Last week, Stewart Jackson, Conservative MP for Peterborough, embarrassed himself in an ill informed twitter rant against the importance of sex education. Jackson was responding to the Health Protection Agency’s regional statistics on sexually transmitted infections, and the news that Peterborough has the fourth highest rate of STIs in eastern England. ‘Very disappointing news on STI rates in Peterborough’ He tweeted. ‘No doubt our liberal friends will tell us we need more sex education- as it’s worked so well!’ In response to complaints, Jackson tweeted “Sex education memo to sad tedious sex obsessed Leftie weirdos – you’re confusing me with someone who’s interested.” Later, he told Peterborough’s Evening Telegraph “I wanted to engage in intelligent debate but was met with a barrage of crude, personal abuse”.
Interesting contradiction- for a man whose blame culture views suggest an intolerance of young people, his insults are more than a little childish.Here’s hoping Stewart Jackson remembers what it’s like to be a teenager, because if he does, perhaps he would credit young people with an ounce of intelligence.
Jackson’s oversimplification of the issue is telling in itself. Ask any young person and they’ll probably confirm that sex education isn’t reaching children in time. We need more information, and we need distributed earlier. Sex and relationships education, covering both biological and social aspects of sexual activity, is an issue that needs to be addressed with ever increasing urgency.
It’s no secret that British teenage pregnancy rates are the highest in Europe. Thankfully, not all politicians subscribe to Stewart Jackson’s reductive view, and a recent attempt to get compulsory sex and relationship education back on the political agenda couldn’t be better timed. Put forward by Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, the bill only applies to England, and, as previous parliamentary bills on SRE have stated, parents have the option to remove their child from the lessons. But it’s a promising start, and the bill stood unopposed during its first reading in parliament last Wednesday (8th). Whilst introducing the bill to parliament, Bryant made the glaringly apparent yet under reported observation that Britain’s teen pregnancy rates may be so high compared to other countries because our many of our European counterparts many other have compulsory sex and relationship education policies already in place.
Knowledge is power, and logic suggests that it makes sense to equip young people with the education and information they need to embark on safe and healthy sex lives. This means teaching them about the ins and outs before they’re likely to run off and experiment- and in a commercially sex saturated culture, that age is decreasing. As the ‘sexualisation of children’ debate rumbles on, not enough has been said about sex and relationship education that has the potential to counteract the images young people come across almost every day.
Young people are aware of the facts, and in 2008 the UK Youth Parliament launched a campaign called Are You Getting It?, releasing a report that simply said sex education is too little, too late. There’s an unmistakable dichotomy here- late sex and relationship education paired with early exposure to sex and raunch culture appears to fuel the climbing STI and teen pregnancy rates.
Sex education came tantalisingly close to a stamp of legitimacy in 2008, when the previous government agreed to make sex and relationships education a fixture on the national curriculum. Those plans were shelved this year by former Schools Minister Ed Balls, who caving to Conservative opposition, redrafted the Children, Schools and Families Bill a month before the general election. At the time, current Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove buried his head firmly in the sand about the issue, telling the BBC “children are children until they are 16, and after that they are adults”. This, in defence of Tory opposition to remove a parent’s right to stop their children receiving sex education under the age of 15.
Young people are having sex and will continue to do so. Effective sex education is available, but the fact that it isn’t yet compulsory means that some schools choose not to use the resource, instead, laying responsibility at the door of parents. If kids can’t get the information from their parents, they risk an all too common tragedy of attempting to cobble together an education based on peer pressure, pornography, and pop culture.