At one level, she is of course entirely right. In the sexually exploitative and abusive climate that has become the norm, children need to be educated to ensure their best protection. But this begs the question, how precisely is that to be achieved?
Facts: According to the UK Health Security Agency, which provides data on STI diagnoses and sexual health services, recorded STI infections for 2022 show that, with 82,592 identified cases of gonorrhoea, diagnoses are now at their highest level since records began in 1918. With regards young people specifically, the figures show that in 2022, 10,053 cases of gonorrhoea were diagnosed among children aged between 13 to 19 years old. Chlamydia diagnoses also increased by 24.3%, from 160,279 in 2021 to 199,233 in 2022, while infectious syphilis diagnoses went up 15% for the same period. Taken together, this means that, although STI diagnoses are increasing overall across the nation, by far the highest increase in infection has been amongst young people aged 15-24, closely followed by gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis-annual-data-tables/sexually-transmitted-infections-and-screening-for-chlamydia-in-england-2022-report).
If we look a little further back to 2002, the total number of diagnoses of gonorrhoea for young people aged 16-19 was 6,806, while there were 47 recorded cases for syphilis – which figures, it was said, showed a massive increase on numbers recorded in the 1990s. The 2004 Parliamentary report, Teenage Sexual Health (https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/post/postpn217.pdf) attributes the increase to a lowering of the age for first intercourse; a higher acquisition rate for new partners than for other age groups; and an increased likelihood of being involved in two or more sexual relationships simultaneously.
The questions must surely, therefore, be asked (1) where and how have children over the past three decades ‘learnt’ these behaviours and (2) how have they been persuaded to adopt and indulge such morally lax practices, that all too clearly expose them to harm?
On any scale, the latest figures are alarming, and we clearly do need to do something to address the problem – hopefully reversing the trend. Dame Rachel de Souza has recommended increasing what she calls ‘better’ sex education, with safeguarding made a priority. But we should perhaps unpack exactly what it is she is advocating here, because what she clearly says, as reported in The Times article of 10 November (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sex-education-culture-wars-driving-shocking-increase-in-std-s-among-children-times-health-commission-b7ds9zsmx) is that children should be provided with more detailed teaching on the basics of sex, so as to counter misleading and damaging pornographic material to which they all have access on the internet, and which is currently influencing their behaviour.
Clearly, more does need to be done to keep children safe online, but will giving children more detailed information on the mechanics of sex in class really help the problem, or will it simply make matters worse? After all, over the past couple of decades, mandated sex education – deliberately stripped of any kind of moral frame, so that children don’t feel ‘judged’ – has without doubt, and sometimes overtly, encouraged experimentation and promiscuity. You can’t know ‘what you are, or what you like’ the argument runs, until you’ve tried it for yourself – so children have been encouraged to experiment with different kinds of relationships, as well as different behaviours, despite the fact some of those behaviours – such as anal intercourse, and fisting – are hazardous and will put them at risk of harm.
Yes, children need to be armed against sexual exploitation and abuse, but this should be by alerting them to the dangers of premature sexual activity and promiscuity. They should be taught that they are special, and that sex is a precious gift, not to be lightly given away. Both boys and girls need to be taught that sex is not simply a ‘consensual’ leisure activity, on a par with hooking up for coffee. And, girls especially need to be taught not just that they have an absolute right to say no, free of peer expectation or pressure, but that their future wellbeing and happiness will be best served by not indulging in casual and/or unusual sex. And both sexes need to be taught that a baby is precious, and a gift – not simply an inconvenience to be disposed of, if unwanted.
It has long been argued that RSE teaching contains inappropriate materials, that, far from keeping children safe, promote premature and medically hazardous sexual behaviour. The latest figures for STI rates should justifiably cause alarm, but to reduce them we need to attack the problem at source – which means that we must urgently address why young people have become so lax in their approach to sex. Unfashionable though it may seem, we need once again to teach children the values of purity, commitment, responsibility, and fidelity. We need, in a nutshell, to teach them to say ‘No’.
Rev Lynda Rose,
Founder of Voice for Justice UK, a group which works to uphold the moral values of the Bible in society.
This article was first published on the Voice for Justice UK website.