The BBC reports that the Education watchdog Ofsted has found that most secondary schools in England do not provide any sex education or advice on other "vital" health issues. Sexually transmitted infections are continuing to grow, with more than 700,000 new cases recorded in 2003 in the UK. Chlamydia cases increased by 9% to 89,818, genital warts went up by 2% to 70,883 and syphilis by 28%. UK teenage pregnancy rates are also the highest in western Europe.
What these shameful statistics don't tell you is the amount of emotional damage sustained by the young as they launch themselves into adult life totally unprepared for the devastation that ensues.
There are two subjects not taught in school that absolutely should be, and these are personal finance (tax! banking!) and the whole sticky subject of LOVE in all it's forms, which is demoted to sporadic brief warnings about disease and the horrible consequences of unprotected sex.
The reason for this failure lies in the incredible prurience that still paralyses British institutions and much of public life. It's the same system that I grew up with. You are given the message over and over again that sex is great and we should all be having more of it. However we cannot tell you anything about it, until you are old enough to have been doing it for years. Sex is practically deified in commercial culture because it sells, and sex is constantly presented to us in advertising as disembodied, soundbite-sized chunks devoid of emotional relevance. Love is simultaneously sentimentalised, commercialised, and seen as a commodity, to have. So generations grow up confused about erotic behaviour with no context for their sexual exploration beyond carnal gratification and idiotic, unconnected tales of romance.
Sex is easy and cheap. What else is more interesting for a hormonal teenager? Yet even with mass sexual infection and teenage pregnancy gone through the roof, we don't seem to be able to educate sufficiently to give enough accurate information to our young population to help them flourish. Whilst we encourage academic learning and skills so that children make the right choices for their jobs, we don't allow children to learn and develop the self-esteem, particularly in the area of sex and love, which will allow them to make good choices in relationships. It's all just supposed to magically happen, and very often it magically doesn't.
Now I am not saying that sex purely for recreational fun is bad, nor am I elevating love above sex. At this point, I still don't know that love isn't simply a trick pulled by Cupid (or his equally dumb and destructive cousin Eros) just to ensure the babies that sex produces have a greater chance of reaching maturity. I just really dislike the examples of love and sex we are given when young.
We don't teach sex and we don't teach love, and we leave generation after generation vulnerable by this omission. We don't explain that you can get really confused emotionally if you are not discriminating in your choice of partners. We don't tell vulnerable young people craving love and attention that for some people sex is an end in itself and there's little or no love in the act. We don't explain the way that love and hugs and sex can be connected. We don't explain to young people how to play safe, how to avoid being victimised. We don't explain that making love makes love and that if you keep doing it with the same person you become attached to them. We need to talk openly about passion. Are we so incapable of that?
We just say, use condoms, and there is no condom that works for the heart.