Friday, September 22, 2006

some reasons for sex education

Having read of UKIP's total rejection of comprehensive sex education, it's worth revisiting why such a policy is a bad idea. Please keep in mind that for any of this to make sense you need to accept that sex is not automatically sinful or immoral and should therefore always carry the highest chance of serious consequence: babies and/or disease.

Now, not all sex education is the same and not all sex education is equally effective - not least because some schools and education authorities choose to do the minimum to fulfil the letter of the law. As DK has pointed out, poorly taught or stupidly restrained sex education creates its own problems. However, here are the things that effective, comprehensive sex education has been shown to do:
  1. Delay the first time a person had sex, reduce the frequency of sex, the number of new partners and the incidence of unprotected sex.

  2. Increase the use of condoms and contraception amongst sexually active participants.

Crucially, "evaluations of comprehensive sex education and HIV/ STI prevention programs show that they do not increase rates of sexual initiation, do not lower the age at which youth initiate sex, and do not increase the frequency of sex or the number of sex partners among sexually active youth."

Please, as ever, visit the linked page for details of the individual studies.

It's worth noting that, in contrast, programmes which emphasise abstinence first, or abstinence only, tend to have a detrimental effect on sexual health. Again, via the pages linked above, studies of such programmes have found few short-term benefits and no lasting, positive impact. One study found that abstinence-only students were slightly more likely to feel strongly about postponing sex but less likely to feel that their goals should not include teen pregnancy.

Finally, and while we're on the subject of teen pregnancy, it's worth nothing the major factors noted in a study for the government's Social Exclusion Unit:
  • Low Expectations. Teenage pregnancy is more common among young people who have been disadvantaged and have poor expectations of education or the job market. The UK has more young people who see no prospect of a job and foresee a future on benefits. As the report said 'put simply, they see no reason not to get pregnant.'

  • Ignorance. Young people in the UK lack accurate knowledge about contraception and sexually transmitted infections, they are uncertain of what to expect from a relationship and have an unrealistic picture of parenthood. [...]

  • Mixed messages. Young people are surrounded by sexual images and messages which imply that sexual activity is the norm. Yet some parents and many public institutions are at best embarrassed about dealing with young people's sexuality or try to ignore it completely. [Remind you of anyone in particular?] This leads to the situation, described by one teenager quoted by the Teenage Pregnancy Report, where it seems as if sex is compulsory but contraception is illegal.

Given that it's well recognised that teen pregnancy is a large problem in this country, realistic, comprehensive - and yes, sometimes necessarily explicit - sex education can be a meaningful step toward reducing and moderating these influences and addressing the issue.

Finally, finally, declaring that "there must be no behavioural conditioning in our schools" is a nonsense. Formal education to the age of 16 is a form of conditioning, as is refusing to talk about sex at all. If you've recognised that certain schools have an attractive "ethos" which might be embraced and reproduced, then you've already agreed that certain forms of cultural conditioning are quite attracitve.

The only real decision is between meaningful reform and wishful thinking: I'm afraid that UKIP's current policy rather represents the latter and does them no credit at all.

[edited for sentences that made bad grammar thing—BD]
[second edited for proper list formatting—DK]


EDIT by DK: Excellent, BD; precisely what I was looking for. This is, as I pointed out in my original assessment, patently the older and more reactionary wing of UKIP having some influence on policy here. It's an instinctive thing with a particular generation; however, as Wellington said, the concerns have been noted and "fed back to the source with some approval". Since the source is the UKIP leadership and policy department, we will hopefully see a more considered approach to this issue adopted in the future.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

this post seems to chiefly consist of a link to an almost NALMBA style group which belives

Although the U.S. government ignores it, adolescents have a fundamental human right to accurate and comprehensive sexual health information

ie anyone who blieves a 12 year old should not be treated the same way as 22 year old for sex is abusing human rights.

leaving aside the frankly sinister agenda of the linked site, it claims that hte US (which spends more on contraception than virutally any government) bans the teaching of contraception, it also burbles on about the failure of virginity pledges in a way irrelevent to this site.

the fact a handfull of small surveys of particular programmes can be found to say contraception pushing sex education works a) iignoes the fact there have been survyes finding abstinence education works (though there are many finding it doen' like that)b)the post itself does not inspire confidance for example it noteably fails to note two of the facotrs most linked with high rates of promiscuirty and STD's - low reliogisty of parents and broken homes, why is it that a call for "open minds" on this kind of thing is able to ignoe obvious evidence

perhpas the best test is what were the levels of STD's, illegitimcay ect when this country had no such education in the 1950's (indeed pioneers of any type like Mary Whitehouse tended to emphasise abstinence) ? I think the author knows and yet he doens' mention this

Anonymous said...

I should add I not trying to beat the drum for abstinence education- i think there's plenty of evidence that both types of sex education are an ineffective waste of money outsideaa few very specialied exceptions , the idea government schools should be pushing either is very iffy, though obviously abstinence doesn't raise the same ethical questions

Devil's Kitchen said...

Edmund,

We aren't talking about "pushing" any attitude, only giving people information.

We teach people about the Nazis; they don't immediately go out and burn down synagogues.

DK

Dangerouslysubversivedad said...

I'm sorry DK, but for once I have to disagree, though more with what Bookdrunk says than you. The simple fact is that, contrary to the 'studies' (which are all of American children), the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. That rate rises year on year, every year. STD's are on the rise, particularly amongst teenagers.

But 'effective Sex education' begins earlier every year, and on the advice of so-called experts like those you link to who appear to have a borderline-paedophiliac desire to sexualise our children as early as possible, becomes more explicit and far less scientific with every passing year.

Those are the actual, bare facts. You can try to obfuscate them with as many 'studies' as you want, but the fact remains that 'effective sex education' isnt bloody well working! So good for UKIP for taking what is not only a commonsense but is also a Libertarian stance I am surprised does not appeal to you both.

Devil's Kitchen said...

DSD,

OK, let's look at this logically.

1. Through education, children know that if they have sex they will get pregnant.

2. Children are having sex, and a number of them get pregnant.

3. Given 1 above, this means that they have a reason for getting pregnant.

What is that reason? My main article on UKIP's education policy linked to James Bartholomew's article which cites a research paper dhowing a high correlation between single mothers (which teenage mothers usually are) and high rates of benefits.

Teenage mothers get housing and benefits; as Raw Carrot showed a while back, those benefots amount to £14,281 per year in the first three years (rising to £18,441 tax-free if she works 16 hours a week). As I have repeated time after time, if you want to cut the number of teenagers giving birth, stop paying them to do so.

Also, as Emily pointed out, if you want to stop children wanting to get pregnant so that they can get their own place, then you have to try to ensure that their home life is safe. I would suggest that you triple the maximum prison sentence for those who abuse -- in whatever way -- their children.

I'll say it again: giving people the information is not advocating any moral stance. I agree that morality is up to the parents and then, ultimately, the child but teaching them how to be safe if they choose to have sex is only right.

DK

Devil's Kitchen said...

DSD,

FYI, Raw Carrot's article.

DK

Matthew Sinclair said...

Quickly on the little point at the end of Edmund's post:

Comparing today's rate to the 1950s and concluding that all the change is down to sexual education is the most ludicrous strategy... ever.

There has been a vast amount of social change since then that cannot be undone. Sexual education is an attempt to manage that change.

DSD's measure of "we have high teen pregnancy compared to the rest of Europe" along with "sex ed. starts earlier each year" is equally flawed. Firstly, these other European coutries all have sexual education. Secondly, there are other differences - we also have high rates of youth binge drinking.

That is why more detailed studies are needed and do not amount to obfuscation. Bookdrunk has linked to some of them.

Finally, the comparison to NAMBLA or calling it paedophilic suggests that your problem with sex ed. isn't actually a concern with it's efficacy but moral fears which don't stand up for the reasons DK has set out.

BD said...

Interesting comments. Okay..

Current sex ed programmes in the UK are clearly not working as well as they should - and both I and DK recognise as much - and this is the reason why reform is needed. Similarly, no-one is denying we have a problem with teen pregnancy so that's simply not a point of contention.

The important part to remember is this: the consensus of public health research is that reform in the direction of comprehensive sex education is most effective in addressing issues of teen pregnancy and STI transmission. One of the problems in the UK is that we do not have such a programme, despite tabloid hysteria to the contrary.

As for the claim that the "bare facts" that sex education is becoming "far less scientific" each year, I'd be very interested in seeing something to back that up. Evidence, please.

As to the claims of the early sexualisation of children: reform is about teaching sex-ed better, not merely teaching it earlier. One of the hallmarks of an effective sex-ed programme is that the information offered is age appropriate.

Finally - and I'm repeating myself - we know that good, comprehensive sex and relationships education which starts before the onset of sexual activity does not make young people more likely to have sex. In fact it helps them to delay starting sex and makes them more likely to use contraception when they do. (see NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD). Effective Healthcare Bulletin 3 (1) Preventing and reducing the adverse effects of unintended teenage pregnancies, University of York, 1997, which assesses a wide range of sex education programmes.)

If there is a better solution to the question of sex education which has the support of the consensus of (international) peer-reviewed health policy research, I'd very much like to hear about it. As would, I imagine, health workers everywhere.

Anonymous said...

On Boondrunk (and perhaps sinclair to a lesser extent)

ONe thing is that as with all similar top down socialist programmes which are to be done universally , with indiffent or hostile teacherss and students ect a few carefully chosen pilot plants can not be taken as indicative, under this logic the NHS would be without flaws because the US veteran hospitals works so well

I think part of the question ( putting aside the question of socialisied and centralized sex education) is what reform invovles, should it consit of trying to encourage marriage, should it consit of telling people about hte dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, should it consisit of , should it make it try and get parents to talk to children about sex (of crucial importance), should it try and promote religousity among the young as one of the best causes of sexually responsible behaviour, should it make it clear that sex under 16 is a criminal offence- and the laws for statury rape, I think it's quite clear from even a casual perusal of the site that's the basis of the orginial post , that' it's completely uninterested in these factors, and the answer is no If not why not?

Finally and most importantly what about the last 10 years , the ideas of "advicates for youth" have been tested to destruction , with massive increase of availaibiy of contraceptives and abortificiants in schools, and massive new sexual education programmes of the type they recommend-at the same time the UK has seen a surge in teenage illegitmiate conceptions and births, at a rate of growth unequalled by any other western nation (and I think to a level likewise unequalled) . When a socialst plan is failling it might be time to stop digging...

Anonymous said...

three quick points on sinclair's post

a) i din't pretend that sex education is some magic wand responsible for the rise in negative sexual social indicies since the 50's, this is less ridiculous than claiming it's a solution, but only marginally,(remmber I'm claming that this radical form of sex education is useless or possibly harmfull not to propound my own system) I was using it to suggest the idea that somehow this type of sex education is the solution to these problems is laughable. in contrast changes in the welfare system would at least change a big dynamic that has operated since the 50's rather than further accenturate it!

b) It is importnat to realize there could be general effects that counteract particular effects and would make individial studies uselss, eg the signal in favour of promiscurity by this form of education generally and nationa wide could counteract any postive local effects-that is one reason the governments policies of the last 10 years provide the best test of the sucess of these policies , for which the answer is a resounding no! with higher levels of STD's, illegitimacy rates ect

c) on the NALMBA point, not I said "almost NALMBA style group~" a very defensible statement. It's important there to realize what NALMBA actually belive-they do not argue that anyone should be allowed to have sex with any children. Rather they hold under age of consent children are automonious sexual beings who should be allowed to make sexual choices, which will include having sex with each other and adults. The fact is the AFY belives the same- they belive in sexual empowering adolescents, most obviously in the quote I gave at the top-note they say adolescents, not say adoloscnets under the age of consent ect, the diffences with NALMBA ideologically seem three fold a) NALMBA may go a bit younger than adolescence though I@m not sure they go below 9 which is the threshold of adolescence b) NALMBA is homosexuality oriented while AFY seems more hetrosexual/ bisexual and c) AFY seems much politic and sublte in its approach . However they share a core vision of those under the age of consent as people who are and should be seuxually automoous and a common commitment to sexualise childhood. so i defend my cautious statement

Finaly I would like to express my discontent at the easy acceptance of self styled "expert" opinoin on this blog givne the domiance of these fields by a gramscian hostility to the traditonal family - most sociologists think society should be socialist- would this blog then endorse socialism because of "expert" opinion

BD said...

I'll note that it is far easier to challenge the "expertise" of doctors and health workers than to challenge their actual work, findings or methods.

While scepticism is indeed healthy and to be encouraged, please feel free to find a body of public health research (based on peer-reviewed analysis and empirical evidence) to suggest and support an alternative plan.

To mistrust experts merely because they have a degree of expertise in a given field (and possibly have a medical degree in pediatric care) seems to be a little strange.

Many of our current problems are due to successive governments ignoring key elements of current health advice because they are - and remain - uncomfortable about the issue of sexual health, and are terrified of a reactionary backlash in the press.

Anonymous said...

i mi;ght post more latter for now i'd make the point that this kind of thing (since it's about behaviour rather than strict medical sciene) is really socilology in nature rather than medicine-and so my pont about whether you'd accept hte authority of socilogists in other contexts stands

this is edmund (fairly obviously) blogger's being a pain about me posting which is why i'm doing so annoynomously

Gawain Towler said...

BD
Are you sure its fear of a eactionary backlashin the press that they are frightened of? Maybe the reactionary press are in t his case as with many others merely reflecting the opinions of a majority. In which case it is a fear of a reactionary public. Like so much that is done that is damaging in our society it is when so-called experts get hold of some area of public policy that things get really screwed up.
For what is to mind the most insightful study on the general area go read Hayek's study on 'The inellectuals and Socialism'
http://www.mises.org/etexts/hayekintellectuals.pdf#search=%22Hayek%20The%20Intellectuals%20and%20Socialism%22

Dangerouslysubversivedad said...

"Finally - and I'm repeating myself - we know that good, comprehensive sex and relationships education which starts before the onset of sexual activity does not make young people more likely to have sex. In fact it helps them to delay starting sex and makes them more likely to use contraception when they do."

All due respect old bean, but do we bollocks know that. What you describe (detailed sex ed before any reasonable likelihood of sexual activity) is *exactly* what is taking place in our schools now - and ITS NOT WORKING.

You can point to a million studies which say that this approach 'does work' or 'should work' but that wont change the fact that those studies do not reflect in any way the reality of what is actually happening. The evidence is right there in front of you but you'd rather listen to the 'experts' who, as Edmund rightly points out, have a deeply Gramscian agenda.

BD said...

So no evidence - a million studies - I put before you will convince you of anything other than that you are right?

It is slightly entertaining - even ironic - to be told that I'm ignoring the evidence right in front of me when you yourself refuse to acknowledge any information whatsoever which contradicts your world view, regardless of its quality or source.

I'm not sure there's any point in taking this any further, particularly if any information that might come from people who have studied a subject are then found to be dangerously "expert" and thus know nothing at all.

Anonymous said...

I think dangerously subsversived point (if I may speak for them) is that we don't need a million stuides-we've had an experminet for at least the last nine years and it has failled.

Your point doen' really answer the sociologist point- this is not a debate about medicine it's about sociology so the warinnes of experts seems very justified , do you agree with the majority of sociilogists that socialism works better-or does your recongition of "experts" have limits as well.

BD said...

If you think that all the research behind sex education is "sociology" (which I don't accept) and thus automatically flawed (which I don't accept) then we've reached an impasse.

Quite how you account for the validity your own social theories is a mystery for another day.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Edmund,

If, as you contend, all of Bookdrunk's studies are invalid because the tabloids that you read tell you that "we've had an experminet for at least the last nine years and it has failled" (as, apparently, have our experiments in spelling), then your contention about socialism is also patent bollocks.

"do you agree with the majority of sociilogists that socialism works better"

BD probably believes that more than I do (I am an arch small-statist) but then, socialism has been discredited over the course of a century but there are otherwise clever men who believe that Communism has been much maligned. However, I would love to see the census that you have conducted or seen that shows that the "majority of sociilogists" think "that socialism works better" -- although I grant you that I doubt that many other systems would have been as effective at deliberately killing over 120 million of their own people in a mere century -- partly because it would confirm my view that the majority of socialists are fucking idiots.

Edmund, you and DSD make a foolish mistake in that you believe that what you read in the tabloids is absolutely true. Let us take this issue of teenage pregnancies: yes, the numbers have shown a very slight increase, but the rate per head of population doesn't really show much movement over the last 25 years.

And, as I have pointed out what we do not have -- and might possibly why you think that the experiment has failed -- is effective sex education. What we have is the Fucking Stupid Initiative wherein primary age children in Scotland must be taught about sex but are not allowed to be taught about contraception. Can you not see that it is this kind of attitude that might lead to increased under-age pregnancies and STDs. If you cannot see this, you are a fucking idiot.

The trouble is with you and DSD is that you are assuming a number of things. The first is that we have effective sex education in this country, and that the "experiment" has failed. On the contrary, the "experiment" has not been carried out, in the main, because we do not have effective sex education, mainly because of the blinkered and out-dated attitude of some vocal parents. Thus, what has actually been shown to have failed is that ineffective sex education works at preventing pregnancies and STDs.

If there was ever a "golden age" of teenagers not getting preggers, one in which STDs were barely important (and there wasn't, really) and when people didn't have sex at a young age, it was because of the opprobrium which was heaped upon such behaviour by religion (and Victorian puritanism (and hypocrisy)). However, as Martine Martin points out, "[i]n the last UK census 70% said they were Christian, but only 25% said they were actually members of a religion and just 7% actually went to church. 16% were non-religious." We are becoming more secular in our attitudes (and practices) and, of those many strong Christians that I have known, only two were "saving themselves for marriage".

Attitudes to sex have changed and education had nothing to do with that per se: the '60s liberation had far more to do with it than education itself. What we have to do is to recognise that we no longer live under Victorian values: to fail to recgnise this is utterly stupid. However, it is also this failure that has led to the accompanying failure in our sex education programmes.

And it is similarly ludicrous to assume that parents will do the job better than teachers. I had the "birds and bees chat" with my father (I had, actually, done the basics (including contraception) in Biology but it was quite fun to see him sweat!) and it was useless. There is an embarrassment factor, combined with the fact that my father was worried that he might be "encouraging" me to indulge -- but this was him fighting against his own parents strict views on the activity. My father grew up in the late '60s and early '70s and was, as far as I can make out, relatively liberal (although never A Liberal). Anyway, the point is that I learned far more from school and independent research than I did from my parents.

And, DSD, it is not a libertarian stance to deny information to people for whom it would be useful: it is not a government's job to withhold information or to force others to withhold said information. As Matthew Turner said above, "your problem with sex ed. isn't actually a concern with it's efficacy but moral fears which don't stand up for the reasons DK has set out."

DK

Dangerouslysubversivedad said...

DK,

I dont read tabloids. I get my info from the horse's mouth, such as the PSHE supervisor who gave a talk at my daughter's school last year and totally contradicted your contention of a 'slight rise' in teenage pregnancies. But then I suppose she isnt an expert. She didnt have a white coat or ANYTHING.

Yes I can see that the idea of teaching the mechanics of sex without teaching contraception will produce a bad effect. However I think that rather than teaching about contraception as well it would be better if we didnt sexualise their thinking at such an insanely young age at ALL.

There's no better way to get a kid to do something than to tell them all about it in graphic detail and then tell them they are too young to actually try it out! That's very basic parental psychology. And the issue isnt just about pregnancy or STDs, it IS about whether children of that age can cope emotionally or physically with having sex so very young - I've met enough teenagers with the most awful hang ups who started at 13 or 14 and have regretted it desperately ever since believe me.
And that leaves aside the increased risks of cervical cancer involved with girls having sex very young.

Not a 'moral' argument - a practical one. You wish us to believe that adding extras to the current program will reverse the damage it has done - Edmund and I just think we should remove the program altogether and achieve the same effect.

Anonymous said...

Edmund and I just think we should remove the program altogether and achieve the same effect.

Years ago, our parents were not taught about drink driving. My dad will happily have a bottle of wine and get behind the wheel. I however, was taught about drink driving at 16. I was too young to drink. I was too young to drive. But because we are all different and had brothers/sisters/friends who were not too young to do either of those things, that was the age we were taught about drink driving.

Because of the kind of education we get about the subject, not many people of my/our generation drink and drive. But older people do, because they were not taught about. Knowledge and information, I would argue, takes the mystery out of most things, and so educating kids about contraception and the consequences of sex might actually help to prevent curiosity leading to under-age sex.

No one is saying that under-age sex is a good thing. No one wants 12 year olds to be banging their friends left, right and centre. What we do want is for children to know how their bodies work, why their bodies get various urges, and how not to die/get a disease/have a baby if they choose to act on these urges. No one is showing them porn. I seem to recall my sex ed was mainly a video of a woman giving birth and it looked so horrific I haven't been off the pill since.

Devil's Kitchen said...

DSD,

"it IS about whether children of that age can cope emotionally or physically with having sex so very young - I've met enough teenagers with the most awful hang ups who started at 13 or 14 and have regretted it desperately ever since believe me."

Very true. Although I have also met people who have hang-ups in entirely the other direction. Wel,, I say "met"... Hem hem.

Still, ay least we have narrowed it down to talking about the age at which these things should be taught and not necessarily the methods (although BD did cover that when he said "reform is about teaching sex-ed better, not merely teaching it earlier. One of the hallmarks of an effective sex-ed programme is that the information offered is age appropriate.").

So, what age then? I think that I was probably 11 or 12 when it was taught in Biology. Obviously I was aware of the concept before then, but wasn't terribly interested in the whole thing (although the genital differences between girls and boys was fascinating and led to some early... erm... comparisons). Since girls tend to mature earlier (and you will be aware that the average age of the onset of puberty has been dropping significantly over at least the last century) should they be taught about it earlier (especially as they tend to bear the brunt of any problems)? Or should they be taught individually after they have their first period, for instance (slightly unworkable, I'd say)? What age is suitable to first mention the issue?

Lizzie,

"No one is saying that under-age sex is a good thing. No one wants 12 year olds to be banging their friends left, right and centre. What we do want is for children to know how their bodies work, why their bodies get various urges, and how not to die/get a disease/have a baby if they choose to act on these urges."

Quite. I've always found sex a weird thing in that, as soon as I was taught about it, it was as though I had always kind of known it. Anyone else get that? I guess it's what they call instinct...

"No one is showing them porn. I seem to recall my sex ed was mainly a video of a woman giving birth and it looked so horrific I haven't been off the pill since."

Ha! How are you, BTW (assuming you are the Lizzie Barrett that I know)...

DK

Anonymous said...

DK,

Yep, it's me! I'm good honey. Although this post makes me feel like everyone is getting sex bar me. Damn those 14 year old horntoads!

How is life treating you?

L

Andrew Field said...

"Yes I can see that the idea of teaching the mechanics of sex without teaching contraception will produce a bad effect. However I think that rather than teaching about contraception as well it would be better if we didnt sexualise their thinking at such an insanely young age at ALL."

DSD,

You seem to think that denied Sex Education will result in children growing up in a sexual vacuum until the time at which you (and it would seem to be specifically you) deem them ready to open the airlock and head into the adult world.

When was the last time you watched an film/tv show/advert not made by disney in which sex was entirely absent. Check out a magazine that young teenagers can pick up on any streetcorner suggesting 'Top Sex Tips' etc.

Short of hiding your children in a cupboard (and we all know how badly that worked out for Carrie) you will not divorce young, inquisitive teenagers from the spectre of sex. Hence making sure they enter this world, fully prepared and equipped to deal with it sensibly and maturely is a priority.

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