Melanie Phillips

5 December 2005

The Trojan horse of sex education

Published in: Daily Mail

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When this government falls into a hole it knows exactly what to do. It digs even faster and deeper, burying more and more victims in the process.

All the evidence suggests that its sex education policy is a disaster. Britain has the highest rate of under-age teenage pregnancies in Europe. The proportion of 13- to 15-year-olds who are getting pregnant is rising. Sexually transmitted diseases among young people are going through the roof.

Even the apparent drop in under-18 pregnancy rates is no more than a statistical sleight of hand, since the number of 16 year-olds using the morning-after pill has doubled since it was made available over the counter in January 2001.

Faced with the egregious failure of the strategy, government advisers have now proposed a brilliant remedy. Apply it even more widely! Their solution is to make sex lessons compulsory for all children starting at the age of five, so that detailed knowledge about sex should become a routine part of their education. No sooner will a child have found his or her coat-peg and be measuring up the competition for the climbing frame than some teacher will be rattling off where babies come from. So while many children are not taught to read properly at five - indeed, a disgraceful number can barely read and write when they leave primary school at the age of 11 - they will be given 'more rounded' lessons on sex and relationships. Is this not grotesquely inappropriate?

The assumption behind compulsory sex education is that not enough of such information is reaching children to promote responsible behaviour. On the contrary - children can hardly move for this stuff, and it is the message that it carries which is irresponsible.

During the past decade, school sex education programmes promoting a 'safe sex' message have hugely expanded. Government-funded services advise on how to have sex, where to get the morning-after pill and how to spot sexually transmitted diseases. Girls as young as 13 are even being offered sex advice by text message; they tap in questions on their mobile phones and receive answers from sexual health workers.

Yet all this has not brought down the rate of sexual activity; far from it. The more such value-free sex education and contraceptive advice is given to children, the more their sexual activity increases. And the earlier in their lives this encouragement is provided, the earlier their sexual activity takes place.

This is because adult values are being loaded onto children who are too emotionally immature to cope with them. Teaching children that premature sex is permitted, appropriate and fun encourages them to try it out. This is hardly rocket science.

To believe that teaching them to link sex to 'relationships' will make them behave responsibly is simply risible. A 'relationship' is a concept that is so slippery as to be meaningless. It belongs to the world of TV soaps, which is about the level of reality that defines so many teenage - and a dismaying number of adult - sexual encounters to which the notion of permanent commitment is entirely foreign.

The increase in sexual promiscuity among children and teenagers is not due to ignorance but to the deliberate destruction of the notion of respectability. Not only are official blind eyes turned to enforcing the legal age of consent, but sex education actually targets under-age children.

Moral guidance is nowhere. Instead, sex education seeks to 'clarify' the child's own values. But children need clear boundaries of behaviour. Treating them as if they have adult values is to abandon and even abuse them.

According to these government advisers, sex education for five year-olds would be confined mainly to 'relationships and friendships'. But who can trust even this anodyne formulation, given the wildly inappropriate sex 'education' materials used in some schools?

One such video shown to nine and ten year-olds enlightens them about different positions for heterosexual, bisexual, gay and lesbian sex. Other programmes require children to act out sexual behaviour. Such material looks like propaganda for sexual license; some is so exploitative it verges on the predatory. Is it surprising that more and more children are acting out sexual behaviour, a common response to sexual abuse?

The worst of it is that such materials are not shown to parents who, on the rare occasions when they do stumble across it, are invariably aghast and furious at this abuse of both their children and of their own role. But then, the state is increasingly undermining parents and usurping their responsibility to guide their own children in the most private and personal areas of life.

Schools dish out contraceptives and pregnancy tests to 11 year-olds, and provide abortion services to under-age children without telling their parents. When Susan Axon challenged this abortion practice in court, the Family Planning Association said in evidence that the idea that 'parents know what is best' for their children was out of date and the views of health professionals should take precedence.

According to the Government, parents increasingly cannot be trusted to impart to their children qualities such as self-worth, restraint, friendliness, empathy and resilience, so schools must now teach 'emotional literacy'. Accordingly, 14 separate emotional areas are to be taught, under titles such as 'getting on and falling out', 'relationships' and 'good to be me'.

This is nothing less than a state grab for control over the way children think about the world - a creeping nationalisation of childhood that is steadily destroying the independence of family life.

What's more, guidance on behaviour cannot be taught. It is learned by example, by being brought up in a loving, stable environment where identity and moral values are forged. Children brought up by their two parents are far less likely to have sex under 16 than those who are not.

More and more families are becoming unstable and fragmented. Yet instead of shoring up the married family - the best antidote to irregular behaviour - the government is ruthlessly undermining it by promoting the idea that all lifestyles are equal.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority says primary schools need to cover a wider range of relationships than the traditional nuclear family, and must teach children that families include same-sex couples, single parents and children in local authority care.

Ministers have progressively loaded the dice against marriage, making it ever more meaningless. Now they are undermining it still further with gay civil union, which comes into force today.

Contrary to the claims being made for this measure, it is not about equal rights or greater self-discipline. It is part of a wider onslaught on the whole notion of moral norms by separating sex, marriage and procreation and destroying the unique place of marriage in our society as the institution that best safeguards the healthy regeneration of human identity.

Both adults and children are being funnelled instead towards a sexual free-for-all. This is surely why the government is so opposed to sexual abstinence education.

All the evidence is that abstinence works in preventing irregular sexual activity. But the government doesn't want to prevent such activity. On the contrary, it wants to promote it in order to produce 'equality' between lifestyles - while tidying away any inconvenient consequences such as teenage pregnancy.

Sex education is therefore not a means of protecting this country's fundamental values. It is a weapon in the war being waged against them.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie