Friday, 6 May 2011

In which I tell Nadine Dorries about my sexual history

I have this dream that we, as a nation, will one day live up to the rational, moderate, secular image we have of ourselves. In this dream, sex and relationships education (SRE) focuses on giving students the information and confidence they need to make whatever genital-touching decision is right for them. People will be able to say the words "single mother" without advocating removing the social safety net from beneath some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the country precisely because of their vulnerable position. And Radio 4's Thought For The Day will be presented by Eddie Izzard. Every day.

But then I wake up from that dream to find that Parliament has passed a Bill supporting abstinence-focused sex education. Just for girls. Nadine Dorries, we need to talk.

I think almost everything I could rant on the topic has been said elsewhere - why only girls! Boys have sex too, and also not all teenage fumblings are of the heterosexual variety! They also don't all follow the Horny Dude Pressures Insecure Girl model - and if they did, surely teaching the Horny Dudes how to not badger people into receiving the penis would be at least as important as teaching Insecure Girls how to decline the penis! Isn't this essentially enshrining victim-blaming into the law? This lays out the ridiculousness of the proposal nicely, to the point where I almost wasn't going to write about it.

Turns out I had some thoughts, though. Surprise!

Firstly: how much has sex education changed since I left school? I remember the animated video about your body is going to change, an extended film of a woman giving birth, and a whole lot of tampon talk, but nothing about contraception - or, god forbid, consent - comes to mind. Everything I learned about the relative merits of condoms, diaphragms, femidoms and the pill, I learned from Sugar magazine. I wish someone had shown me how to put a condom on a cucumber - and I really wish someone had taught three of my previous naked dance partners the importance of correct post-ejaculation condom procedure, because then maybe I wouldn't be the Morning After Pill Queen. (Four times, you guys. But that is a whole nother story.)

So if kids really are being taught the mechanics of contraception, I'm nothing but thrilled: Judy Blume books are great, but they're no substitute for a comprehensive sex education program. I agree the 'relationships' aspect of SRE is also vital, but one half of the equation is better than neither.

Secondly: the quote from Dorries (as to why she's pushing for this now, when teenage pregnancy rates are falling) on the sexificatory pressures felt by our younger sisters...
Dorries told MPs the sale of porn magazines in newsagents, and high street shops selling padded bikinis for seven-year-old girls showed "how far the sexualisation of young girls has gone in our society".
...misses the point, in quite a sad way. It conflates the pressure to be sexy with the pressure to have sex - which are, to an extent, separate things. I think there's a tendency among adults - which increases when they have children themselves, and as they grow further away from their teens - to be so grossed out by the idea of girls having sexy feelings that they prefer to deny its existence, and assume that all teen sex must be due to the twin demands of Horny Dudes and Social Pressure. So they want all SRE to promote abstinence, Just Saying No, with contraception as a reluctant afterthought.

Do you remember how it felt the first time you really kissed someone you had a huge crush on? How exciting it was, how terrifying, how you were sure you were going to vomit, or come, or both at once? Teenage sex isn't just grim enduring, lying back and thinking of Kate Middleton while a Horny Dude wallops around on top of you for thirty seconds. It can be fucking amazing.

And yeah, there are problems; there are guys who think they're entitled to have a girl touch their wang and girls who don't know they're allowed to say no and neither knowing the finer points of condom-usage, but that's true of adults too. The best chance we have for making things better in the future - for making rape unacceptable, for minimising STDs and unwanted pregnancies, for making happy enthusiastically-consensual sex the norm - is really good SRE now. Which Dorries' "it's cool to say no!" information should be a part of. But there should be a whole lot more besides: there was no shortage of people encouraging us to say no, but very little information on how to say yes: how to say yes safely, what it was we were saying yes to, how to say no-to-that-but-how-about-this?, the very idea that we could make suggestions of our own. Yes opens up a whole world of new questions that teenagers, as well as everyone else, need guidance in answering.


  1. Also, gays exist, so it might be helpful to include some stuff for us too. Perhaps also SRE that says "HAI GUYS best way to avoid unwanted pregnancy is not abstinence, it's gaying. Also did you know women-who-only-sleep-with-women like barely never get STDs so get on THAT, ladies". Dunno why Dorries hasn't gone for that angle to be honest xx

    P.S. Consensus seems to be that the bill will never pass so I'm resisting spending my anger-energy on it; although am irritated at opposition and non-insane coalition MPs who didn't turn up to vote against it going to the next stage, largely because what a fucking waste of govt time & money & feminist anger against it. Haven't checked Hansard to see who didn't vote yet and which 60 insane Tories voted for it, but I watched the debate live & Chris Bryant (A Gay) MP was well good arguing against Dorries.

  2. Shit, on rereading that was way too straight-centric, ta muchly for your Clause 28-busting advice. (I had a complete mental block there and was double-check-googling to ascertain that the clause I wanted was, in face, FORTY eight... turns out that's the emergency clause in the Weimar Constitution! Oh my brain.)

    Yeah, I know it's not an immediate threat, like her fun 20 weeks campaign, but I get all thin-end-of-the-wedge worried because she clearly has big ideas and they are really bad ideas and what if this is part of a turn of the tide in British politics/culture and what if what if argh.

    Plus I just like any opportunity to say Wang.