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Teaching Taboos

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A report published this week into the sexual behaviour of 16-24 year olds found that teenagers are increasingly experimenting with taboo practices. Even though the report only deals with the behaviours of young adults, it concludes that education for children should become more graphic.  And that’s exactly what Goedele Heikens, sexologist and ambassador for the UN’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education programme, advocated when she appeared on This Morning.

LBC presenter Nick Ferarri made a spirited defence and the poll running throughout the interview closed with 73% of voters against the idea, so common sense prevailed. Here are a few more reasons why it’s a harmful proposal.

Schools cannot solve all social ills – we cannot educate our way out of a broken mess. The Department for Education (DfE) -  together with its enforcers at Ofsted - is bent on a form of social engineering that imposes a singular liberal agenda on the education service (even in the private sector), in the name of preparing children for life in modern Britain. But children only spend about 20 per cent of their lives in school – it’s parents who should take first responsibility for talking to their children about sex. It’s also their job to set boundaries: there is growing evidence that parents are actually afraid to do so in case they alienate their children or find themselves shamed on social media. As a result, growing numbers of children get their information online, often on porn sites.

There is a tacit assumption that ‘more information’ equates to ‘better education’. Yet nowhere during this programme, or elsewhere in the wider debate, is there any consideration of moral values. ‘As long as children understand consent then nobody gets hurt and everyone can enjoy themselves’ is how the argument goes. Society needs moral red lights. We teach children the rules about traffic lights and road safety, yet are loathe to adopt moral red lights to protect them from early sexualisation, online pornography and sexual promiscuity.

This is also a parental responsibility. There is a difference between sex and morality and the DfE needs to understand the difference – sexual activity cannot exist in the kind of moral vacuum that advocates of sexual freedom pretend. Schools have long taught about sex and the risks associated with certain sexual behaviours. But teaching about sexuality and morality is a new departure. In a modern Britain where gender has become fluid, the concept of family is whatever you want it to be and pleasure is the only thing that matters, which moral code should predominate?  What about parents who choose to teach their children that sex is a gift from God, to be enjoyed within an exclusive relationship?  Schools simply cannot determine a single moral framework that encompasses all parental views.

By all means tailor curricula to the reality of experience - teachers have to meet students where they are. That doesn't mean that we have to accept their experiences as the best, or only, or most valid ones. How about teaching the dangers of sexual freedom? There are currently about 29 diagnosable sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Not only is the spread of STIs out of control, they can also cause sterility. Addiction to porn is hard to break and causes endless heartache: porn is fantasy, but young people aren't told this, so when the reality doesn't match up, they move on in an endless search for the unattainable. Sex is mistaken for love, so casual sex leads to an inability to form lasting, loving relationships. The UK has a soaring rate of broken families - children quote this most frequently as the source of their anxiety and mental ill health.

Despite the proven link between early sexual activity and Childhood Sexual Exploitation, nobody wants to talk about restraint or self control. Proposals for the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum (with rights of parental opt-out denied) read like a self- defence manual. Everything hinges on the issue of consent, so although cognitive studies show that a teen can't accurately judge the speed of an oncoming vehicle until they are about 14, they are expected to understand the concept of 'consent' from an early age.

The mantra ‘age appropriate’ is another favourite of exponents of the ‘anything goes’ approach. Who decides what age is ‘appropriate’? Any parent will know that no two children growing up in the same home have the same level of understanding at the same age, so how can schools possibly determine age appropriateness with 30 children in a class, each with different backgrounds, context and experiences?  The force of Liekens’ argument (she even calls for a GCSE in sex) rests on the view that the earlier taboos are removed by effective education, the more pleasure everyone can have.

Two studies conducted more than ten years apart never get mentioned in discussion. In 2004, it was found that teenage pregnancies increase after sex education classes. Earlier this year, a study found that teenage pregnancies have declined as funding for sex education has been cut. Conclusion? The more you talk about sex without boundaries and a moral framework, the more you encourage experimentation.

There’s a current view, particularly prevalent in the media, that anything to do with traditional values derives from a medieval view of modern life. Christian values meet with particularly sneering derision. There was a time when Christians were seen as destroyers at the pleasure dome of smoking, drunkenness and substance abuse, yet social mores now dictate that these things are harmful to the body. There will come a time when the Christian sexual ethic is also understood to be part of God’s perfect design for a fulfilled life: ‘It is God’s will ... that you should avoid sexual immorality;  that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable ... for God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life’ (1 Thessalonians 4:  3-7). 

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