Twitter, that horrid little online world of reactionary views and unoriginal jokes, is all abuzz right about now because of a woman called Nadine Dorries.
Dorries, for those of you who don't know, is a Tory Scum MP who recently confessed that her online blog, set up to engage with us "normal" folk, was "mostly fiction" and "relied heavily on poetic licence." She's also been up to funny stuff with a married man, allegedly. Dorries has been making the news today because of comments she made in the Commons earlier, but Twitter is funny in that it's a bit like Chinese Whispers - sometimes things can get twisted and contorted, other times things get spread around even when they're fake (much like a "quote" supposedly said by Martin Luther King the other day) so let's look at what Dorries exactly said:
Teenage girls must be given lessons in how to say no to sex, a Conservative MP has told Parliament. Speaking in the Commons, Nadine Dorries proposed that would result in classes in abstinence, but only for girls aged 13 to 16. She said society was "Saturated in sex" and teenagers should be taught that it was as "cool" to say no to sex as to know how to put a condom on their boyfriend.
"The answer to ending our constant struggle with the incredibly high rate of teenage sexual activity and underage pregnancies lies in teaching our girls and boys about the option of abstinence, the ability to "just say no" as part of their compulsory sex education." she said. "Peer pressure is a key contributor to early sexual activity in our country. Society is focused on sex. Teaching a child at the age of seven to apply a condom on a banana is almost saying 'Now go and try this for yourself.' Girls are taught to have safe sex, but not how to say no to a boyfriend who insists on sexual relations."
So how do we feel about all of that? Personally, I think Dorries is wrong in wanting a branch of sexual education to be taught to a specific gender - in this case, girls. What does that achieve? I have visions in my head of 13 year old girls leaving a classroom and feeling terrified that any boy passing them is going to demand intercourse with them. I don't have a problem with abstinence being mentioned in sex education classes, but to teach children to say "yes" or "no" is extremely unsafe and frankly stupid ground. I also find it horribly moralistic - "You MUST NOT say yes to this boy!" etc. Educate children thoroughly and let them make their own decisions in life. Besides, when I was 15 I remember girls saying "no" to me. Quite often, in fact. Come to think of it they were, and still are, particularly adept at doing that. Gutted.
Some more quotes and opinions can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/may/04/nadine-dorries-teenage-girls but I want to move on, because I want this blog post to be about this subject, rather than Dorries herself.
I went to a primary school, a middle school (for half a year) and a secondary school. In all of those days/months/years, the sex education given to me amounted to this:
a) In primary school, one day my class was divided into the boys and girls. The girls went off somewhere, to another room, to talk about God-knows-what. They didn't tell us afterwards, and to this day I don't know. This is a serious point however, which I'll get to in a minute.
Us lads got ushered into a room where we were greeted by a male teacher (there was only two in the school) who was also our football coach (I was the dependable left-back, thankyou very much). My memory is very hazy, I can't really remember what he told us, but it was something about sex - mainly what happened to boys in terms of ejaculation and erections and all the rest of it. We were about 11, and I understood NONE of it. I had no fucking idea what he was talking about, so I stopped listening. I messed about with my friend, and eventually we left the room and went back to class. The talk was never mentioned again.
b) Secondary school. We were about 15, and some cunts (I'm sorry, but they were) came into the school to give us a talk about sex that promised to be "fun". I hated every single fucking second of it - partly because I'm a quiet, shy person, but mainly because I didn't think how these people approached it was in the right manner. Example - at one point, we had to sit around in a big circle, and take turns to say our names but with a sexual term attached to it. For example - Charles Chlamydia, Patrick Penis (Yes, I know, tell me about it) and my poor friend Ivan who, as no-one could think of anything else, got branded Impotent Ivan. The reason behind doing this? I can't tell you - not then, not now. It was fucking awful, and embarrassing, and it achieved precisely nothing, except make me wish the ground could swallow me up. There was a few various other shitty things like that - I think at one point one of the guys waved a condom around to get a laugh - and then that was it. And like primary school, that was sex education done with.
In terms of sex education, my schools failed me. I didn't know it at the time, but whisking the girls away that day in primary school set a precedent in my mind - boys stuff is boys stuff, girls stuff is girls stuff, and clearly I didn't need to know the latter. Periods? Tampons? Female contraceptives? No good asking me, to be perfectly honest. Serious discussions about sexual infections, teen pregnancies, genitalia and non-penetrative sex? At school I was never in the position to discuss or be taught about any of those things.
A lot of people will say it shouldn't be the schools job to teach about sex. I disagree, mainly because a discussion about these things with strangers is better than with parents. Thinking about it, my parents never talked about sex with me. My Dad never talked about "birds and bees", my Mum never taught me about womens health. I suppose that if my schools failed me on this issue, so did my parents.
So how did I learn about sex? Well, we got the internet in 2000, when I was 13, and sitting here now, pretty much everything I know about sex has come from it. Most of that is, admittedly, because I'm a massive pervert and I watch shitloads of pornography, but some of it is because I was curious about stuff - stuff that I felt embarrassed to ask my parents about, stuff which I never got close to learning about at school. As I type this, I look out of my window and I see my little brother. I don't want him to grow up like that - to feel like sex is a taboo subject to be tiptoed around, or to find out what the inside of a vagina looks like by seeing a Dutch girl on a webcam opening her legs up. Who knows where I'll be when he's 12/13 (hopefully in Boston but probably still here) but I like to think that I'll put my arm round him and say "Look, this is no big deal, I'm cool talking about anything at all".
Going back to schools, and wrapping things up, what's the answer? I don't know what secondary school sex education is like right now, as I'm mid-20s, but I hope to God it's better than what I suffered. So much of sex education is based on frivolity. I understand that it's really tough to counter that when you're dealing with teenagers, but I'd like to see a more professional and grown up approach. Instead of having a big laugh, talk to students like they're adults - which they'll be one day, y 'know - and stress that sex shouldn't be a taboo subject but it is one that should be taken seriously. Knowledge is power, and I can't help thinking that perhaps it's a lack of knowledge which results in 17 year old girls walking round with pushchairs and prams. Outside of schools, make condoms more accessible, for fucks sake. Last time I bought some - and my God, it's been a while - I bought two for £3. Two for £3! Since then they've probably gone up in price as well. When I think about that, it doesn't surprise me a great deal that you see youths on The Jeremy Kyle Show who have gone around bonking young women and getting them up the duff. "Put something on the end of it!!!" Kyle will scream at them, but why would they pay that much for something that's seen as "uncool" and "unnecessary"? Knowledge is power, and if their sex education was anything like mine, they simply don't have it.