What’s wrong with abstinence?

August 14, 2011

Just a quick one. If you’re following Parliament at the moment you’ll know that the nutjob Tory MP Nadine Dorries is putting a private member’s bill through which advocates making abstinence sex education compulsory for girls aged 13-16. There aren’t a lot of details going around about it, other than Dorries’ speech in Parliament in May, but it would be in addition to other sex education which is also legally required.

Now you may wonder what’s wrong with that. Surely encouraging teens not to have sex is a way to reduce STI transfer and unwanted pregnancy? How could that be a bad thing? Well, there are 2 main prongs to my criticism:

By saying that only girls should receive this education, these plans reinforce a dangerous gender role in that it implicitly gives the message that only women should decide whether to say yes or no, and that men should just always want to have sex. At such a young age, this has potentially quite damaging consequences for a long period of time. It further perpetuates the idea of women being prizes to be won, and all the other problems which come with that such as the male gaze for example.

My other criticism is not to do with abstinence education itself but rather with the way it is typically taught. Often when abstinence becomes a big feature of sex education, the focus gets placed on virginity, and not having had sex is held up as an icon of some sort. Virginity is all well and good (although have you noticed there’s no word for a non-virgin? Apparently in Romanian there are several words for it) but what it means is that when people do end up having sex once, they then think they’ve lost their virginity already so they may as well just carry on having sex. Rather the education should focus on the element of choice before having sex each time, and the recognition that it’s quite an important decision to make.

So what would be a better proposal? I would suggest sex education for all genders based on the idea of choice, mutual respect and relationships, tying it in with a frank discussion about the importance of consent, of course in addition to education about different types of contraception and STI’s.

You can see if your MP voted no to this bill at the first readingĀ at this website. If they haven’t, why not write to them and ask them to?