Nuts, Ofsted and Sex Ed

// 14 April 2007

airsteward sexed condomOfsted has published a report warning that teaching sexual abstinence in school sex-ed classes may increase the risk of unwanted pregnancy and STIs for teenagers.

The Independent quotes from the school inspectorate’s report:

“There is no evidence that abstinence-only programmes as the only education reduce teenage pregnancies or improve sexual health.

“Research suggests that education that promotes abstinence but withholds information about contraception can place young people at higher risk.”

The report, stemming from a survey of personal, social and health education lessons in 350 schools, praises nurses who hand out “emergency hormonal contraception” – the morning-after pill – and other contraceptives for the part they play in combating unwanted pregnancies among girls aged 11 to 16. There is also no evidence to support claims that teaching about contraception leads to increased sexual activity,” it adds.

Predictably, the newspaper managed to dredge up some “morality campaigners”, as it calls them, to object:

Norman Wells, of Family and Youth Concern, said: “In putting this faith in sex education and contraception to deal with high teenage pregnancy rates, and a rise in sexual health problems among young people, Ofsted is plainly following the dogma at the heart of the Government’s tackling pregnancy strategy.

“True sexual responsibility is a matter of saving sex for marriage and keeping it there once married.”

Which says it all really: those that promote the idea of abstinence-based sex-education have no real interest in the practicalities of preventing teenagers getting pregnant, or catching STIs. No, their interest is in pushing a “moral” agenda.

So, it’s obviously great to hear that school inspectors will be demanding proper sex ed classes.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t all good. In its report, Ofsted also said:

Pupils report that some of their parents have neither the

knowledge nor skill to talk to them directly about sensitive issues… As well as failing to provide the information themselves, some parents express concern about the suitability of information that young people receive from other sources, such as magazines, even when these could be useful. For example, the increase in the number of magazines aimed at young men, while at times reinforcing sexist attitudes, has helped to redress the balance of advice available to young people.

Magazines aimed at young men? Does that mean Nuts, Zoo, Maxim, FHM? The same magazines which perpetuate incredibly sexist ideas about women? Now, the report does not name specific magazines, but that’s the conclusion that’s been drawn. And, after all, it’s not like there are reams of woman-positive magazines out there. Oh, and the report itself admits that the magazines “at times” reinforce sexist attitudes. You can read a review of some of these magazines at their launch here.

Surely, Ofsted should not be recommending magazines which perpetuate sexism – especially when it comes to sex-ed class. When it comes to contraceptives, the magazines may be distributing good information, but if teenage boys are relying on them for information about sex, how are they being affected by both the sexism in the magazine and the “pornified” idea of what women are like and what women like?

Meanwhile, over in the US, the Bush administration is playing down a report showing that abstinence-only sex-ed has no effect on the sex lives of teenagers subjected to it. Ampersand from Alas, A Blog, has more, including a number of fascinating tables demonstrating that “abstinence-only classes might as well have not existed at all”.

Photo by fisserman, shared under a Creative Commons license

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