Start Library 3: Table of content What is new? Ipce Magazine

[Back to Scientific Articles] 

Sex talk 'reduces teen pregnancy rate'

David Walker, The Guardian, January 4, 2002

Teenage pregnancy in Britain will remain far above European levels because sex is regarded as "dirty" by too many parents and schools.

A study to be published shortly in the Journal of Social Policy, says sex education puts too much emphasis on the riskiness and danger of sex, too little on its pleasure. This leads young people, especially boys, to adopt irresponsible attitudes.

The study, which samples pupils' attitudes in schools in London and the east Midlands, blames Tory moralists and hesitant Labour ministers, who failed to secure the repeal of section 28 and its implicit messages about "normality" and preferred family structure.

Its author, Jane Lewis, professor of social policy at the University of Oxford, says the prevailing message about sex for pupils in British schools is that it is something illicit and therefore desirable.

Her study compares sex education here and in the Netherlands. Despite much-publicised initiatives by the Blair government the birth rate per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in England and Wales is still around 40, while that for Dutch girls of the same age is just over four. The rate fell in 1999 but not by much since.

Each year there are nearly 90,000 conceptions by teenagers, three fifths of which result in live births. More than 7,000 of these are to girls under 16 and 2,000 or so to girls of 14 and under.

This is a lower rate than in Canada, New Zealand or the US but higher by far than in Germany, France, Italy and the other EU countries.

Low Dutch rates are attributed to more talk about sex between parents and children and more education in schools both about the physical and emotional dimensions of sex. The study found teaching materials in England and the Netherlands to be remarkably similar; the difference is the atmosphere within which teachers operate.

Contrary to reputation, the Dutch are not "permissive" and the churches play a significant role in schooling. Professor Lewis notes that even sex education material produced by the Dutch Catholic Church emphasises the positive aspects of sex.

A big difference between the two countries is parents' attitude. The Marie Stopes International charity recently reported nine out of 10 parents saying sex education was principally their responsibility, but few actually talked about it.

Another difference is that Dutch schools are given more freedom to decide how they teach sex.

This fact "gives parents a high degree of trust".

New guidance on sex and relationship education issued by David Blunkett when he was education secretary was more positive than the Tory line but Prof Lewis said its "overarching concern" was still risk.

Prof Lewis quoted a passage from a Dutch booklet for pupils about making love with patience and pleasure.

"It would be impossible to find such a passage in an English classroom text".

The Dutch focus is to encourage young people to think about what they want before the situation arises and then act responsibly. It is not foolproof.

In Amsterdam, the teenage birth rate is much higher than in the rest of country and is related strongly to ethnicity.

[Back to Scientific Articles]

Start Library 3: Table of content What is new? Ipce Magazine