25 Jun 2008

Lies, damned lies, teenage pregnancy and abortion

"The number of abortions, including among young girls, has hit a record high, official figures showed.

Procedures to women living in England and Wales have increased across all age groups since records began, the Department of Health confirmed.

Yearly figures showed the number of abortions among girls under 14 rose 21%, from 135 abortions in 2006 to 163 in 2007.

There was also an 11% rise among girls aged 14, from 907 abortions in 2006 to 1,008 in 2007. Furthermore, there were 3,205 abortions to girls aged 15 in 2007, a 9% increase on the 2,948 in 2006.

Among all girls aged under 16, there was a 10% rise, from 3,990 abortions in 2006 to 4,376 in 2007.......

Across all age groups, there was a 2.5% increase in the number of women living in England and Wales having an abortion, from 193,700 in 2006 to 198,500 in 2007, today's figures showed.”

Despite its failure, the sex education lobby is fighting back:

“Based on information from 70% of English Local Authorities, the SEF [Sex Education Forum], the national authority on sex and relationships education (SRE), based at NCB [National Children’s Bureau], found that of the 2,185 schools surveyed, 29% had an on-site sexual health service.

Confidential sexual health services on the school site make it easier for young people to get help with problems early. Health professionals build on what young people learn in SRE by giving young people crucial one-to-one advice about their health and wellbeing as well as access to contraception, pregnancy and STI [Sexually Transmitted Infections] testing services if needed.

Research confirms that the combination of good SRE in schools, linked to easily accessible, confidential, sexual health services is key to reducing teenage pregnancy rates and improving sexual health."

Not surprisingly, this mantra is being echoed enthusiastically and unquestioningly by writers in dozens of newspapers and journals.

But, in a response to comments made by the Government concerning his research

Professor David Paton, an economist at the Nottingham University Business School, wrote:

“In March 2002, a paper was published in the Journal of Health economics entitled “The Economics of Family Planning and Underage Conceptions (Paton, 2002). In this paper, an economic model of rational choice was presented which suggested that “improving access to family planning can have an ambiguous impact on underage conception and abortion rates” (p. 223). In the rational choice model, the reason for this ambiguity is that access to family planning may increase the likelihood of young people engaging in sexual activity in the first place. I tested this model on a panel data covering UK regions between 1984 and 1997. Over this period, I found no evidence that the provision of family planning reduced either conception or abortion rate for the under 16s.”

Professor Paton concluded in his subsequent research paper:

“The discussion in this paper makes it clear that the sources cited by the Government do not support the Government’s assertion that international research contradicts the findings in Paton (2002). Rather, it would be fairer to state clear that the international research has not come to any strong conclusion relating to the impact of access to family planning services on teenage pregnancy rates. The strongest evidence available in the sources cited by the Government, together with evidence from other well-regarded studies, far from being contradictory, is perfectly consistent with the key finding of Paton (2002) that increased access to family planning does not reduce underage pregnancy rates.”

Needless to say, the BBC follows the herd by parroting:

“Government advisers called for high quality sex education at school and investment in contraception services for young people. ............”

Rather than refer to an earlier BBC report:

Dr David Paton, of Nottingham University Business School, said:

"We found that as you increase access to family planning services pregnancy rates for this group either do not change or there is some evidence they go up.

"They certainly don't decrease which is what the government wants. It seems family planning seems to encourage more people to have sex, which teamed with a high contraceptive failure rate can cancel out any gain."

Professor Paton comments:

‘One of the problems with research on sexually transmitted infections is that we only have data on diagnoses and not on actual infections. With some of these infections, most notably chlamydia, there are often no symptoms at all. It could be that the increase in diagnosis rates just reflects the fact more young people are aware about diseases like chlamydia and are getting themselves tested.’

‘In fact, the notable feature about my results is that I found a significantly positive correlation between increases in family planning services and increases both in rates of chlamydia and in rates of those sexually transmitted infections where the symptoms are more noticeable.’

One explanation for these results is that easier access to family planning for young people may have been partly responsible for the increase in risky sexual behaviour among young people. The increase in this risk-taking behaviour may then have outweighed any positive impact of family planning policies.”

On 4th January 2008 Professor David Paton said:

"The underlying social deprivation of an area, family breakdown rates and religion seems to have a greater effect on teenage pregnancy rates than more obvious policies such as sex education or providing access to family planning.

"There has been a tendency for the Government's teenage pregnancy strategy to focus on creating schemes where teenagers can get the morning after pill or other forms of family planning at school or clinics.

"The danger with this sort of approach is that it can lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviour amongst some young people.

"There is now overwhelming evidence that such schemes are simply not effective in cutting teenage pregnancy rates."

Professor David Paton repeated his comments more recently [19th June 2008]:

'Pretty much all the research on school-based family planning clinics suggests they have little or no impact on teenage pregnancy rates.

'There is a possibility that such services change the behaviour of some young people and may increase risk-taking sexual behaviour.'

Fortunately, David Cameron is reacting with more sensible proposals:

“One way is to start early - and insist, for example, that there's no sex education in schools unless it includes relationship education.”

One of the most effective writers is a parent:

“I think if parents are to be successful in raising counter-cultural kids, they need to work out how their kids are going to survive the indoctrination offered by the school system - or else remove them from the line of fire...........

At the top of my mind today is sex education. We had a parents’ evening meeting about it at my childrens’ junior school, and I was frankly outraged at what is being done.As part of this, we were shown a ‘tasteful’ video which the kids were going to see, including a cartoon couple having sex.

If anyone but a teacher were to make my kids watch videos of people having sex, he would be put on the sex offenders’ register.

We were also given a handout which included the claim that ‘Research has shown that sex education helps to reduce teenage sexual activity.’

When questioned the head was unable to refer me to that research - he had simply copied the quotation out of the booklet supplied with the video.

To his credit he was embarrassed to admit this...

On further examination, the booklet offered no reference to research to back up the claim either.

Moreover the booklet was produced by Brook.

Much of the research evidence I have seen suggests that early and explicit sex education is a co-factor with early sexual activity, as is the provision of the services that Brook offers.

In an age of evidence-based medicine it is extraordinary that the response to the failure of the government’s sex education strategy (soaring levels of STDs among teenagers, for example) is to try more of the same....

I had a further meeting with the head, who admitted the school’s policy was a fudge, and I sent him this letter as a follow up...

Dear Mr **********

Sex and Relationships Education

Thank you for making time to see me at such short notice this morning, and also for the courtesy and understanding with which you discussed my concerns.

As I mentioned, [my wife] and I having discussed this further, we would now like to confirm that we will be withdrawing [our children] from all parts of this programme which are not compulsory as part of the National Curriculum.

I thought it might be helpful to summarise those concerns, as you mentioned you may wish to discuss them with the County Advisor.

The primary concern is the ideological one. On one side there are those like me who believe that we should be educating our children for life-long monogamous marriages; on the other, those who want to see children as informed, active, consumers of sex.

If you think I am over-stating the position, look at the www sites for fpa and Brook, where they make their position, including condoning under-age sex, very explicit. They are advocates of children’s right to enjoy their sexuality, and are among the country’s leading campaigners for and providers of abortion.

It is evident that Brook and fpa talk the language of ‘relationships’ to get their material past parents: there is none of that concern in their www sites. But of course any teenager can convince himself that the current infatuation is ‘a meaningful loving relationship.’ That kind of thinking provides no protection against promiscuity - but then it is not intended to.

The middle ground is made up of those who would prefer children to delay having sex and not be too promiscuous, but believe that they can’t be stopped. That risks being a self-fulfilling prophecy, transforming the historical pattern of a very small number of children being sexually active into a much larger number being so.

The evidence on early sexual activity and multiple partners seems pretty clear: the two go together, and are an unhealthy combination, physically, emotionally and psychologically. Oddly, Brook and fpa, who are so keen to deal in fact, ignore these facts absolutely - as they ignore the research which shows that 70% of girls who engage in sex early (pre-16) regret it later on and wish they had waited.

These different ideologies naturally lead to radically different approaches to sex education. I believe sex is private (indeed sacred), and that taboos (and even some things labelled by the government’s experts as prejudices) are often helpful in protecting children from premature exposure to adult issues and from aberrant thoughts and behaviours. The other side believe that anything goes (as long as it is consensual), and that openness and choice are the primary virtues.

Whilst I fully understand that the school has to comply with the government’s directives on this, the government’s view is not the only one, and some research suggests their policy to be ill-founded. I can give you details of that if you are interested (eg Marsilio and Mott’s study, based on interviews with 12000 US children which identified 4 co-factors of teenage sexual activity, of which one was sex education,)

The reason that the government is so keen on pushing this into junior schools seems to be the remarkable failure of it at senior level - indeed the more they push sex education, the more promiscuous the children seem to become with all the attendant physical, emotional and psychological damage that implies. Again, I can supply data showing the increase in teenage promiscuity coinciding with sex education, and also with the existence of Brook Advisory Centres in a locality. For example, those areas targeted by the government with special measures have seen greater increases in teenage conceptions (Oxfordshire 7.3%, Cornwall 16.4% and Torbay 22.4%) I can also supply research questioning the lessons drawn from the Dutch experience (which may be the source for the research cited in the booklet you quoted).

My second major concern is the psychological impact of sex education at this age. The risk is that it disrupts the children’s latency period - a development period widely acknowledged by psychologists when they are not naturally interested in sex. Many psychologists see the disruption of this by sex education as abusive and dangerous. For one psychologist’s assessment of this, see Melvin Anchell’s Killers of Children. I believe our children have a right to stay children and stay innocent, and that the fact that there are commercial interests desperate to turn them into adolescent consumers earlier and earlier should not drive education policy.

The third area of concern is the philosophical one. The whole approach explicitly outlaws any absolute moral teaching (We don’t judge others, we respect the choices of others...) in the sexual realm. It is curious, then, how ready the same non-judgmental policy condemns behaviour of which the government really disapproves (bullying, discrimination). In fact the implicit lesson of this whole approach is that sexual morality is subjective. This begs a massive philosophical question and risks teaching an absolute answer (ironically!) to children before they are even able to comprehend the issues at stake.

It seems to me therefore that the schools are being used by one side of an ideological debate, that the evidence supporting what you are required to do is, to say the least, unproven, and that the government is in effect experimenting with our children with potentially very grave consequences.

I can supply the research references for all the claims made above, if that would be helpful to you. Thank you once more for the time and trouble you took to understand and engage with these concerns and to explain where the school stands and how it intends to proceed.”

Letter ends.

What can we suggest to teachers they might usefully teach about relationships? There are plenty of rich sources within English Literature, History and Religious Studies. No doubt enlightened teachers use the opportunities these provide. Schools should develop a holistic approach, exploring and discussing relationships in the subjects mentioned above, making it a part of the ethos of the school.

For those interested in Jung’s idea of synchronicity, the readings on Sunday from the Common Lectionary were Genesis 21: 8-21 and Matthew 10: 24-39. In the first, Abraham drives out into the wilderness his first born son, Ishmael with his mother, Sarah’s maid, Hagar. In the second, Jesus says he comes not to bring peace but with a sword to divide families. Tough messages. Families are rapidly divided if the members retain tribal attitudes and fail to mature. Children, like Ishmael, become fatherless. All manner of poor social outcomes ensue. We are living with the consequences.

The sex education lobby is a new tribe of delinquents who think they can help people mature by dishing out condoms and morning after pills, despite the evidence to the contrary. When will the experiment end?

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