This post from Mulier Fortis bears repeating in full:
I get so tired of hearing the same old stuff – namely that, if we had more sex education we would have fewer teenage pregnancies.
I am now a woman in my forties (aaaarghhh! How did that happen??!!) and even I had sex education lessons in school. It was a single-sex school, because most were, back then. It was a Catholic school, though I don’t recall the Church’s position being taught positively. It was a Comprehensive school. We had our first sex education lessons in the first year – what is now Year 7 – at the age of 11. There was no mention of abstinence as an option. We were told about condoms, the need for spermicide, the cap, the coil and the Pill. STDs were discussed. Condoms were seen as the answer to those, as were family planning clinics. Contraception was assumed to be something that every thinking girl ought to know about.
The attitude that everyone must be having sex was endemic in the medical profession – I discovered this when, aged 17, I was rushed to hospital because my periods were so heavy I nearly died – I needed a transfusion of seven units of blood. The doctors were convinced I was pregnant and having a miscarriage, and would not accept my assurances to the contrary. I was 17, I wasn’t on contraception, I must therefore be pregnant. I did explain that I hadn’t had sex, but that little point was ignored.
But I knew the facts of life. ALL my friends knew them. We all knew about contraception. Girls occasionally got pregnant – it was always assumed that they must have been too stupid to get contraceptives. With hindsight, (basically, knowledge of contraceptive failure rates) I wonder if that was, in fact, the case.
I’ve now been teaching for 13 years. I have seen government after government decide that we need more sex education – both in the number of lessons and in the explicitness of the material. Most horrifyingly, the push is for sex education to start earlier and earlier. The attitude is “If we can only teach them about contraceptives before they become sexually active, everything will be alright.” and “Obviously, the reason for the high teenage pregnancy rates is that no-one has access to contraception.”
But there is more contraceptive availability than ever. Condoms are on open display in every supermarket. the morning-after Pill is promoted in schools, free contraceptive advice (and contraception) is advertised in schools, sexual health clinic information is up in doctors’ surgeries and hospital waiting rooms, and council offices, and jobcentres, and libraries…
However, I never had any figures at my fingertips to rebut the constant refrain that “more explicit sex education, earlier and more often” is the only solution to the teenage pregnancy crisis…
Now Caroline (aka Blondpidge) has done an excellent, evidence-based post on the effect of government policies on the teenage pregnancy rates in this country. There has, as I suspected, been no effect. Sex education – or rather, let’s be honest, pushing contraceptives – does not have any effect on the rates of teenage pregnancy.
My experience of sex education (or, as it was coyly called back then Mother and Daughter/Father and Son evenings) predates MF’s by a couple of decades, and was in the public school system, at a co-ed school. Way back then in the pre-Internet dark ages, I came out of school with a reasonable – if theoretical – idea of the mechanics of copulation, and a clear understanding that contraceptives were beneficial in preventing disease and pregnancy.
So – in NZ at least – we’re talking at least 40 years of sex-ed. In New Zealand, the pregnancy rate (live births plus abortions) is around 50 per 1000 girls aged 15 to 19, and hasn’t changed in 40 years. I couldn’t find figures for 13 and 14 year olds.