Schools alone cannot prevent under-age sex

1st August 2008 at 01:00

I read with some astonishment that Charles Saunders, chair of the British Medical Association's Scottish consultants' committee, has suggested better quality teaching would lead to pupils postponing having sex (TESS, July 18). Yet, when I reflected on his comments, I understood why, as a non-teacher, he might display such naivety.

It is, of course, very important that sex education be first class. Account should be taken of any evidence which suggests that better-quality sex education may delay a person's first act of intercourse and lower pregnancy and abortion rates. The subject should be taught by teachers who do not wield their own moral axes so the forbidden fruit scenario is not created, thereby making unwanted pregnancy more likely. The importance of serious relationships as a context for sex should be emphasised.

To appreciate what teachers are up against, Dr Saunders should take a trip around social networking sites. He is quite likely to find that Little Miss Demure in class, aged 14 or younger, talks about sex as if it is something as trivial as a trip to McDonald's for a burger. Her lingo may shock him as she describes her experiences in the park with guys with names like Crack Head. "That's after getting minced, hee, hee, hee!"

I've spoken to kids throughout my career about all this. Their comments have varied little. Some of them, mainly girls, have received sex education at home. They are nearly all of the opinion that this is grossly embarrassing. By the time they have been sat down for "the talk", they have already had endless discussions with their friends, which is inevitably much more exciting than anything parents can impart.

Also, what they receive in school by way of official sex education is viewed as a laugh, a distraction from the real world, which to them is the magazines, the plethora of graphic images on the internet, programmes such as Big Brother which encourage the development of public displays of passion and, most potent of all, the lurid reporting from friends of their sexual encounters.

A worrying recent trend is for teenagers to drink increased amounts of alcohol at younger ages. There is a definite link between alcohol consumption and early sexual activity. I reproached one 14-year-old boy for both his language and attitude when he told me that once girls are smashed out of their heads, they are "gagging for it".

Too many girls wear make-up at younger ages and use all manner of inventiveness to make their school uniforms sexy.

On top of this, most teachers would agree that more parents seem to be struggling with the complexities of parenting, so that boundaries are never set and adhered to.

So, yes, it is productive to open the debate on sex education, but in turning to schools you are only viewing the tip of the iceberg. Let's involve all key players in the lives of children. Starting with the medical profession, they could become more approachable so that teenagers do not fear going to them for contraceptive advice.

Society must adopt a far more holistic and unflinching attitude to sex education.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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