This House Would Promote Safe Sex through Education at Schools

This discussion starts from the point of view that sexual education classes should be given at schools. But does this mean that so-called “safe sex” should also be promoted within these lessons? Safe sex is the practice of sexual activity in a manner that reduces the risk of infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as Chlamydia and HIV/AIDS, typically by use of condoms. Safe sex also includes sexual practices that do not involve penetration.

Traditionally sexual education lessons have focused on covering the biological facts about human reproduction, and warnings against unsafe sexual practices. Often today sex education is combined with relationships education, in an attempt to place sex in a broader emotional, social and family context. But now every day more and more people talk about “safe sex” and how teenagers should be more informed about protection against STDs.

Despite the worries some people have about whether sex should ever be seen as entirely risk-free, every day this so-called "safe sex" is promoted more and more as a solution for the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases amongst teenagers. But what if the promotion of "safe sex" has the opposite effect for which it was introduced in Sexual Education classes?  In 2011 the proportion of British 16-19 year olds who had had unprotected sex rose to 26% and 45% did not consider themselves to be well informed about contraception.[1] Opponents argue that today sexual education and promoting safe sex are mostly considered the same thing, while it isn't and shouldn't be. They say it is one thing to inform teenagers about sex and its risks, and quite another to promote and encourage them to use "safe sex" as prevention.

Other issues include whether parents should have the ability to ‘opt-out’ of sex education for their children – or indeed whether the children themselves should be able to opt-out; whether or not sex education should be done with a particular focus (such as promotion of abstinence); and whether or not faith schools should be compelled to teach elements of a sex-education syllabus (such as on homosexual relationships) which run contrary to their beliefs.

[1]The Guardian. ‘More young people having unsafe sex.’ 26th September 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/sep/26/young-people-unsafe-sex-contraception

 

Title 
Ignorance about sex is the primary cause of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Point 

The spread of AIDS in the 80s and 90s showed that education and information is more important than ever as exemplified by the slogan in the British 1980’s advertising campaign to prevent AIDS ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’. The campaigns were credited with credited with changing behaviour through warnings on adverts and informing through an information leaflet.[1] This shows that education can work even when starting from scratch. Giving sex education in schools is crucial to the spread of information to each successive generation, and may be supplemented by frank discussion at home.

[1] Kelly, Jon, ‘HIV/Aids: Why were the campaigns successful in the West?’, BBC News Magazine, 28 November 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15886670

Counterpoint 

While a serious disease, AIDS transmission makes up only a tiny proportion of sexually transmitted infections each year. [1]

Firstly the harm of these infections has always been satisfactorily low before public Sex Education, and secondly even if mandatory public education did have a substantive benefit it would not outweigh the infringement on the moral freedom of the parents.

[1] Health Protection Agency, STI Annual Data Tables http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&Page&HPAwebAutoListName/Page/1201094610372

Title 
Abstinence is an outdated view, based on religious teaching, which may be a personal choice but is not to be expected as the norm for everyone
Point 

Young people express their sexuality as part of their development to adulthood. It is not having sex that is a problem, but having unsafe sex or hurting people through sexual choices. Refusing to promote safe sex would mean not moving with the times. Just because schools do not promote safe sex does not mean that adolescents will not experiment with sex. They will already be exposed to sexual imagery and ideas of sex so it is necessary that they are taught properly how to remain safe.

Schools may also want to talk about abstinence at the same time; it is a way of keeping sexually safe. However schools have to recognise that the majority of pupils are unlikely to stick to abstinence regardless of how much the school promotes it. It is therefore necessary for the school to also promote and educate about safe sex.

Counterpoint 

To not promote abstinence is not a neutral position, it is a position the implicitly encourages sexual promiscuity. Children are at risk of severe psychological and physical harm from having sex too young, and should be encouraged not to do so. Promoting ‘safe sex’ is implicitly encouraging sex by implying that it is safe and a normal thing to be doing. This will encourage young people to believe that there is no risk when this is not the case even if they do follow the prescriptions they have been taught about sex.

Title 
The information age makes attempting to hide information on sex impossible
Point 

The internet provides a vast amount of easily accessible information about sex, of varying degrees of quality. Most children in the west now have access to the internet and are therefore likely to have access to this information on sex, or at least educational materials on sex even if the child’s access to the internet is controlled.

Given that it is impossible to prevent children from accessing this information if they really want to, it makes sense to present it to them in an organised and accurate fashion. Rather than allowing children to find information on their own through what may well be unreliable resources it is necessary that they should get good reliable information. That this information when there is safe sex education comes from the school means that the children know that they information is reliable. They can then use this information to help them decide how reliable any further information they may find from other sources is.

Counterpoint 

The problem with mandatory sex education is precisely that it presents that information in an organised fashion – by the state.  In doing so the right of the parents to raise their children in accordance with their structure of beliefs is usurped.

Title 
Restricting information to children is inconsistent with the age of consent
Point 

With the age of consent being 16 and with young people being able to vote at 18, it does not make sense for parents to have control over whether their children attended sex education classes right up until the age of 19 or whenever they finish full time schooling.

The age of consent means that there is clearly a need to be taught about sex from that age of consent. This is something that cannot be guaranteed to happen in all individual households if left to the parents whereas it can be ensured in schools.

Counterpoint 

True, but nor does it make sense to make the classes mandatory once the child reaches an age where it is legally able to decide whether it wants to partake of them. Nor does this mean that these classes need to be promoting safe sex rather than simply teaching the facts and encouraging abstinence.

Title 
Sex education leads to experimentation and early intercourse, and indirectly encourages promiscuity
Point 

Sex education leads to experimentation and early intercourse, and indirectly encourages promiscuity. The most moral form of Sex Education says ‘you shouldn’t do this, but we know you are,’ thus pushing children to consider their sexual existence before they need to or indeed should. Thus sex education’s message is invariably confused – on the one hand, by saying ‘here are the perils of teen sex – so don’t do it,’ and on the other hand, ‘here is how to have teen sex safely.’

Less moral forms start by saying, ‘the best form of a relationship is a loving, constant relationship’ and then say, here are the ways to use protection if you’re not in such a relationship’ – a logic which presumes children are in sexual relationships to begin with. The justification for this is that ‘adolescents know all about sex’ – an idea pushed in our permissive society so much it’s almost a truism – but contrary to that bland generalisation, many children don’t do these things early, don’t think about these things – they actually have childhoods, and these lessons stir up confusion, misplaced embarrassment or even shame at slower development. They also encourage children to view their peers in a sexualised context.

The openness with which education tells students to treat sex encourages them to ask one another the most personal questions (have you lost your virginity? – how embarrassing, how uncool, to have to say no), and to transgress personal boundaries – all with the teacher’s approval. Inhibitions are broken down not just by peer pressure, but by the classroom. As pro-sex education people love to point out, children develop in their own time – but that means that some are learning about this too early, as well as ‘too late.’ We in society are guilty of breaking the innocence of childhood, earlier and earlier – and these lessons are a weapon in the forefront of that awful attack on decent life.

Counterpoint 

Our children are sexually active. They are making decisions that can affect the rest of their lives. They should be able to choose responsibly and be well-informed about the likely outcomes. They should know about sources of free or cheap contraception, who to turn to when pregnant or if they suspect they have a venereal disease, how to use contraception to avoid both, and, contrary to the impression of abolitionists, they should be told the benefits of abstinence.  How can you tell people about that if you refuse to discuss sex? How can you imagine they will take you seriously if you turn a blind eye to something so many of their peers are doing?

They need an external source of support to resist peer pressure, and have sex later rather than sooner: lamentably, it is presumed amongst many young people that having unprotected sex with many partners at an early age is the norm and they encourage others to do it (and attempt to humiliate those that don’t). We need mechanisms to support those that want to resist that pressure: sex education is such a mechanism. Sex education is part of a package of provisions needed to help our teenagers avoid the terrible pitfalls of unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease. This problem is here – pretending that it isn’t won’t make it go away. How else do opponents of sex education propose to deal with the huge problems of STDs and teen pregnancy? Effective and widely supported sex education programs can achieve real results. For example, in the Netherlands, amongst people having intercourse for the first time, 85% used contraception – compared to 50% in the UK.

Title 
Children are bad decision makers
Point 

Sex education informs children about sex, and then invites them to make a choice. But as demonstrated all the time, children are bad decision-makers, often choosing what is bad for them. That is why adult society often needs to decide for them – what they should eat, what they should watch on T.V., when they are mature enough to be able to choose whether or not to drink or smoke. Surely sex is just as important as those things – just as dangerous, just as potentially destructive. The abdication of our responsibility in the sexual arena is shameful; we should be unafraid to simply tell children this is something they cannot do, aren’t mature enough to consent to yet – a responsibility we seem to shrink from even though it is reflected by the stated aim of society enshrined in the law of the age of consent. Lessons implicitly lauding the pleasures of intercourse are entirely contrary to that aim.

Counterpoint 

That logic might sound impressive – but it’s the same one that fails to control underage drinking, underage smoking, the watching of rated movies by those forbidden to do so, the eating of bad food – and underage sex. It’s the same poor parental logic that has seen a generation of children grow up divorced from the society around them, children who die from drugs overdoses and whose parents say (honestly), ‘I just had no idea.’ It’s time to talk to our young people about what they do – honestly, frankly, without frightening them into dishonesty and deception. To do otherwise perpetuates the cycle of ignorance about youth society, and perpetuates the status quo of being able to do nothing to change it.

Title 
Responsibility for children's moral and sexual upbringing is not the responsibility of schools
Point 

This is none of the state’s business. Teaching this subject en masse in a classroom reduces it to biological notions, group embarrassment and crude jokes. Furthermore, children have never needed this from the state: left alone, they learn from their family and surroundings and grow naturally into adults without the state’s involvement. Few things are responsible for parental disaffection with education more than the teaching of sex and sexuality in ways contrary to their wishes.

Parents have a right to determine the moral environment in which their children develop and this is a huge intrusion into that right. That moral environment has been manipulated again and again over the last forty years by a liberal teaching establishment set on undermining traditional values and beliefs. Sex education has been a prime weapon in that social engineering. That tool should be taken away from teachers, who as a body have proven themselves undeserving of it. As for the tedious idea that children somehow need the nanny state to look after their sexuality – who knows children and their needs better than parents? Schools are responsible for so much that is wrong with our children, and by giving them free licence to delve into students’ sexuality, things become so much worse, blurring the line between teacher, adviser, confidante, and sometimes in extremes, between teacher and lover – an abuse of power that bringing sex into the classroom makes so much easier.

Counterpoint 

Parents often know nothing (or worse, are armed with dangerously naive delusions) of the sexual state of their children. The picture painted by abolitionists is inaccurate – the process of deciding what is taught in schools involves parents’ groups and school governing bodies on a school-by-school basis, so parents do have a role in deciding what is taught. But ultimately, the state should be involved in educating the whole child, not just in doling out academic ideas – and should work hard to safeguard sexual health of youngsters, a field near-impossible to separate from sex education.

This is a subject just as important for the development of young people as the conventional subjects such as maths and English. The role of ‘teacher’ has to change with time. Once, teachers only instructed the children of the well-off or acted as a branch of the church, now they teach everyone in a secular society. As their role changes, they must remain responsible and obey the law: thus, the scaremongering of suggesting teachers will abuse their students or lure them into relationships is irrelevant, as both sides believe that is wrong, and should be prosecuted.

Rules banning discussions of sex in schools can deny teachers the ability to deal with real problems. When an individual student comes to a teacher with a problem, a rule against discussing such things in the classroom will probably mean that this outlet of help the troubled adolescent has sought out, often because he feels the family isn’t the place to get help, will be denied to him, will turn its back on him. Like it or not, in today’s fractured society teachers have taken on the role of counsellor, and this rule will indirectly curtail their ability to fulfil it. The result of that will be appalling.

Title 
Sex education for underage children undermines the law
Point 

Sex education classes for those under the age of consent undermines the law. It says, ‘don’t do this – but given that you are, do this, this and this.’ This sends a terrible message about the law – that breaking it isn’t serious, that authority (as represented by teachers) tacitly approves of that illegality, will tolerate it and even encourage it.

Sex education fails to tell our children clearly what is right and what is wrong. And remember that these are children, who need clear boundaries to guide their behaviour, and who may not understand the subtleties appreciated by liberal educationalists. In any case, so few teachers want to teach this subject that the quality of teaching is awful. Those that do end up teaching it are often the oddest characters in the teaching establishment. Many teachers happy to ‘cover’ other subjects are uniquely embarrassed by this one, or object to it on moral grounds and will not do so, leaving it to the most liberal members of staff.

Counterpoint 

Well taught sex education does no such thing. Sex and responsibility classes must tread a fine line, first stressing the importance of waiting until ready before having sex, and pointing to the physical benefits of fewer partners and starting sex later – but must then move on to the reality of modern Britain’s sex-ridden teen culture, without applauding it, and try to decrease the very high levels of STDs and pregnancy. Yes, that’s hard to do – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. On the contrary – it’s one of the most important duties society faces today. Arguments about poor teaching apply equally to maths. We often have to try to recruit teachers in unpopular fields – true, difficult, but hardly unique. The answer is to improve teacher training, both for new graduates and for practising teachers, and to bring in outside consultants from the health and social welfare sectors, who have deep experience in this area.

Bibliography 

Kelly, Jon, ‘HIV/Aids: Why were the campaigns successful in the West?’, BBC News Magazine, 28 November 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15886670

Health Protection Agency, STI Annual Data Tables http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&Page&HPAwebAutoListName/Page/1201094610372

The Guardian. ‘More young people having unsafe sex.’ 26th September 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/sep/26/young-people-unsafe-sex-contraception

X