This week the Institute for Public Policy Research floated the idea that kids as young as 10 should be taught about contraception in their final year at primary school. A study by the IPPR also found that British teenagers are the most sexually active in Europe. (Or at least the most likely to lie about it.)
Unfortunately, the IPPR's suggestion came in the same week that the Office for National Statistics found that government sex education for adults has made people more aware of STDs like chlamydia but hasn't made much difference to whether they practise safe sex, with just 37 per cent of those questioned saying they use condoms 'more often', whatever that may mean. And while the government has launched various massive information campaigns, only three per cent of people said they'd actually consulted government leaflets for advice.
Teen sex and adult contraception habits are not exactly the same thing, but it does reinforce the idea that you can educate people to death and it still doesn't have much impact on their behaviour. And a perusal of the sort of advice the government is doling out gives a clue as to why sex education isn't working.
The government's 'Hello idiots!' website www.directgov.co.uk directs the teenager seeking information about sex to www.ruthinking.co.uk (Are you thinking, you see?), a government sponsored site. As ever the site is written in that awful yoot-friendly idiom, with articles called things like 'Wise up: Chlamydia' and 'The facts on breasts, bottoms and your bits down there!' The advice for 'Lads' (young people are categorised as 'Lads' and 'Girls') even contains the gruesomely-titled article 'Trouser snake or wriggly worm? Find out if size is really that important!' You wouldn't be entirely surprised to find an article called 'Yo! Why condoms is da bomb! Respec' yo dick and johnny up!'
In fairness, a lot of the advice on the site is good, such as allaying fears about STDs, generally clearing up misconceptions and explaining things that few teens would be rushing to their parents to ask about. However, it also suggests that sex education may be a waste of time. We don't mean literally - clearly it wouldn't be a good thing to go back to the days when the fact that women had pubic hair came as a terrible shock, as it reputedly did to Victorian art critic John Ruskin, raised on pube-free Renaissance paintings, who supposedly shouted out 'Fur!' on his wedding night. It's just that there's a limit to how much there is to actually teach anyone about sex. Trawling through the advice causes a certain feeling of déjà vu for anyone who's had even the most minimal sex education. Sex education can really be boiled down to a set of easy-to-understand factoids. If you have sex without contraception, there is a very strong chance you'll get pregnant. Condoms protect against STDs. You *can* get pregnant having sex standing up. The so-called 'female orgasm' is a myth. And so on.
Of course, even in our multimedia age, some kids remain woefully ignorant: 'I didn't think you could get pregnant the first time you do it' is still uttered by some. But how on earth can you get through to kids like this? And these kids are surely in a tiny minority - a tiny segment at the end of the distribution curve of stupidity. A paucity of factual information about sex isn't the problem. It's what people go on to actually *do* that causes the problems.
And herein lies the problem. Sex education can tell you where to get condoms, but it doesn't seem to do much to address the innumerable factors that lead to young teenage girls getting pregnant and teens in general getting STDs (really these are the ills that sex education is about, however much talk there may be of relationships and what a beautiful thing sex can be, blah di blah.)
The other big problem facing sex education is that so much of it, frankly, does promote sex: not in the sense of 'Go and pork 'til you're blue, kids!' but by assuming that most kids are having sex. With its relentlessly chatty tone The RU Thinking? site certainly seems to believe this. Worse still, it not only manages to normalise teen sex but also trivialise it. This is exemplified by one of the most fucking stupid things we've ever seen (and we watched 'Torchwood'). Go here.
...scroll down to the bottom left. You'll find 'in yer pants', a crap Pac Man game in which the ghosts are STDs (really, we're not making this up), Pac Man is a pair of Y-fronts (does anyone still wear Y-fronts?) and you have to collect condoms to kill the STDs. It's moronic, but we couldn't help wishing that sex in general was like a computer game. Collect enough magic coins, bananas and power pills, and your partner and their more attractive friend will enthusiastically agree to a threesome.
Teenagers having sex isn't an inherently bad thing, but problems patently *do* arise when young teenagers start having unprotected sex and getting pregnant in the murky, frantic, Bacardi-from-the-bottle-fuelled world of teen sex. And however much sex education tries to be up-front and unafraid to do some straight talking, reality is conspicuously lacking from sites like RU Thinking? Maybe it *would* be worth pointing out the reality of teen sex. Things like the fact that your friends will constantly talk about sex, but then call you a slag if you actually do it. Or that getting pregnant at 14 runs the risk of introducing you to a world of problems. Or even that if people like your chav friends (and parents, in some cases) think having a kid at 14 is an OK idea, they might be complete fucking idiots.
But why bother? It's a lot easier and less controversial to earnestly throw more education at the wall and see if any of it sticks. So remember, kids: contraception is wicked! Don't be a muppet - johnny up!