Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘contraception’

– There’s another problem facing Africa which kills many more children every year than Joseph Kony.

– Hmm. Apparently when the Pope isn’t protecting child-abusing priests from prosecution or blaming all the ills on the world on a fantasy of militant secularism, he’s claiming that the heliocentric model of the solar system – that is, the idea that the planets orbit around the Sun – “can’t be empirically demonstrated“.

– One of my favourite blogs of recent times has launched a podcast version. So check out Facing The Singularity in its new, too-lazy-to-read-it-yourself format.

Five Things Rush Limbaugh Doesn’t Know About Contraception.

Read Full Post »

I’ve not written about this at length before, but not kept my views exactly secret either. Basically, what Marsh said.

Having said that, I think much of the anti-circumcision camp can sometimes get bogged down with slightly weaker arguments that they really don’t need to worry about. In particular, when they counter claims about the perils of foreskin ownership with ways in which this particular area of skin can be beneficial.

It doesn’t need to be useful, or to actively promote good health, or to have anything particularly wonderful going for it. All you have to do is point out that the default course of action is not to cut bits off other people.

In religious arguments, the burden of proof with regard to God is on the person making the positive claims about him. And in arguments where one side is saying “I think surgically removing a bit of this newborn child is a good thing to do”, it’s very much up to them to justify that.

For instance, don’t respond to studies saying that sex is better without a foreskin, by pointing to other studies which indicate the opposite. Well, if you have good reason to think that your studies really are the only sound ones, I guess you could do that. But you should primarily be asking why such a ridiculous argument is being made for slicing a chunk off your baby’s genitalia in the first place.

The implication is that a significant number of uncircumcised men aren’t enjoying their sex life as much as they could be, and are seething with frustration at this damnable yoke of a foreskin they’ve been cursed to carry around with them. And that this is such a huge problem for these poor men, that it’s worth taking a knife to every new-born boy’s junk pre-emptively so that it can be avoided.

This is a serious mishandling of priorities. Most of these men’s sexual experiences would benefit far more from an open and honest conversation with their partner, a little creativity and research, and maybe a shopping spree at Lovehoney, than from having had their foreskin removed years ago. And in those cases where the foreskin really is the problem, there are various medical or surgical interventions which can be employed down the line, once there’s actually a problem that requires it, and once they’re in a position to understand and consent to the proposed fate of their dangliest of bits.

Other arguments intended to justify and support this mass emasculation, in brief:

Tradition

Fuck off.

Seriously. If the best you can say for it is “We’ve been doing it for years”, isn’t it maybe time you stopped and asked why you’ve been doing it for years?

Lots of things are traditional. Some are good, some are bad. If it’s a good idea, it should stand up on its own merits. The sole fact that it’s an idea with tenacity has no predictive power either way.

As it happens, if circumcision wasn’t already a long-standing cultural tradition, and was a new thing that people were just starting to do now, my guess is that most people would be appalled by it, and far less impressed by the usual justifications offered.

Aesthetics

Fuck RIGHT off, you insensitive, superficial, thoughtless lacerater of children.

Religion

To quote a wise and handsome man:

Saying “because it’s my religion”, as a legal justification for something, or in any similar circumstances, should carry exactly equivalent weight to saying “because I really, really want to”.

In other words, nobody’s obliged to care if you consider something a religious obligation if it’s a flat-out terrible thing to do.

You’re welcome to exercise your own freedoms to the full extent of your capabilities, up to the point where they adversely affect other people. They can be religious, or not. Doesn’t matter. Knock yourself out. But beyond that point, you don’t get to snip off the tip of someone’s dick for the same reasons you don’t get to poke out their eye or hack off their clitoris, regardless of what you think God wants.

It’s superfluous

There is plenty of my body that’s technically superfluous. I’m not convinced my middle toe on either foot has ever done anything for me. Its neighbours on either side have the balance thing taken care of. But they’re not exactly in the way, and I’m rather glad they were left there when they weren’t causing any trouble, and I was allowed to decide what to do with them myself.

Health benefits

Here the evidence is murky at best. But however much the data might inch things onto the pro-circ side here, it’s not enough to merit such an intrusive and widespread intervention as some people suggest.

At least, not in the developed world it’s not. In Africa, where a good deal of research has been done, it does seem that HIV infections are being prevented by circumcisions, and that there is a significant percentage reduction in other infections.

In Uganda, for instance, circumcision might be an understandable route to take, and is certainly some way removed from being a monstrous act of barbarism. But the developed world has certain advantages we take for granted which Ugandans don’t have, such as widely available contraception and sexual health information.

There might be worthwhile benefits to circumcising 1.2 million American babies a year, if it was a given that they would all be having unsafe hetero intercourse and not looking after their sexual health in any other ways. This might be a fine opportunity for another jab at abstinence-only education, but I’ll hold back on that for once. Americans aren’t like that.

The health benefits of cleaving millions of babies’ penises are easily surpassed by those of educating them in basic cleanliness and sexual health later in life. It’s just not necessary.

Seriously, there should be a much higher bar than many people seem willing to set, before we start cavalierly perforating our children’s manhoods. Think of it this way: What percentage reduction in HIV transmission, in penile-vaginal sex, would justify female circumcision? How much infection would it have to prevent before you supported cutting off every clitoris at birth as a preventative measure?

Which I suppose I should touch on at least briefly before closing. This process involving the excision of the clitoris in young girls, which is alarmingly prevalent in parts of Africa, is utterly terrible. It is more deserving of the name “genital mutilation” than male circumcision (though I’m not getting into that semantic argument here), and is certainly more likely to cause problems and be resented by the victims later in life than removal of the foreskin. On an individual level, it seems safe to say that girls have it worse.

But it’s not a competition, and it doesn’t just have to be considered on an individual level. What concerns people about male circumcision is how widespread it is in developed countries like the United States, where it goes on all the time as if it were perfectly okay.

They’re both serious issues worth addressing. But only one is the primary subject of this particular blog post, and only one is something that many of your neighbours and work colleagues might boast proudly about doing to their own children.

The title of this post might seem a bit laboured, but I’m sure the spoonerism is as dear as clay.

Read Full Post »

We don’t really have a single organisation comparable to Planned Parenthood in the UK. Many of their services are available on the NHS, and there are various other private organisations doing similar things, but none with quite the same national scope and importance.

They’ve been central to a good deal of American politics lately, though, so it’s probably worth finding out some more details about them. And one good place to start is with debunking some myths.

I’ve never heard of any fundamentalist Christians opposing, say, pap smears. The Vatican still officially refuses to countenance condoms (although they may be sliding on that point, in their anti-progressive way), but it’s less of a hot-button topic. Even the people who take that one seriously are more likely to maintain it as a personal decision, without expecting laws to be passed to enforce their own preference.

The only real controversy is around abortion. This is the one that makes people angry, to the point of violence, murder – and, in the case of some politicians, lying their tits off.

A couple of weeks ago, Republican Senator Jon Kyl bullshitted that “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does” is abortions. According to people who know what the fuck they’re talking about, it’s actually around 3%.

A spokesman later clarified that the 90% remark was “not intended to be a factual statement“. So, politicians are now confessedly under the impression that lying deliberately is okay if you have some rhetorical point to make.

I’m losing track of whether my main argument here was meant to be pro-choice or anti-state.

The thing is, even though the various other reproductive services offered by organisations like Planned Parenthood aren’t subject to as much vocal opposition, it’s far from clear whether many anti-abortionists are in favour of them.

The advice and preventative care offered by Planned Parenthood has led to hundreds of thousands of cases where the abortion question becomes moot, because no child was conceived to parents who weren’t ready or prepared to bring a new life into the world. Endorsing and funding and encouraging the services which actually make up 90% of Planned Parenthood’s work – such as preventing unwanted pregnancies occurring in the first place, and testing for and treating things like STDs and cancer – would be of huge benefit to the conservatives’ purported goals.

Any competent sexual health advice will include the fact that the only way to be sure of avoiding pregnancy and disease is abstinence. There’s so much that Planned Parenthood do which should be right up anti-abortionists’ street. I mean, who’s against curing cancer?

But all that just tends to get ignored, and the anti-abortion ideology insists on inflating the problem and cracking down on it in the only, blinkered way they know. It’s like the war on drugs all over again.

Tip o’ the hat to Bay of Fundie.

Read Full Post »

Time for some late catching up on some irresponsible journalism.

A lot of major news sources picked up on this story last week. The main theme was that there are children as young as 11 regularly taking the pill. That is, the combined oral contraceptive pill used by millions of women worldwide as a form of birth control.

Now, let’s pause to take stock of any immediate reactions you might be having here. If this is new to you, and you find yourself inclined to worry about why kids so young are taking a form of prescribed medication usually intended to prevent pregnancy, then that’s actually quite understandable. I certainly would have raised an eyebrow at that lone fact being presented with no reassuring context. It sounds like a strangely early age for children to be making what seems like a rather adult decision. They’re years away from the legal age of sexual consent, so who’s giving them contraceptives?

However, I would also credit you with enough good sense, natural curiosity, and rational moderation that you probably wouldn’t write a ranting newspaper article about children having their innocence stolen, based solely on this initial reaction. You might, for instance, do some research, find out just how many children of what ages are taking the pill, and for what reasons, and examine the situation in some depth, to see whether there might not be a less dramatic explanation than the complete breakdown of moral society.

In short, I think you’re probably all smarter and better people than Colette Douglas-Home, writing for the Herald Scotland.

After some irrelevantly emotive purple prose about how being young is good, she starts getting to what could very loosely be called the facts of the story.

At least 1,000 British 11-year-old girls are… on the pill. Their doctors have prescribed it, presumably, to spare them a pre-teen pregnancy. Another 200 have contraceptive implants or have long-term injections. They have fully sexualised bodies and the minds and hearts of children. I think it’s scandalous.

Well, some of those things are facts. The basic numbers come from the General Practice Research Database, the accuracy and integrity of which I have no cause to doubt. But you see that middle sentence there, about the reasons for these prescriptions, with a “presumably” attached? The “presumably” indicates what I like to call a “random, uninformed guess”.

Now, some of you may be familiar with a thing called “journalism”. Journalists are people who go and find things out about the world, and then tell people what they’ve found out via an information distribution service such as a newspaper. It’s been around a while, and is quite popular, and you might expect to find some journalism in an article like this on a newspaper’s website.

But it looks like you’d be mistaken. Because, rather than ask any questions or find out anything about the subject, Ms Douglas-Home has “presumed” she knows what’s happening, and just written about how terrible it is.

This is why she’s ended up talking complete crap.

It’s not actually the case that there are thousands of young girls all across the country whose doctors are blithely dishing out contraceptives and wishing them well on their sexual escapades. If you think there’s a story here about cynical grown-ups sexualising children and corrupting our youth by foisting adult experiences on them before they’re ready, then this can only be a sign that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

In fact, oral contraceptives such as the pill can be prescribed to address a number of issues regardless of whether these girls are sexually active, such as menstrual problems, or even to deal with acne. The “presumption” on which the Herald’s moral outrage is based is entirely unfounded.

The reason I know this is because some people have actually done some damn research, rather than leaping straight to wild speculation like much of the media, who are predominantly pouncing over an exciting-sounding story on a hot-button topic that’s bound to get some blood boiling and sell some copy.

Most notably, Dr Petra has written an excellent article attempting to counteract the misleading, unfair, damaging, sensationalistic, sexually archaic, often religiously motivated coverage that’s been much more widespread.

So go read her piece. It’s much more informative than my banging on.

P.S. As a last-minute addition, The Guardian has a good piece on this as well.

Read Full Post »

A cute, cuddly, fluffy, friendly bunny rabbit on a kids’ TV show wants to kill and eat Jews. This is all insanely messed up, but the idea that “vulnerable British children” could be brainwashed by watching clips of this on YouTube is pathetic. It’s plenty scary enough that this is regularly on TV in Palestine, and people phone in demanding the rabbit’s hands be cut off in accordance with Sharia law; Western society would be in real trouble if our own culture wasn’t a little more resistant to being infected with such violent ideas through clips being watched on fucking YouTube. If we were that worryingly susceptible and fixated on every video we ever watched online with a fanatical religious fervour, the Statue of Liberty would’ve been replaced by a giant likeness of Rick Astley by now.

In yet more news that makes me want to smack even the people who aren’t being bigoted twats with a clue-by-four, not only is some prick suing a publishing house because the Bibles they publish condemn homosexuality as a sin (it’s the goddamned Bible, what the hell were you expecting?), and not only is he trying to claim that these particular references, in these particular editions, are directly responsible for a range of evils from “his poor relationship with his family” to the murder of Matthew Shepard, but he’s also publishing a book of his own entitled 365 Reason’s to Study the Bible, with a fucking apostrophe in the plural. Gah.

Catholics – along with, I would guess, a majority of most religious demographics out there – don’t actually unthinkingly obey all the commands on acceptable behaviour handed down from on high. Specifically in this case, they’re generally quite happy to use contraception however they like, regardless of what His Popiness says. It’s not just atheists who don’t need a god to act as their source of moral law and provide a reason to behave well. People rarely have trouble coming up with their own set of ideas of things like “good” and “just” and attributing them to their chosen deity. My gay-friendly Christian friends point to the bits of the Bible about loving everyone, others point to the bits about punishing homosexual behaviour with death. It says more about people than any actual divine wishes.

Please God, let there be world peace, an end to poverty and hunger, and more than fourteen episodes of Joss Whedon’s new show before it gets cancelled. Oh, and most importantly, please bring gas prices back down below $4 a gallon. Yep, people are organising prayer meetings by the petrol pumps to ask God to sort out the energy crisis. No doubt he’ll get all the credit when people eventually find a practical solution, or when anything slightly good starts to happen, and the lack of correlation between what his believers ask for and what actually happens in the world will continue to go entirely unnoticed. It’s just how they do things.

Read Full Post »

A round-up of political doo-dads that I’m not going to go into a full-length blather about, but which merit a brief mention:

Italian man has to retake driving test due to “sexual identity disturbance”. Is awarded 100,000 euros by a court who pointed out that being gay really doesn’t count as a disturbance.

“There are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won’t cover birth-control medication. Those women would like a choice.” John McCain was asked to clarify his position on birth control, after one of his “top advisers” made this comment on Monday. McCain has apparently voted against requiring private insurance companies to cover birth control pills in the past, and has supported abstinence-only education plans. His response to the query included the phrases “I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer” and “I hadn’t thought much about it.” Well, better to admit ignorance than to bullshit idiotically, but I hope he finds time to at least mull it over at some point in his bid to be in charge of the country. It could be kinda important, a little bit. (Also, the sponsored links on that page are telling me “You have Yellow Teeth”. What do they know that I don’t?)

The US opens its doors to HIV. Or rather, to visitors or immigrants who are HIV-positive, if the bill passes in the Senate this week. Huh. Did anyone else totally miss the fact that the US has had a ban on allowing visitors with HIV into the country since 1987?

South Carolina is so gay. But don’t tell anyone, because the last time someone said that, it led to at least one resignation and an audit of the tourism department’s $10m advertising budget. The Senator seeking the audit thinks the residents of his state will be “irate” to learn that their tax dollars paid for them to be involved in this campaign. The adjective this article uses to describe one of the residents who was asked about this, though, was “baffled”.

US Department of Health and Human Services redefines abortion to include contraception. Women could be denied basic contraception at health clinics because it’s labelled as “abortion”, even when there’s really nothing to abort that doesn’t trivialise the term. It’s only a proposal, but it’s pretty scary.

And acting as something of a showstopper for today: Man cuts off own head with chainsaw. Wow. He didn’t want to move out from his home in a block of flats that was being demolished. So he cut off his own head with a chainsaw. My twisted side wants to say that that’s only slightly less awesome than if he ate his own face because he couldn’t afford plastic surgery. Is it unforgivably sordid to be quite impressed by the logistics of this poor guy’s achievement? I mean, it’s a hideous story, and the way the article describes him as “vulnerable” makes me think that one way or another he might not have been a well man, even before the “complete transaction of the neck”, as the cause of death has it. It really sucks that he felt driven to that, and I feel like kind of a bastard for making light of it at all (though apparently that’s not stopping me). Hell of a way to go, anyway.

Read Full Post »

SEX!!

Now that I’ve got your attention: sex.

This particular spleen-venting is adapted from two previous essays, and is intended to encapsulate many of my (largely tragically uninformed) opinions on sex. So prepare to loosen your collars, people – this is gonna be hawt.

(Quick disclaimer: all statistics quoted below were plucked from the air to represent my memory of what I think I heard, and are not intended to accurately convey reality.)

There have been a few documentaries on TV in recent years about abstinence groups, mostly in America, who promote the exciting and alluring world of not having sex, and/or support the teaching of abstinence-only sex education in schools. One of these, titled American Virgin, was about the organisation Silver Ring Thing, whose members wear a ring on their finger to remind them of their pledge to abstain from sex until marriage, and plan to hand this ring over to their partner on their wedding night (while also offering, less metaphorically, themselves).

They didn’t come across as nearly so much of a sinister or cultish hive-mind as my cynical side had rather hoped. Although they all obviously tended to agree on the main theme, there were a lot of contrasting opinions between them. They’re a Christian-based organisation, but for many of the members religion had little or nothing to do with it. Some people were just interested in their own health, and chose to err on the side of caution. Others had some strange ideas about wanting to be emotionally committed to somebody before sleeping with them. None of this can possibly be objected to – whatever reasons you might have for not wanting to have much sex (and I surely have my own), the harshest criticism anyone can really lay on you for it is that you’re foolishly missing out on some fun.

The criticisms get harsher when people start scaremongering and spreading misinformation about the damnable horrors of contraceptives. Actually, they get pretty merciless rather sooner than that, such as when religious organisations try to shut other people up entirely on the subject of safe sex, and enforce a system of “education” which deliberately serves to do as little educating as possible.

One of the regulars on this documentary, and somebody the organisation seemed keen to sell as one of their predominant spokespeople, was a 16-year-old girl, who we first saw on the set of a promotional video she was making.

“Hi, my name is Nikki,” she introduced herself, and something about her made a part of my brain complete the sentence with, “and welcome to Wet ‘N’ Wild Teens on Spring Break!” Disappointingly, she started talking about how great it is not shagging anyone instead, and how sad it was that the government apparently allows some schools to teach kids about possible methods to avoid the possible negative consequences should they decide to, you know, “do it”.

She asked us at one point, “Safe sex? What is that? And safer than what?” Clearly this was meant to be rhetorical, but isn’t it just begging a sensible answer? Couldn’t you think of quite a lengthy and reasonable response off the top of your head? Safe sex involves making some preparation before the event itself, so that if you decide, as many millions of people regularly do, that abstinence is actually quite boring, you can have sex, quite possibly within a loving and committed relationship, while dramatically reducing the dangers of any negative side effects occurring.

And the dangers will be dramatically reduced, if you know what constitutes “safe”, and how to use condoms effectively, and so on – if, say, someone’s been allowed to teach you about these things without having to worry about breaking the law. Safer than what? Well, a hell of a lot safer than being one of the many uncertain teenage girls who decides to try having sex, but thinks that they can’t get pregnant on their first time, or that a shaken-up can of coke can wash away sperm. You know, the kind of misconceptions that arise when you deliberately don’t teach people anything.

Another highlight of this gathering was the moment while Nikki was talking about her own decision to save herself till marriage, when two guys in the audience nudged each other, nodded towards her, shared a look, and grinned. Now, maybe I misinterpreted this gesture – maybe it was taken out of context by the makers of the documentary with precisely this misinterpretation in mind – but it highlights the flaws in the idea that everyone signing up to this chastity lark is a pure and special snowflake and will remain thus until happily ever after.

In the history of fucking, I’m willing to bet that more vows of chastity have been broken than condoms. Obviously the most effective way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and infection is not to have any sexual contact at all, but nobody’s arguing that we shouldn’t tell people that. The apparent controversy is over whether teachers should clam up before getting any further with the purported sex education than “Don’t have sex”, or whether the availability and effectiveness of some of the alternatives might also be worth mentioning. There are safe alternatives out there, and it’s not unthinkable that even that epitome of irresponsible recklessness, “the adolescent”, might be able to go about things in an intelligent and informed way – finding out about their partner’s sexual history, getting themselves tested – if, that is, anyone’s legally allowed to inform them.

There were definitely some abstinence advocates capable of intelligent thought, but many really didn’t have any good reasons for what they believed. Don’t get me wrong, nobody owes me a damn word of an explanation for what they want to do with their own lives and bodies. Personally, I don’t consider adultery to apply retroactively, but if you want to view any pre-marital sex as cheating on your future spouse, as some of these people did, then you go ahead and remain faithful to someone you haven’t met yet. My hackles only rise (and you know I hate when you people do that to my hackles) when you start telling other people that what they’re doing is wrong. So, to all you people trying to suppress the distribution of information in schools, here’s why what you’re doing is wrong.

– Don’t compare a detailed sex education, which includes instruction in the use of contraception, to a lesson in how to safely shoot up on heroin. Personally, I think the latter could also be a damn good idea, but leaving that aside for now, a potentially beautiful expression of love can’t be so easily equated to the potentially lethal consumption of illegal narcotics.

– Don’t claim that America is facing an AIDS epidemic comparable to the kind of thing that terrorists might hope to achieve by launching a particularly virulent disease into the general public. If the most devastating biological warfare our enemies can wage on us is something we need to insert body parts into each other to spread, and which can be made 98% less contagious by the application of a small, cheap, and easily-acquired piece of plastic, then I think there are more pressing concerns in protecting the integrity of western civilisation. C’mon, smallpox might be tricky to get hold of, but even the ‘flu can be passed on by just sneezing in someone’s general direction.

– Don’t give me Biblical lectures on purity and expect this to have an impact on the running of state-sponsored education. He’s your god, they’re your rules, you live by ‘em. And honestly, who on the planet has spent a single pure day in their lives, going by what that book says? Though I wouldn’t put it past some fundies to genuinely make sure that they always bathe themselves and make the appropriate burnt offerings after every time they touch the skin of a pig, or sit in a chair previously occupied by a woman who “have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood”. Yes, apparently that’s the actual Biblical term for menstruation.

– Don’t tell me, “Anything you cover up, you cover up for a reason.” Yes, the reason is unhealthy and outdated sexual repression.

The abstinence-only crowd fail to acknowledge the vital, simple, and universal truth that kids don’t bloody listen. No, really. Have you met any teenagers lately? They’re always causing absolute mayhem, the way they insist on acting and thinking independently, making their own decisions without slavishly adhering to every joyless command their buzzkill elders hand down. It’s a nightmare. But also, surprisingly often, they’re not idiots. Anyone who actually understands what can result from careless sex, and how to prevent it, isn’t going to keep doing it – or if they are, chances are they’re not going to be the kind of person who’d go a bundle for total abstinence either.

They’re also quite capable of doing their own research, and if they don’t have somebody more informed around, to help them sift the useful information from the fiction, then they’re potentially screwed, and not in a good way. Condoms are hardly a national secret, and teenagers are going to find out about them, however much you try and hide away this terrible secret. But their proper usage and true rates of effectiveness are the kind of info that might pass a casual user by.

A lot of this is illustrated in the other programme that got me ranting on this theme. More recently, Davina McCall, ubiquitous television personality and host of that great moral bastion of purity and virtue, the game show Big Brother, embarked on a campaign for more and better sex education in Britain’s schools. Apparently it was a fairly brief campaign, not lasting noticeably longer than the hour-long documentary on Channel 4 last year detailing her adventures. She’s said she hopes to do for sex education what Jamie Oliver, popular TV chef and mockney restaurateur type, has done for school dinners.

Now, Jamie Oliver still has a lingering reputation, from his early, Naked Chef days, as an annoying, slack-tongued halfwit – you may recall that series of film posters which were photoshopped to refer to him as a cunt in a variety of amusing ways. However, he has actually managed to change a few things over the course of his own crusade, and I’m not sure Davina is quite going to have his credibility or gravitas. (I might hesitate to use words like “credibility” and “gravitas” to describe Jamie Oliver, if I had any credibility of my own to worry about, but fortunately I am not so hampered.) And, indeed, nobody seems to have paid her any attention since then, despite the importance of her cause.

A class of 16-year-olds and their headmaster were participating in the programme. They came from some secondary school which currently doesn’t have a great deal of sex education, beyond the standard hour on reproduction in biology lessons, but the head would like to introduce a much more detailed, consistent syllabus. The show started out by giving a written, multiple-choice exam to the kids, their parents, the school’s teachers, and Davina, in which some qualified sexpert declared that everyone really ought to score at least 80%, if they’re not woefully uninformed about all things carnal.

I’m not sure there was a single person in the room who scored that high, and the kids averaged somewhere in the 30s. I knew most of the example questions we were given, but I was flummoxed by whatever it was they wanted to know about the Fallopian tubes, and if questioned further on the details of all the mechanical jiggery-pokery (pardon the technical jargon) my ignorance would no doubt be swiftly proven. To the shock and amazement of nobody, it seems that sex is a subject on which many people in this country, children in particular, are deeply ignorant.

Davina then went with this class to the Netherlands to sit in on some lessons there, and talk to some of the local teachers, parents, and students about their thoughts on sex education, in a country with teen pregnancy and STD rates less than 25% of our own. They sat in on a class of (I think) 12-year-olds, and were almost universally shocked and appalled by the graphic nature of the videos they were being shown. It was a fairly simplistic animation, but it depicted two little cartoon people having penetrative sex, and the British teenagers were generally agreed that kids this young should not be exposed to this kind of thing.

But, to broach the obvious but often unspoken question, why the fuck not? At their age, most kids are charging rapidly toward learning plenty about sex anyway, if not from practical experience, then certainly from far less academic study than they’d get in a classroom, be it in playground rumours, stories from older siblings, or the good ol’ interwebs. Every time a kid takes a bath, the discovery of one set of genitalia right there in front of them is going to be hard to avoid; after a decade of this, does anyone really think they’re not going to start asking a few innocently curious questions about it, and listening to whatever answers they’re given by anyone who doesn’t just tell them they’ll understand when they’re older?

What the Dutch seem to have figured out is that if you establish a subject in kids’ minds as something which can be talked about, learned about, and discussed maturely and reasonably, before it becomes relevant to their lives, then you save yourself a whole lot of hassle trying to straighten them out once the damage has already been done. This might be even truer for the social side of sex than for the purely biological discussion.

We also saw a class of six-year-olds, discussing with their teacher things like different types of love, the very basics of how people make new people, and even introducing concepts like homosexuality. There was a fair bit of giggling going on, because it’s a classroom full of six-year-olds, but they were learning things, things that they’ll remember and understand later on in life, and they were managing it without visibly being disgusted, or offended, or having their purity and innocence twisted and destroyed.

The parents who wrote to complain to this headmaster about his plans (a very small minority, encouragingly, but still quite capable of kicking up a major fuss) blathered predominantly on the theme of “destroying our children’s innocence”, but I think I’ve hit upon the fundamental misunderstanding here. People are confusing the concepts of innocence and ignorance.

What’s happening to these Dutch kids is called education, which is about making people more knowledgeable, and less ignorant. But while they’re learning about sex, their innocence remains unaffected; they sit around the classroom, idly chewing crayons and being told that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, then scamper off as soon as the bell rings to run around, climb trees, trade Pokémon cards, or whatever the hell six-year-olds do for fun these days. They’re no less innocent for the lesson they’ve just had, because their world is still just as much about having childish fun as it was yesterday. 13-year-olds in Britain, on the other hand, are throwing their innocence aside at alarming rates and with little care, in no small part because their ignorance about sex tends to remain more or less intact throughout their education.

I am firmly convinced that devoting much more time to an intelligent, mature, regular timetable of sex education is absolutely the right thing to do, and would accomplish much in nurturing a better-informed, healthier, and generally less screwed-up society. The problem, of course, as is often the case, is that you can’t get there from here. If the system were to be suddenly overhauled, and hordes of parents had to start having awkward and embarrassing conversations about what their precious darlings had learnt in school today, the ensuing outcry might just bring the country to a standstill.

I’m less convinced that we’re quite ready for such a dangerously liberal policy being applied universally, all at once; some of us are still struggling with the idea of women wearing long trousers and children being kept out of chimneys and coal mines. But surely we can do better than this. We’re being pwned by the Dutch, for fuck’s sake.

(I’ve got no beef with the Dutch really. That’s just the way the rhetoric seemed to be going.)

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: