecturing Libertarian on posting comments without reading the original article.

Newmania said...

The Tories decry single-parent families and say they oppose teenage motherhood,

Liberals encourage single parent families although they know they are damaging to children. They approve of welfare designed to encourage teenage pregnancy again despite the damage to both children involved .


They attack an alleged increase of teenage abortions when that option might be in the best interest of the girls' health and welfare.

Liberals encourage the use of abortion as contraception and do not care about the welfare of the unborn child. They pretend abortion on demand does not increase demand for it and in general show the sort of understanding of a moral frame work to life you would expect from people with none .

I have no idea what the rest of this is supposed to mean but I thank god the soulless Liberals will never have a chance to impose their dim witted one-thing at-a-time ideas on anyone .

Wallenstein said...

Let's remember that the fetishisation of "the innocence of childhood" is a recent creation.

Children who grew up on farms would have helped with mating sheep / pigs / cows / chickens etc, and were under no illusions about the mechanics of procreation.

"Where did I come from, Mummy?"
"Well, you know how your dad takes the bull over to the cows' field every spring..."

Plus many families would share a single bedroom - often a single large bed - and the rate at which kids were born meant that older children could hardly avoid seeing what mum and dad were up to...

We're now stuck in the bizarre situation where our kids are sexually mature at 13-14 (which has been the case for centuries... Mary was most likely 14 when she married Joseph in the NT), but are expected to refrain from sex until their late teens / early 20s.

Instead of the Canute-like attempts to fit 1000s of years of human biology into a modern social framework, surely it makes more sense to adapt our society to fit biology?

I'm not saying we need to be slaves to our passions, after all that's pretty much what society is there to regulate, but after years of failed attempts to tell kids not to have sex, is it not time to accept that kids are kids and will do what their hormones tell 'em to, no matter what they're told by the govt.?

Of course, there's still the issue of why certain sections of the Right are so ready to leap into a state of quivvering moral outrage, even when there's nothing to be outraged about.

Anonymous said...

newmania - you forgot to cut and paste this bit of the sentence.

"which clearly does damage life chances; "

Anonymous said...

newmania - more sex education means less abortion.

Jilted John said...

I have never understood why some people think that more sex education means more teenage pregnancies. I would have thought it obvious to the meanest intellect that it meant fewer. But then the people who espouse this view rarely have even a glimmer of an intellect.

Were I less charitable, I should suspect the 'no sex ed' brigade to secretly want underage sex to result in pregnacy, so as to punish the immoralists who dared to have sex for fun outside of the bounds of holy matrimony.

But then they tend to be the same people who espouse tougher penalties for recreational drug use, all manner of 'crackdowns', imprisoning graffitists, etc. The sort who whinge about a 'liberal metropolitan elite' taking over Britain.

All I can say is that if the 'liberal metropolitan elite' is opposed to their beliefs, and is taking over the country, then I wish it would hurry up.

Libertarian said...

"He didn't say that in his first response. See, you've caught the disease now!"

Why do you assume I am a HE, Iain?

Philipa said...

sadly the reality is sex-ed for four year olds.

a reality that is both stupid and wrong.

Philipa said...

Jilted John said: I have never understood why some people think that more sex education means more teenage pregnancies.

Well that's because if you take a gaggle of teenagers from all walks of life, especially today where there is little authority and fast-track to independant housing/living, if you teach them where babies come from they'll have a go. Much like if Oxford students learn about jumping off a bridge into 4" of water some of them will give it a go after a few beers, or even sober, as the case may be..

People are mostly open to suggestion and real dumb, especially when their own flat is involved.

fergus pickering said...

There is a novel by William Cooper which says exactly that if you have more sex education then you will have more sex. If people know how to do it then they will do it. Ignorance is the best prophylactic. My father went through a public school education without having the faintest idea there was such a thing as homosexuality. So he didn't practise any. I'm not advocating this, just saying that the argument seems sound. By the way WHAT would you teach a four-year-old about sex? I really would like to know. Iwould have thought a four-year-old simply would not believe it. It sounds so unlikely, doesn't it?

Wallenstein said...

My father went through a public school education without having the faintest idea there was such a thing as homosexuality.

Classic! Everyone knows the British public school system has always been a bastian of cool heterosexual self-denial ;-)

Anonymous said...

SHOCK! HORROR!

BOTH Fruitloop Home AND the Telegraph telling porkies about known left-leaning Tory MPs like Bercow in order to stir up the grassroots into apoplexies of self-righteous anger against "socialists" "Cameroons" etc etc, and lividity as you yourself describe. My God never!

Next you'll be telling us that not only are bears Catholic, but also Papa Ratzi shits in the woods. Big deal.

Newmania said...

Liberals and keeping trousers on do not mix

1-Oaten was married but played with rent boys because he was bald ,
2-Hughes beat Tatchell in the nastiest by-election ever as the “Straight choice “ for Bermondsey then it turned out he was gay , as well as a liar
3Thopre denied the bite marks on his Westminster office cushions had anything to do with the male model visiting him,,…and worse
4 Pants down….of course Pantsdown
5 Opik..followed his cheeky c--k and left his brains behind
6 Clegg lied about having bonked for Britain
7 Lloyd George ,,,…serial adulterer

No wonder is does not occur to these depraved farmyard animals that one way to avoid underage abortion is to not have underage sex rather than encourage it . They simply cannot conceive of a penis staying in its trousers for more than five consecutive minutes .” Touch my bum , this is life “ is to them what the Lords Prayer is to others
Then when you think that most teachers are Liberals ....God help the children being taught sex by these dribbling insatiable licentious drunks . In a typical day they make obeisance to some pagan phallic symbol, sacrfice a virgin and then pop pff to take double maths .

Save the childen

Zeddy said...

Firstly, can we please not let the UK go down the route of the US and turn "liberal" into a synonym for "evil kiddie-fiddling bastard"?

Secondly, those of you on here who are banging on about liberals this and liberals that, can you please be more honest and say what you really mean? Which is not that you have a problem with "liberals" but with "social liberals".

If these Aunt Sallies were proposing liberalising the economy, you'd all be queuing up to lick their boots and kiss their arses.

It's the great anomaly in politics. The Left tends to be socially liberal but economically and fiscally illiberal (you can choose who to sleep with but we'll choose how to spend your money). Whereas the Right tends to be economically and fiscally liberal but socially illiberal (you can spend your money and run your businesses how you like but we'll tell you who you're allowed to sleep with).

Maybe one day, once the Right has removed government interference from the economy, businesses, education, broadcasting, etc, it'll get round to removing government from our bedrooms too. But I shan't be holding my breath.

Zeddy said...

***No wonder is does not occur to these depraved farmyard animals that one way to avoid underage abortion is to not have underage sex rather than encourage it.***

So, Newmania, children should not be taught about sex until they're sixteen?

And girls can't have menstruation explained to them until they're sixteen? Unless you'd prefer the simple, homely, "innocent" explanation of: you bleed once a month because God has cursed you.

And, ironic as it may seem in your case, I'd be willing to bet that you have a problem with masturbation too.

Anonymous said...

Since when does it take a school to tell kids about sex? Do you really think any child older than six hasn't been told all about it by siblings, cousins or even parents? As for teenage pregnancy: in most cases it's deliberate. It's a kind of instinctive assertion of the right to do what comes naturally. And if I were 14 again and faced with all the endless drudgery of SATS, useless GCSEs and ridiculous yet vital A levels, not to mention a completely debased degree qualification leading to a "career" as a call centre operator, I think I might opt for early motherhood too.

Newmania said...

Zeddy- The Liberal Party and Gladstonian Laissez Faire economics parted company long long ago and Cleggy quietly dropped the orange book because of his weakness in what is a collectivist Party .
The supposed commitment to tax cuts has been deservedly met with chortles and Labour lite are still Labour lite reflected in the flat lining polls Neo Liberalism in this country is contained in the Conservative Party following Margaret Thatcher fro good or ill, roundly abused by the Liberals .

I am quite socially Liberal I just don`t want the state forcing its dog eared baby boomer “Joys of Sex” rubbish on children.. On masturbation I do not have a problem , if the thought occurs to me I follow Baden Powell`s advice and take a bracing cold shower……
(I expect you think that’s what Conservatives are actually like …poor thing)

Jilted John said...

I just don`t want the state forcing its dog eared baby boomer “Joys of Sex” rubbish on children..

oh, I'm with you there. I'm all for sex education being realistic. "Now, girls, it will be over much quicker than you expect and it's good manners not to mind. Boys, you're going to spend most of your time thinking "please, make some form of noise to let me know whether I'm doing it right". Often she won't. Oh, and no matter how careful you are, occasionally the condom will go missing. No, no-one knows why."

Philipa said...

Newmania said : "Then when you think that most teachers are Liberals ....God help the children being taught sex by these dribbling insatiable licentious drunks . In a typical day they make obeisance to some pagan phallic symbol, sacrfice a virgin and then pop pff to take double maths .

Save the childen"

Brilliant comment, Sir.

Jilted John - I agree with you completely that sex-ed, if we have it at all should be realistic (but I would add left to parents). A realistic account would be that he shoves it in and it hurts soooo much you can't feel anything but pain and you bleed like a slaughtered lamb. When he's satisfied himself (no satisfaction for you, dear) he tells all his mates what a go-er you are, you quickly get a reputation as a complete tart who likes it, all his mates never stop trying to get you in the sack and there starts your adult life, girlie. With every male a chancer. But they don't phone, there's no lasting relationship and chances are you're left holding the baby with everyone blaming you for the downfall of society.

No-one ever blames him.

Merseymike said...

We need to learn from the sex education which works in other countries. This has helped to develop a culture in the Netherlands where teenage pregnancy is not rejected for moral reasons, but that it demonstrates stupidity.

Tanveer Iqbal said...

In a world in which computer networks are involved in nearly every facet of business and personal life, it is paramount that each of us understand the basic features, operations and limitations of different types of computer networks.

Crack Whore said...

It's not like 5 year olds can anatomically have sex with each other. IMO its better to teach it earlier. If not from school, they'll find out soon enough on TV. Educated curiosity is better than media-fueled curiosity...