Abstinence only sex-ed – for girls only – passes first reading

// 4 May 2011

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chastitybelt.jpgA measure to introduce mandatory abstinence only sex education – but only for girls – passed its first reading in the Commons today, 67-61.

Who introduced this bill? Our friend Nadine Dorries.

Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy breaks down the situation.

It seems almost redundant to have to go through all the reasons why abstinence only sex-ed is a bad idea, or to spell out exactly how revealing it is that Dorries’ bill doesn’t even pretend to suggest that teenage boys should also be encouraged to remain abstinent.

Education for Choice has gamely spelt all this out for you should you need the 101 explanation, or want a reference point to send to the unconvinced:

I’m baffled as to how we could make one aspect of sex education compulsory and leave the rest to the whim and whimsy of schools to deliver as and when they see fit. As it stands, Dorries’ motion is strong on implication, poor on understanding of contemporary practice, and weak on practical help for young people. If Dorries truly wants to empower young people and improve their health she should join the chorus of voices crying out for delivery of comprehensive SRE to all our students in all our schools and all our communities, because only by providing that will we give our young people the power to say NO as well as YES and NOT NOW or MAYBE ANOTHER TIME.

Which: yes, absolutely, all this is true. Of course, Dorries is never going to get on board with such a proposal, because we can all see the place she is coming from on this issue. I think Sunny is absolutely correct to link this to Dorries’ other pet project, the erosion of abortion access.

It’s disappointing and worrying that the motion passed its first reading.

Pointed photo of a chastity belt by Pgd, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Hannah // Posted 4 May 2011 at 3:44 pm

as a woman brought up in a strictly religious household, and having rebelled against it, i truly loathe this type of hypocritical thinking. In my view female sexuality should be encouraged and explored on women’s terms, how about encouraging sex education that promotes and celebrates the coveted female orgasm, rather than focussing on penile penetration and babies? Denying women and girls an active sexuality and by implication suggesting men and boys are nothing but sex pests is medieval. Its about time those powers that be accept that sex is also fun, its not just about making babies- people who cannot see this have no right representing anyone in parliament, sexuality is part of being human (not a singular ‘man’ or ‘woman’) – get over it.

Jenni // Posted 4 May 2011 at 3:44 pm

I couldn’t read the Liberal Conspiracy link as it wouldnt load. But I read another article on this bill which says that Dorries believes that “alongside traditional sex education, teachers should make teenagers more aware of the benefits of choosing not to have sex” and “Girls are taught to have safe sex, but not how to say no to a boyfriend who insists on sexual relations.”

While it does indeed seem wrong to teach this ONLY to girls, I don’t see anything wrong with teaching girls that they can say no IF THEY WANT TO. Dorries isnt saying her bill should REPLACE current sex education, but to add to it (unless the article I have read has left something out, which could well be the case because it was the Daily Mail!)

I obviously havent read the bill myself, but I can’t agree that teaching girls they are allowed to say no to sex is anti-feminist. The fact that they aren’t teaching it to boys however, is something to be concerned about. Boys need to be taught not to pressure girls into sex, and they also need to be taught that they too are also allowed to not want sex sometimes.

Jennie Kermode // Posted 4 May 2011 at 3:50 pm

The fact that this nonsensical bill got as much support as it did is indeed worrying. There is, however, no reason to expect it to go further.

The bill has now been scheduled for discussion on Friday, at the end of a long queue of other bills. This means, in practice, that it will never get a second reading. Should business be conducted quickly, all it takes is one committed MP to phillibuster it out of existence.

This does not, of course, mean that you shouldn’t take this opportunity to write to your MP and let them know what you think of Ms Dorries’ approach. There are a number of worrying signs regarding this government’s attitude to women and it would be good to let them know now that they won’t get away with such measures – before a more serious threat presents itself.

Jess McCabe // Posted 4 May 2011 at 3:50 pm

@Jenni This has little to do with telling girls they are allowed to say no in my view, which is a value already embedded in current sex education (see the Education for Choice link, they are far more up to date on this).

Also, remember that sex education is not mandatory in this country. Therefore, under Dorries’ bill, the only mandatory sex education would be advocating abstinence to girls. So it’s not strictly true that it isn’t replacing current sex education: for any girls who have been opted out of sex ed, it would be the only information they were getting at school.

peace // Posted 4 May 2011 at 5:37 pm

Jenni exactly, that is exactly what i was thinking. One thing i am not going to do my future kids is scare them about sex; i am going to teach them the positive and the negative sides to it. Abstinence is not a bad thing, i think the only thing she should have done is include boys because they may benefit from it. Hannah yes female sexuality should be celebrated but i know way too many girls who have been pressured into having sex. Girls who feel that in order to keep boyfriends and not seen as frigid is to give it up. how young are the girls you are talking about because i know friends who started having sex as young as 13 to that is not something to celebrate.

Vicky // Posted 4 May 2011 at 5:48 pm

Jess, I disagree with this bill (and with Dorries in general – I don’t understand how she got near Parliament in the first place) but I don’t think that current sex education always does emphasise the right to say no.

The compulsory sex ed in my school was delivered by specially trained nurses who came in from outside. I thought this was a good move on the school’s part; the nurses were very thorough and professional when it came to discussing methods of contraception, etc. However, halfway through the session they handed out a worksheet that had a picture of a ladder on it and asked us to write down what we thought we would be doing at each stage in our lives, from the age we were then (fourteen) to the age we would be in ten years’ time. When a nurse came to look over my shoulder at my ladder, she asked, “Why have you not made any sexual decisions for yourself?” (Meanwhile, her colleague was talking to a group of raucous laughing boys, saying, “That’s right, you could choose to lose your virginity at sixteen if you wanted to…”) I had no idea what to reply to her. In hindsight, I’m stunned that a trained nurse would view it as problematic that a fourteen-year-old girl didn’t feel able to confidently timetable her sex life in advance. What did they expect me to do, provide details of the precise date and the venue as well? The nurse was concerned about me and wanted to ‘sit down for a chat’.

I think the problem with all sex ed. (mandatory or otherwise) is that the views and values of the trainers often creep in without them necessarily realising it – heteronormative attitudes, the assumption that boys never get pressured into sex, the idea that any girl who can’t map out her sex life in advance must be troubled in some way, and so on. It takes a very self-aware and reflective person to deliver sex ed. effectively. It’s not always the curriculum that’s at fault, but the people administering it.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 4 May 2011 at 6:54 pm

The British Humanist Association have drawn our attention to their response to this via twitter.

Clara X // Posted 4 May 2011 at 8:00 pm

I agree with many of the comments here, particularly Vicky. Sometimes sex education is well done, sometimes it could do with a lot of improvements. Sometimes parents do a good job of explaining, sometimes they don’t.

I hope that if this gets any parliamentary time at second reading then sensible MPs such as Sarah Wollaston and Helen Grant will stand up against it. First reading really is just the reading of the title — it’s introduced to the House. Second reading will be the first proper chance for debate.

Jenni // Posted 4 May 2011 at 9:41 pm

Jess, I can see your points, and on the whole I do agree with you. I also agree with what Vicky says about how its not always the curriculum that’s at fault, but the people administering it. Every young person should be given the opportunity to make an informed choice. So sex education needs to include a wide range of opinions and discussions, not just simply about whether you will or wont have sex.

FD // Posted 4 May 2011 at 10:53 pm

I’ll certainly be writing to my MP – I just checked and he voted yes to this. SO annoyed.

Ian Statham // Posted 5 May 2011 at 2:12 am

There is now a petition against this nonsense. Please sign.


Charlotte // Posted 5 May 2011 at 5:13 pm

At school, we were taught that “the only safe form of contraception is saying no”. Essentially instructing us that condoms, pills, etc etc, are basically not effective is an unbelievably irresponsible thing to tell a room full of fourteen year old girls.

The ONLY solution, as I see it, is to make sex education mandatory in this country. There is no other way. There is an absolute obsession in this country with the preservation of childhood innocence: I think this is putting children under a lot of negative pressure and only worsens the problem. Furthermore, I simply cannot see how this much-prized “innocence” is in any way threatened when you tell a child where babies come from.

I was so pleased when sex education was made mandatory in 2008 (what I cited above is literally the only sex education I got), and I was devastated when it was withdrawn by the Tories two years later. There is no good reason for children not to be taught this alongside everything else they learn in schools.

peace // Posted 5 May 2011 at 6:03 pm

not so long ago i was telling my little six year old sister where babies come from, not how they got there but that did not stop my mum from flipping out. i think people who feel the need to protect their kids innocence by not teaching them about sex, don’t see sex as being something possitive.

Kit // Posted 6 May 2011 at 10:48 am

@Charlotte – I remember way back when I was in high school that the whole “no is the only safe form of contraception” was taught because no other contraception is 100% safe (in a situation where your partner will respect that “no”, that is :/). People (not in school, I can’t remember where this was said), wanted to call it “safer sex” not “safe sex” when using protection, since condoms and the like are not 100% effective and so not 100% safe.

I think that was the only logical thing I got out of sex-ed in RE in an RC school (what we learnt in biology was okay though).

Beth // Posted 7 May 2011 at 1:33 pm

I have started a campaign against this bill on Facebook, with instructions on how to find out how your MP voted, and how to email them. Stop #Dorries’ abstinence for girls sex education bill! http://on.fb.me/dorries

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