Just say 'No' to Nadine Dorries
The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries is pushing abstinence and attacking abortion rights. What young people really need is proper sex education, argues Zoe Margolis
What do you get if you cross the old “No Sex Please, We’re British” mantra with a “Just Say No!” campaign? The Tories’ sex education agenda.
All right, it’s not funny, but it is true. Lately, it seems policy makers would like to return us to a puritanical Victorian era, when young ladies kept a tight hold on their virtue and abortion was underground and dangerous.
At the forefront of this season’s moral panic about the over-sexualisation of youth and the supposed rises in teenage pregnancy is the MP Nadine Dorries – well known for her attempts in Parliament to reduce the upper time limit for abortions.
Some weeks ago Dorries introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill to make it compulsory for abstinence to be taught as part of sex education in schools. Not only is such a proposal unrealistic, it also wilfully ignores the fact that in the United States, where abstinence-only health programmes blossomed in pre-Obama years, the rate of teen pregnancy is still the highest in the developed world. Whereas teen pregnancy rates in this country, now at the lowest since the early 1980s, show that thorough sex education, based on evidence and a lack of moralising, can work.
Yet Dorries believes her plan will not only lower teen pregnancy rates but reduce incidents of sexual abuse: ‘‘If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school,” she argued, “there might be an impact on sex abuse, because a lot of girls, when sex abuse takes place, don’t realise until later that was a wrong thing to do... I don’t think people realise that if we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in school, we would probably have less sex abuse.’’ So, if only girls knew to say “no” this would somehow halt any potential abuser in their tracks?
But beyond Nadine’s preposterous correlation lies the worrying fact that 67 MPs voted for her Bill, with just 61 opposing, ensuring it gets a second reading in Parliament. Dorries’ nonsensical, sexist, victim-blaming policy now has an outside chance of becoming law.
A further sinister aspect of the Government’s policy has been revealed by the recently announced decision to remove the British Pregnancy Advisory Service from the Sexual Health Forum advisory panel, giving their seat to Life, an anti-abortion group. Stuart Cowie of Life said they were delighted to be on the panel “representing views that have not always been around on similar tables in the past”, and that they would dedicate themselves to reducing the amount of abortions. The Department of Health claim that their inclusion provides necessary balance, but the promotion of a group with such an obvious religiously inspired agenda can only mean bad news for young people and the debate about their sexual health for years to come.
What we need to do is continue providing young people with comprehensive, age-appropriate sex and relationship education, which includes teaching about all forms of contraception. Brook, the sexual health charity for which I am an ambassador, regularly asks young people what they want when it comes to learning about sex and relationships.Their answer? Unbiased, balanced, informed sex education.
Will the government give it to them?