Saturday, 28 May 2011


Photograph: BBC News. Image from
Local Tory MP Roger Gale (North Thanet) has voted 'Aye' to the first reading of Nadine Dorries's Abstinence Bill. The bill aims to encourage 'schools to give girls aged 13 to 16 extra sex education, including the benefits of abstinence.' Nothing unreasonable with that, you might say, but these classes are for girls only, so what kind of message does that send to the boys? That they're not to be trusted? Are males the only ones guilty of corrupting the UK's poor damsels? Why aren't boys allowed to learn about saying 'no'? Are they incapable of it?

"The answer to ending our constant struggle with the incredibly high rate of teenage sexual activity and underage pregnancies," says Nadine Dorries, "lies in teaching our girls and boys about the option of abstinence, the ability to 'just say no' as part of their compulsory sex education." Forgive me, but isn't abstinence practically the default setting of all sex education anyway? This all seems so pointless. If all teenagers have got to do is say 'no' then what's the bloody point in even doing sex-ed in the first place?

The point of sex education, in my view, is not to make schoolchildren put condoms on bananas and go out getting busy in the bushes, like Nadine Dorries seems to think the current curriculum does. Sex-ed is about teaching teenagers the value of making sure they are physically and emotionally ready for sex before they consent, teaching them about the risks in doing so (STDs, pregnancy, etc.) but not scaring them into thinking it's something to be ashamed of. If teenagers want to say 'no' then that's fine, but there's no harm in making them informed about the wider issues about sex, and if this Abstinence Bill challenges the scope of sex-ed or shifts the emphasis too drastically, then is that really in the best interests of the UK's teenagers?

Besides, should Dorries really be in a position to preach moral values when it comes to sex, especially since she's previously been accused of being a 'marriage wrecker' after having an affair with a friend's husband? Fact is, you can't stop teenagers from having sex. You can try, but Nadine Dorries is a bit like King Canute trying to stop the tide coming in, so I doubt this bill will solve anything. Teenagers will either have sex or they won't – you might as well make sure they're educated and informed should they decide to make that choice (or not).

If anything has contributed to the rise in teenage pregnancies in the UK, it's peer pressure – that's what Dorries really needs to conquer, but that in itself is still an elusive goal which can only be cured by education anyway. Also worth mentioning is the lack of job opportunities and low pay available to the young once they leave school. If all teenage girls have to hope for is a minimum wage shelf-stacking job at TK Maxx, can you really blame them for deciding to have a baby and escape the rat race? After all, tax credits and child benefit do make a significant difference to a young person's financial situation. I've seen it first-hand. Maybe if the problem of youth disengagement were remedied on the employment and salary front, that'd be a more worthwhile goal, and could also be a way of addressing welfare dependency.

I'm not surprised Roger Gale MP has decided to say 'yes' to Dorries's proposals to teach girls to say 'no' to sex. But it strikes me as only being a symbolic bill designed to convince 'true blue' supporters that Tory MPs are at least trying to instil conservative sexual mores into our education system, as a corrective to the notion that Labour promoted promiscuity (which is arguable but, like I said, symbolic). There's nothing wrong with taking a moral stance on sexual practices amongst teenagers, of course, but this bill seems like a hollow gesture, because ultimately you can't control what people will or will not do with their bodies. I guess they don't call her 'Mad Nad' for nothing.


  1. Luke, I spent my teens in the pre-60s era when most girls said no to sex before they had a ring on their finger. I spent part of the sixties as a young soldier in London when we frequently got propositioned by young ladies when on duty in uniform. It seemed that the 'pill' had changed everything for a time.

    Today it may have gone too far and certainly our rates of teenage pregnancies, often before the age of legal consent, and STDs are frightening even compared with our European neighbours. Seems we have more problems balancing 'free love' with good sense.

    In the US of A, the say 'No' movement has had considerable succes and it is female driven. Unfortunately us males, of all generations, have tended to take what's on offer whereas the females have retained the right to refuse. A right incidentally that a woman retains even if she has had an affair.

    Sex education has become more and more the thing in schools and has been now taken down to the infants. Somehow it does not seem to have worked. I got my sex education off the boy's toilet walls at Chatham House and from reading a couple of Hank Jansen novels yet, at my time at that establishment, seven years, I can only recall one boy being involved in a teenage pregnancy scenario.

    Perhaps we should welcome any initiative that seeks to improve on where we are now.

  2. I don't object to abstinence as part of sex education per se, but what I do object to is the notion that simply teaching kids to say 'no' solves the problem, because only teaching them about informed consent can do that. It's also been proven that 'abstinence-only education' of the kind pushed by the Bush administration in the US hasn't prevented teenagers from having sex, with a study claiming that 45% of teens have had intercourse at least once. The question is whether they are less likely to use protection if they do, which should be the primary focus.

    I guess that's where I'm coming from. I don't reject the idea that teaching 'abstinence' as part of wider sex education is reasonable. But if it ends up being a step towards 'abstinence-only' sex education which doesn't address the subject of contraception then I'm dubious about whether this bill could merely end up being a case of a burying of political heads in the sand rather than a concerted effort to properly address the problem.

  3. I guess my point was, Luke, that sex education, whether inclusive of contraception and safety messages or not, does not seem to have done much for today's teens over my generation. Indeed, in many ways we had a lot less problems.

  4. Tom Lambeth, Bluenote, Bill Richards, Robert Williams... So many different names, so few real identities.

  5. Tom Lambeth

    It's so easy to blame the pill or "the 60s" for the rise in promiscuity. Any change in our society and culture is nearly always put down one specific thing when in fact it's possibly a multitude of reasons that the world has changed. It could be media and easier access to information; it could also be the sexualisation of our young by advertising and marketing people; how about popular culture? or easier acces to pornography? I'd put it down to all of these things and more.

    Teaching abstinence is hardly going to have a substantial effect in changing our culture until we address many other issues. But Nadine Dorries and her cranky ideas are hardly going to effect a sea change in the way our young people behave.

  6. So what is your identity, Anonymous? Why do you have a problem with others using real or psuedonyms when you choose to use no name at all.

    Not disputing your right to remain anonymous if you so choose, but at least those who give themselves a name offer a thread that can be followed in any debate.

    Elsewhere, in addition to the names you list, there are many others that pop up with some regularity, though the pig has disappeared along with Eastcliff Richard, so what is your problem.

    We might have to call you Twisted Knickers if you don't calm down.

  7. Tom Lambeth, why do you feel the need to be rude? I can assure you I am, and am always, very calm, whereas your vaguely hysterical comment conveys a quite different impression of your good self. I indicated no problem with or criticism of multiple pseudonyms, I just offered an observation. Enjoy the Bank Holiday.

  8. Anon, just where was the rudeness in my post. I merely commented on the use of psuedonyms whilst still respecting your right to remain anonymous.

    I will enjoy the Bank Holiday, thank you, and trust you do likewise. It started well with the insidious Fergie's team getting stuffed whilst Cheryl Cole's sacking was the icing on the cake.

    I think I take refuge in the blog world to escape from TV, football, newspapers and celebrities. Trust you are none of those.