Thursday 27 October 2011

Safe at School - abstinence, chastity, marriage and the family

Today’s blog looks at what some of the groups seeking to influence current SRE policy or delivering SRE in schools have to say about marriage and the family. This is the fourth  in our #SREisSAFE series of blogs.

Sex educators all over the country acknowledge the reality of young people’s lives and the reality of adolescent sexuality, and try to give young people the tools, knowledge and confidence to make the best decisions they can. Good sex education is inclusive – has something to say to everyone in the room whether they are already sexually active, or plan to wait to meet their life partner before they have sex. It also recognises that young people represent a range of sexualities and identities; and that the families they live in come in all different shapes and sizes. It's in this context that members of the new SRE Council, which hopes to influence UK SRE policy, are still committed to preaching about marriage as the only context in which to bring up a child. They would prefer our young people to be brought up on a diet of abstinence-only education and vows of chastity. While organisations promoting these views often co-opt the notion of family values, the reality is that they only place value on one particular type of family.

Challenge Team UK (an SRE council member) proclaims as a matter of fact: ‘Children brought up with married parents do better in every department of life’ and state ‘(we) made the difficult decision not to use the term 'long term committed relationship' as interchangeable with marriage.’
SPUC which is not a member of the SRE Council, but claims to work with hundreds of young people in schools across the UK and has launched its 'safe at school' campaign, doubts that gay people are capable of caring for children. ‘In the past fifteen years the breakup of the traditional family unit has escalated in Britain and with it we are witnessing an increasing number of child tragedies. Whereas it is not the aim of the writers of this paper to comment on the lifestyles of homosexuals one does have to consider the best ways in which society can encourage a happy and healthy environment in which children may grow up.’ 

On sex before marriage Silver Ring Thing (also SRE Council members) say, ‘There is only one true "Safe Sex" message and that must be the message of abstinence until marriage....abstinence until marriage is not only God's plan for their lives, but also the best and only way to avoid the harmful physical and emotional effects of premarital sex.’ 

So, no safer sex messages for those young people that do have sex before marriage. Why? Because not telling them about ways to avoid physical risks is the best way to help them avoid physical risks...hmmm. And if you’re gay I guess you have to resign yourself to never having sex because you can’t get married. So that's well... no sex ever then? However there is a silver lining to that particular cloud. According to Challenge Team Gay and Lesbian youth can join in with the saving themselves for marriage project if not marriage itself.
‘Saving sex gives adolescents who may be confused about their sexuality time to mature before deciding whether they are 'gay' or 'straight'. The underlying message being that gay adolescents may ‘grow out of’ being gay *Challenge Team crosses fingers*.

Lovewise – also SRE Council members say that ‘it is God’s desire that we keep sex for marriage’ and somewhat more scarily that ‘choices in relationships can have life and death consequences’ and ‘you can never get back what you have given away.’ 

Evaluate – another member of the SRE council makes a cursory nod towards the feelings of students observing their presentations, recognising that while their aim is to ‘be a voice into society affirming marriage and faithfulness in relationships,’ they should be ‘mindful that for many young people, this ideal is not their home experience’ This acknowledgement is important because one of our key concerns is how damaging it could be to the aspirations and confidence of young people to be told by a ‘professional’ speaker visiting their school, that because of the shape of their family, their life chances are severely compromised. However, we would like more specifics about what ‘being mindful’ would actually look like. If it’s a pitying look from a well-meaning visitor it won’t go down well with most of the young people we know.

We ask:
Is a young person being brought up by a single mum ‘safe at school’ if a visiting speaker is telling her she is more likely to fail in life. 
Is a young gay or lesbian person ‘safe at school’ if they are told that abstaining from sex until civil partnership may give them the chance to mature and to get over their confusion about their sexuality.
Is a young person who is sexually active already, is likely to become sexually active or may experience abuse or rape ‘safe’ without information about how to use and access contraception including emergency contraception.

If you want to help EFC campaign against misinformation and bad practice in schools please text EDFC22 followed by the amount you wish to donate (e.g. EDFC22 £10) to 70070 or visit our Just Giving page to make a regular donation.

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