Dorries’ Abstinence Speech – The Fact Check

Looking back over the speech given by Nadine Dorries when introducing her ridiculous 10 minute rule bill, there are several factual innaccuracies to be added to list I started the other day.

Take, for example, Dorries’ claims about the opinions of Dame Joan Bakewell…

I am sure that many Members will be aware of the broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell. I always had the impression that she and I were on separate sides of the political divide, but I was intrigued a year ago to read something that she had written in the Radio Times and in the newspapers, in which she said that Mary Whitehouse, who campaigned against declining moral standards on television, was right to fear that sexual liberation in the 1960s would damage society.

Dame Joan was a long-time and fierce opponent of Mary Whitehouse, and that is why her piece was intriguing. She has now changed her mind in terms of her opposition, saying that the freedom granted by the introduction of the pill has been abused, resulting in the sexualisation of young girls and the prevalence of pornography. She said:

“The liberal mood back in the ’60s was that sex was pleasurable and wholesome and shouldn’t be seen as dirty and wicked. The Pill allowed women to make choices for themselves. Of course, that meant the risk of making the wrong choice. But we all hoped girls would grow to handle the new freedoms wisely. Then everything came to be about money—so now sex is about money, too. Why else sexualise the clothes of little girls, run TV channels full of naked wives, have sex magazines edging out the serious stuff?”

Has Dame Joan Bakewell really changed her mind and come around to the Mary Whitehouse view of sexual liberation and the 1960’s?

Hell no, here’s what Bakewell actually thinks, in her own words

…far from seeing the Sixties as a mistake, we should celebrate them as something that desperately needed to happen. The Fifties were dull, repressed, even cruel. I remain thankful for the swathe of new laws – against censorship, legalising homosexuality, abortion, easier divorce – that led to the tolerant society we have today. Mrs Whitehouse wanted homosexuals “cured”: the idea was disgusting then and it remains so today.

Mostly, it was sex that upset her, and the Sixties celebrated sex. The revival of the musical Hair exemplifies it all: a group of hippies throwing off the restraints of their parents’ generation with innocent glee. Once the fun had run its course, it left a society of men and women enjoying sex, treating each other as equals, able, thanks to the Pill, to avoid unwanted pregnancies. All this was – and remains – good.

For me, what has actually corrupted us is money – and this is where I think Mrs Whitehouse was right (which is a sentence I never imagined myself writing). The conspicuous consumption of exchanging sex for money is now in our faces. In every newsagent’s, young children see at eye level images of women seeking male approval through their distorted bodies; clothing chains think it proper to sell ludicrous bikinis to little girls who won’t have breasts for another four years.

Yet there is still resistance in some quarters to explicit sex education for children. No wonder young girls get mixed messages and grow up to make bad decisions. Sex as glamour – good. Sex as normal behaviour – dodgy.

So, Bakewell is unhappy with the overt commercialisation of sex but otherwise her position could not be further from of Dorries, and from the position attrobuted to her by Dorries, had she instead revealed that she’d decided to retire to Eastbourne and run a discreet BDSM dungeon for nice gentlemen.

Moving on, we have the claim that schools have been showing explicit videos to seven year olds.

On 5 March 2010, explicit videos were shown in schools which depicted to seven-year-olds a cartoon graphic of a couple having sexual intercourse. This resulted in some children being removed from schools that showed those videos. It will not be a surprise to any mother, or parent, in the House that seven-year-old children do not want to see a cartoon of a couple having sexual intercourse. I have never yet met a mother who said, “I want my seven-year-old to see cartoons of couples having sexual intercourse”, so why on earth would schools think it appropriate to show such videos to seven-year-old children in the classroom? Some children were reported to be frightened, alarmed and disturbed by the videos.

And the truth of the story?

One child was removed from a Church of England primary school by a parent who didn’t attend a special preview showing of an Channel 4 educational video and who, then, went on to remove her child from the school on what appears to be nothing more than second-hand information gained from parents who did attend the screening and who, if they did object to the video, dealt with matter by withdrawing the child from the class while the video was shown rather than from the school as a whole.

For the record, all schools are required to publish their PSHE/SRE curriculum, so I was able to verify that the school in question, East Wold Primary in Lincolnshire, does not show this particular video, called ‘Where do babies come from?’ to seven year olds. The video, which Channel 4 suggests is suitable for the 7-9 age group, is timetabled for the autumn term of year 4, at which time all the children shown the video (with their parents’ permission) would be 8-9 years of age.

This school does, however, seem to be a little unusal in the sense that many, if not most, other schools do not use this video until year 6 (10-11 years old), but this serves to reinforce the point that this is, at worst, an isolated incident and not necessarily indicative of the practices adopted in other schools…

Then there’s the pamphlet that’s allegedly given to 11 year olds in Sheffield…

In July 2009, a Sheffield NHS trust released into secondary schools—to children from the age of 11—a pamphlet which told them that sex every day keeps the doctor away. It also said that for too long experts have concentrated on the need for “safe sex” and loving relationships. Alongside this, there was a slogan saying that “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away”.

It also said:

“Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes’ physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?”

This is a pamphlet going out to 11-year-olds at secondary modern schools in Sheffield.

Except it isn’t given to 11 year olds – and I’m not even that Sheffield has any secondary modern schools either.

The leaflet in question is aimed at sex educators, youth workers, healthcare professional and parents, not at young people – and certainly not at 11 year olds as an article in Primary Care Today explains:

The guidance, entitled “Pleasure: A Booklet for Workers on Why and How to Raise the Issue of Sexual Pleasure in Sexual Health Work with Young Peoplehas been developed to help sex educators, youth workers and parents in and outside Sheffield to talk to youngsters aged 14 and over. In it sex educators, parents and youth workers are advised to switch the focus from safe sex to sex for pleasure. By doing so it is hoped the UK will join other European nations in achieving “a more open and positive approach to sex and relationships education.” That achieved the UK too would be blessed with “much better sexual health outcomes” the guidance claims. Families that talk more openly about sexual issues have children who are more sexually competent and ‘safer’” it adds.

And if sexual pleasure is part of the discussion “there may be less need to access pornography for information.” Young people’s expectations as to what ‘real’ sex is like will be more realistic,” says the guidance.

Mr Slack adds: “We need to be active in supporting and promoting choice around pleasurable sexual activity, which is informed, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Sex education, which includes information about sexual pleasure, is not about promoting sexual activity. It is about promoting the sexual rights of all individuals. Everyone needs accurate information and skills to make informed choices and to negotiate the type of sex which is good and pleasurable for them.”

What is the world coming to when young people are being given realistic information about sex rather than being left with just ignorance and porn to work with?

How about tackling teenage pregnancy thought SRE, where Dorries says:

We have to ask ourselves whether, in the midst of this kind of society, with the over-sexualisation of children, we have got our sex education in schools right. It is often argued that compulsory sex education and effective teaching of “safe sex” will help to tackle a high pregnancy rate among teenagers and underage children. Sadly, the evidence suggests that this is not the case. The British Medical Journal found that 93% of teenagers who became pregnant had seen a medical professional prior to the pregnancy and 71% had discussed contraception. The journal found that “teenagers who become pregnant have higher consultation rates than peers and most of the difference is owing to consultation on contraception”.

Dorries cites a case control study published in the BMJ in 2000 and, fortunately, the full text is available on a free registration so we can also discover that the evidence for the study was gathered in 1996, which means that its 15 years out of date and reflects conditions that existed towards the end of John Major’s term as Prime Minister.

So the picture we’re getting from this research reflects social conditions under a government which several curtailed funding for HIV/AIDs related public health campaigns, which actually reduced both teenage conception and abortion rates, in favour of launching ‘Back to Basics’.

The study also has a few limitations, as indicated by the responses received by the BMJ, of which the following are particularly relevant:

We noticed that no mention was made of the Pill Scare of October 1995 and the possible effects of this on the study which covered 1st January 1995 – 1st January 1998. The rates of termination of pregnancy among teenagers rose in 1996 compared with 1995 by 14.5% in under 16s and 12.5% in 16-19 year olds.

Teenagers becoming pregnant in 1996 because they had stopped the Pill in October 1995, or who had made errors in the changeover to a different contraceptive pill would have been part of the group who had consulted their GP for contraception in the year before conception.

Christine Horrocks, Head of Contraception and Sexual Health Service, North Bristol NHS Trust

Churchill et al’s findings challenge the hypothesis that teenagers are reluctant to consult GP’s about contraception. They found 93% of pregnant teenagers had consulted in the year preceding conception, 73% having talked about contraception at some point in the past. Those teenage pregnancies ending in terminations were more likely to have received emergency contraception than other teenage pregnancies. This rightly emphasises the lack of adequate follow-up.

However, GP notes were the only source of data. These provide limited information, making it difficult to distinguish between an in-depth discussion and a casual mention of contraceptive use. As this study was performed with a view to improve GP services, this limits the conclusions that can be drawn.

Cases and controls were matched for age only and no other demographic factors. Deprivation, however, was measured and levels were significantly different between the two groups. These factors have been shown to influence both consultation and teenage pregnancy rates. This was not incorporated in the analysis and future studies should adjust for this.

According to data published by the Office for National Statistics in 2007, Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in western Europe, so we must be doing something wrong. That is why I am introducing this Bill.

Tim Dunnett, 4th Year Medical Student, Dept Epidemiology, Medical School, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Churchill et al have conducted a valuable study which dispels the myth that teenagers do not consult their GPs about contraception. However they also conclude that teenagers who become pregnant have higher consultation rates than their age matched peers, most of the difference owing to consultation for contraception. We do not believe this claim is justified, as the potential confounder of sexual activity was not controlled for. While the case group (pregnant teenagers) must be sexually active, the same cannot be said of the age-matched controls. It is probable that rates of sexual activity were lower among controls, especially at the lower end of the age range used (13-19 years). In a recent survey only 20% of 13 year olds reported having had full or oral sexual intercourse.

Abstinent controls would not be expected to consult about contraception. This would lower the average contraceptive consultation rate per individual within the control group, potentially masking higher consultation rates for sexually active controls. Therefore teenagers who become pregnant could be under-consulting for contraception compared to their sexually active peers. On the basis of this paper it cannot be assumed that teenagers who become pregnant make greater use of GP contraceptive services. Churchill et al acknowledge in discussion that sexual activity is a confounding variable, but proceed to draw an unjustified conclusion because of their use of inappropriate controls.

K Duffield, PK Josen, E Low, K Teare, E Wray, Stage 3 Medical Students, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Newcastle Medical School.

In short, the only reliable finding in the study seems to have been that sexually active young women do not appear to have too many problems in accessing contraception services provided by GPs.

Moving on…

I believe that the answer to ending our constant struggle with the incredibly high rate of teenage sexual activity and underage pregnancies 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 at school. I recently spoke to a 16-year-old who used these very disturbing words: “The thing is, if you reach the age of 18 and you’re still a virgin, and you meet somebody you’d like to be your boyfriend, he’s going to think you’re a freak.” It never enters the minds of young teenage girls, who are taught in sex education classes about “safe sex” and about making their decisions on whether to have sex based on how they feel that day or on their wishes—“feelings” and “wishes” are the key words—that they are empowered and have the ability to say no. That is not taught alongside information on making the decision based on their feelings and wishes and on “safe sex”, but it should be an equally viable option.

So, Dorries seems to think that the best way to develop public health policy is to rely on beliefs and anecdotes rather than evidence. It is, however, here that Dorries does refer to ‘girls and boys‘ even if this is not mentioned in the introduction to the Bill.

We have to re-examine thoroughly the content of sex education that is provided in schools, and consider whether what is currently offered is in the best interests of our children and society as a whole. Children learn about puberty and intercourse at the age of seven, and about pregnancy and contraception from the age of 11. Teaching a child of seven to apply a condom to a banana, without telling them that they do not have an obligation to go and do it, is almost like saying, “Now go and try this for yourself.” At no stage of the curriculum does the teaching cover anything about relationships and the option to say no. Girls are taught to have safe sex, but not how to say no to a boyfriend who persists in wanting a sexual relationship. They are given no guidance on that whatsoever.

I dealt with this one the other day, so there’s little else to say but that this entire paragraph is utter rubbish and fully deserves an award from the Hansard Society for the most outright fabrications in a single paragraph in living memory.