Nadine Dorries’ quest for sexual abstinence
Today sees the Second Reading of Nadine Dorries’ Sex Education (Required Content) Bill which, should it become law, would require schoolgirls to discuss abstinence in the classroom. The summary of the Bill taken from the UK Parliament website is as follows:
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.In her blog entry following the first reading on 4th May 2011 (which passed 67-61), she explains the reasons for presenting the Bill:
“I am not seeking to diminish sex education as taught at present, but to include the empowering option that young girls can just say no. In school, children are taught to base the decision whether or not to have sex on their feelings and wishes. I don’t believe young girls under the age of 16 have consistent feelings and that they can change from day to day. My bill was about making boys wait being an empowering and cool thing for girls to do and that it should be taught as a viable, if not preferable option for girls aged 16 and under – especially as sex at that age is unlawful.”And so Ms Dorries, whether deliberately or not, has caused another political storm. Not entirely surprisingly, the National Secular Society and British Humanist Association are opposing. In fact, they will be demonstrating outside Parliament with other aligned groups to protest against it. One of their counter arguments is that this type of education should not be solely compulsory for girls. They have is a valid point. I’m not exactly sure what Ms Dorries was thinking when she left boys out of the Bill. However, I doubt this is the main reason why the protest will be going ahead. Rather, the thrust of their animosity would appear to be the thought of any moral values being applied to sex education under law.
Irrespective of any religious beliefs someone may have about teenage sex, I find it very hard to see how anyone can argue against giving girls (or boys) the chance to consider the benefits of holding back from sexual activity at a young age. Any sexual engagement for young people obviously carries the risks of pregnancy, subsequent abortion and the contraction of sexually transmitted infections. The number of STIs reported by sexual health clinics in the UK is increasing rapidly year on year with 482,900 recorded in 2009. Two thirds of these cases were from females aged 15-24. Studies have shown that young adults are more likely to have unsafe sex and that they often lack the skills and confidence to negotiate safer methods. There have been conflicting studies about whether early sexual activity causes long term mental health issues, but surely there is less chance of this in any form if a young person is abstaining from rather than having sex. The UK has the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world behind the US, and the highest teenage abortion rate in Western Europe. This strongly suggests that the current sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools is not particularly effective.
Something has fundamentally shifted in our society’s moral values (and not for the better) over the last few decades. For centuries, abstinence was seen as the norm outside of marriage, but now in some circles any promotion of abstinence in any form is seen as totally outdated and something even to be fought against. When did we decide that ideology was more important than the wellbeing of our children?
Even if Nadine Dorries’ Bill is flawed, her desire to see young people receive sound advice as part of their sex education is not, and she ought to be commended for this.