There is some considerable – and I might also say deliberately contrived – confusion as to the question of whether Nadine Dorries’ abstinence bill amounts to the promotion of abstinence-only sex education.
Dorries and her supporters claim that she isn’t pushing abstinence-only sex education and, of course, use this claim to deflect criticism based on the well-documented evidence of the abject failure of abstinence-only programmes in the United States. But, if take a closer look at what’s actually in the existing National Curriculum then it quickly becomes obvious that this claim, like so many others shee’s made, is deeply and seriously misleading.
To understand why, we need first to be clear about what is actually included in the National Curriculum under sex education as a mandatory element – and everything we need to know is to be found in the Science curriculum which covers the following topics:
– Biological aspects of sexual reproduction, and
– Use of hormones to control and promote fertility
And that’s your lot – there’s nothing whatsoever about relationships, about sexual morality or values, nothing about peer pressure or any related social issues, nothing specific on STIs, and next to nothing about contraception beyond the fact that the oral contraceptive pill will be covered under ‘use of hormones…’.
The entire relationship element of sex and relationships education is an optional extra and one that young people will only get if their school goes to time and effort of delivering a full SRE curriculum and only then, in some case, if they parents don’t withdraw them from these lessons.
As a result, the sex and relationships education that is delivered in schools can be extremely variable both in quality and scope, despite the strong evidence from other countries in Europe which shows that high quality, comprehensive sex and relationships education is effective is delaying first sexual activity and in reducing STI transmission and unwanted pregnancy.
And to this already uneven mix, Dorries want to add mandatory abstinence education which, for some young people will mean that all that they actually receive is abstinence-only education.
Dorries, or rather the people behind Dorries – such as Andrea Minichiello Williams – know and understand this perfectly well, in fact they’re positively banking on the variability of the current quality and scope of sex and relationships education, and limited time alloted to it in many schools, as a means of getting as much abstinence-only education into schools as possible. Part of the calculation here is that is some schools, which offer only a minimal amount of SRE outside of science class – in some case as little as a single half day session with an outside advisor from, for example, Brook, adding a mandatory abstinence requirement will serve to push even that cursory amount of SRE, much of which will focus specifically on contraception and STI transmission prevention, off the curriculum entirely.
So yes, for some young people what Dorries’s bill will amount to is the promotion of abstinence-only education and to suggest otherwise is at best misleading and at worst downright dishonest.
Dorries might be able to fool some of the people all of the time, but her track record of dishonesty means that she can’t get away with fooling all of the people any of the time.
Dorries’s bill won’t mean abstience-only for all young people, but it will mean abstinence-only for enough to cause damage and lead to both unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of STIs that could have been avoided had comprehensive sex and relationships education been provided instead.