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Louise Kirk: Sex education is riddled with contradictions and is a manifest failure


Have you heard of CSE? It stands for Comprehensive Sex Education. There are regular attempts to get its teaching made compulsory in every school, with the claim that it will solve whatever may be the latest sexual crisis among the young. It is the comprehensive solution, teaching anything that a child needs to know about sex.

Or is it? In April this year the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) held a high-level conference in London to review the subject. The reason for bringing stakeholders together “from across the education and health sectors, including charities, government and frontline professionals, as well as young people” is that there is a crisis. Young people are emerging in England from years of sex education without understanding, wait for it, their fertility. They are postponing childbearing unrealistically, and the infertility industry can no longer cope with the demand for its services.

So that which has been pushed at children relentlessly, not only in England but throughout the world, under the auspices of bodies such as the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the European Union, has failed to teach the basics of sexuality, which revolve around fertility and the potential to give life to the next generation.

What is especially interesting about this conference is its authorship. It was the RCOG which paved the way for sex education in the UK and it is they who now find it wanting.

The reason is not hard to find. Sex education was introduced in the UK with a specific target in mind: to reduce unplanned pregnancy among teenagers. The method was to get the children thinking contraception, which would also be used against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sum it up and its purpose was to get young people through their teenage and young adult years unscathed by sexual mishaps. Sex education was never designed to prepare them for the whole cycle of their sexual lives, from birth until death.

A further element which was also there from the beginning complicated the stated target, because children were also to be encouraged to “enjoy their sexuality” without feeling guilty. Over the years, understanding sexual relationships has expanded into teaching consent, eliminating homophobic bullying, “discerning” good and bad pornography, understanding gender issues and teaching safety on the internet. The topics are familiar in many countries, because they are the same ones that are promoted internationally,  through such documents as the IPPF Framework for Comprehensive Sexuality Education and the  World Health Organisation’s Standards for Sex Education in Europe.

The “enjoyment” of sexuality of course takes young people on a collision course with the first target of reducing unplanned pregnancy. This is because the whole policy hinges on the use of contraception and there is no such thing as a fail-safe method, especially when used by youngsters. Even the RCOG admitted as much in their 1991 report. It pleaded the need for “special resources both to develop existing and to innovate new methods of preventing conception”, a plea regularly made by family planning providers.

Despite this, the government duly complied with the RCOG’s main recommendations and injected increased money into contraceptive provision and sex education programs. The UK’s record for teenage pregnancy did not improve. It remained the highest in Europe. A new review was carried out in 1999, this time with a foreword from the  then Prime Minister Tony Blair. Yet more, and more explicit, sex education was provided, and teenage pregnancy, though dipping in recent years because of changed sexual behaviors, has remained a concern ever since.

Recently it has been some of these other behaviors, such as sexting, use of pornography and gender-related bullying, which have led to a whirl of words demanding compulsory Comprehensive Sex Education from primary school upwards. Have a look at this 10-minute film on transgenderism which will be hitting our schools soon if it hasn’t done so already. It is so slickly produced that you could really believe that sex is as malleable as their animations.

Instead of allowing our children to be sucked into this gender fluid world, isn’t it time we did something about it? Isn’t it time that we all called “STOP”?

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Louise Kirk
Louise Kirk
Louise is UK Co-ordinator for the Alive to the World values education programme, mother of four and author of Sexuality Explained: a Guide for Parents and Children.

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