There aren’t many things that have the power to wake me up before 7am, but fire and what happened in the House of Commons yesterday is one of them. You see, Nadine Dorries MP looks set to try and do her darnedest to send teen pregnancy rates and rates of STD infection skyrocketing across the country. The full transcript of what Nadine Dorries said can be found in these minutes.
What now follows on this blog post is a copy of the letter that I am sending to my MP, Sarah Newton (also a member of the Conservative party, like Dorries) about the matter:
Thursday 5th May 2011
Dear Sarah Newton MP,
Yesterday, an MP from your party, Nadine Dorries, put forward a 10 Minute Rule Motion asking that:
“Sex Education (Required Content): That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes.”
I take issue with this Motion because I am a woman, heterosexual, a career woman, someone who grew up in an area with a high teenage pregnancy rate i.e. Cornwall, a non-religious person and as an individual who believes in gender and sexual equality. To me this motion, should it ever become law, is draconian and will undo the good work that sex education has managed to achieve in the last 20 years.
Apart from the issue that it will only target girls, despite the fact that it takes both genders to make a baby – it is the overtly religious tone that this motion takes, which greatly annoys me as well as it not being based on any hard evidence. The evidence to not teach “abstinence” as abstinence in the sex education of this country is there.
As can be seen by the attached literature from The Family Planning Association, published in 2010, teenage pregnancy rates in the UK have been falling. This is only after state schools have been teaching, for several generations of young people, a combined approach on sexual health, with a bit on relationships and plenty on safe sexual practices.
(I will admit now that the current way it is taught still does not go far enough, and needs to adapt the approach of sex education curriculums used by European countries whose teenage pregnancy rates are lower than our own. That would mean a far longer letter than the one I am writing now.)
Under the previous Bush Administrations in the United States, schools were encouraged to teach young people the abstinence only approach. The US already had the world’s highest teen pregnancy rates when this began and during the course of state backed abstinence programs, Margaret Blythe, of the American Academy of Paediatrics found:
“[…] Abstinence-only programs are not only ineffective but may cause harm by providing inadequate and inaccurate information and resulting in participants’ failure to use safer sex practices once intercourse is initiated.”
While MP Dorries is not completely advocating the previous US approach in this motion, it is a dangerous step in the wrong direction in how we guide the young people of this country to make choices that are safe and right for them as individuals. And it is also based on inaccurate information. As a woman who has passed through state sex education classes in the last 10 years, I can reassure you that young people are being taught that they should say “No”, but under a far less draconian and religious guise. And it’s being taught to both genders.
We are being taught to say “No” when we don’t feel it’s is the right time for us, that we don’t feel a connection and most importantly – to say “No” when there are no contraceptives available to prevent not only pregnancy, but STDs as well. Young people are being given rational tools to decide when they are ready to have sex. It also doesn’t demonise either gender or the act of sex itself, which MP Dorries’s motion will achieve in doing. Areas such as Cornwall may still have high rates of teen pregnancy, but that is because of socio-economic factors, such as poverty (a point also made in the attached FPA leaflet). However, I myself am an instance where access to a comprehensive sex education can stop a young woman in Cornwall ending up in the trap of a teen pregnancy.
Finally, I am also concerned that MP Dorries has tabled changes to the Health and Social Care Bill 2010-11, which could further restrict access to abortions for women in the UK. These changes are unnecessary. The UK already has one of the most highly regulated and overseen abortion procedures in the world. It doesn’t need to be changed.
What needs to be changed in this country are the socio-economic factors that lead to teen pregnancies and abortions happening in the first place. And the change needed is not a religious one. Plenty of people from deprived backgrounds are religious have to deal with unwanted pregnancies, as can especially be seen in countries that are more religious generally than the British and with lower GDP than Britain.
Young people need comprehensive advice on sex and relationships, which doesn’t make it taboo and exotic thus something to rebel against and experiment with in the first place. The UK needs to adapt the reasoning of our more successful European neighbours, on this matter, for then we will see lower teen pregnancy rates, lower rates of STDs and a reduction in abortions.
Emily Jayne King, MA