Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Let's talk about sex. Babies.

With a heavy heart the government admitted last week that more needed to be done to stem the tide of teenage pregnancies. Without wanting to bore you with statistics, the upshot is that the numbers are falling, just not fast enough.

Back in 1998 Tony Blair's cabinet had confidently pledged to halve teenage pregnancies by 2010. Sadly, our yo-yo knickered youth had other plans, and they involved Primark maternity pants and second-hand prams.

Unsurprisingly, self-appointed moral guardians are rushing to their word processors to stick the cyber boot in, and in the process giving single parents, council estates and acne a good kicking too.

At the front of the queue, brandishing a temperance spoon and a stiff upper-lip, is Jan Moir - the crinkle-faced gay-hater. You see, when she's not busy exhuming corpses and conducting her own autopsy to determine the real cause of death, Jan likes to impose her moral viewpoint with today's youth.

Writing with grim predictability, Jan rounds up all the usual suspects - loose women, benefit cheats, poor people - and tells them all how bleak and unfulfilling their lives are. But rather than trying to think about the complexity and nuance of the issues at hand, Jan just wants to take a pop at New Labour.

She's disappointed that the number of teen pregnancies has only dropped from 46,000 to 40,000 since 1998. Although it's curious that she doesn't bother to address why the statistics were so high at the beginning of this government's time in power. Perhaps it's because that would have meant analysing the Conservatives' sex education fails.

Jan's far more concerned with what she calls "the Government's morally lax teenage pregnancy strategy" which has made "deterrent... a dirty word". Right-wing commentators are always quick to decry "the invasion of school classrooms by supposedly educational smut" - because they believe, foolishly, that if you keep schtum the problem will go away.

It's all nonsense of course, but we're talking about political agendas here, not the health and well-being of young people.

But there's still an outstanding conundrum here that needs reconciling. Given the amount of sex education that the government has introduced in the last decade or so, why aren't pregnancy rates dropping more aggressively?

As the debate currently stands, there are two schools of thought - button your lip or talk dirty 24/7. But neither of these options address the cultural issues which are really responsible for Britain having the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe.

As long as sex is associated with 'dirty words' and 'smut' the problem will never go away. Tell teenagers they shouldn't be doing something and they'll have done it three times before you've even finished articulating the thought.

Just take a look at the Netherlands, which has a much healthier attitude towards reproduction - an adult toy in every Happy Meal and topless scene in every news report. They also manage to enjoy the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in the West, as well as the lowest rates of sexually transmitted diseases among young people.

According to Jan, our problems can all be traced back to the fact that no-one is saying to young girls "Look, young lady, just don't have sex. It is not appropriate. At your age, it will have awful repercussions and it may wreck your life."

But that's precisely why the Dutch have managed to accomplish something that countless successive British governments have failed at. Because their sex education programme focuses on the repercussions, rather than attempting to define 'appropriate' behaviour.

No comments:

Post a Comment