'Sex before marriage is a path to misery, teenagers are told'
I ask you, who is actually going to stand up in front of a group of teenagers and tell them that they can anticipate misery if they participate in sex before marriage? Are there really any teachers who are prepared to risk their credibility by attempting to purvey such a message to a class of teenagers?
In the SRE Project we run the Apause peer-programme which has, in the past, been inaccurately described as an abstinence programme because they teach the skills to say, 'No' to unwanted sexual involvement. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that encouraging young people to postpone first intercourse until they feel it is right for them, until a time when they can do it without incurring unnecessary risk to themselves or their partner is a welcome and worthwhile message. However, the practice of scaremongering and haranguing youngsters with such ghoulish predictions will have quite the opposite effect.
Critical to whether sex and relationships is effective is the nature of the interaction between learner and facilitator. As Doug Kirby has repeatedly pointed out, it doesn’t really matter if the delivery of sex and relationships education is the responsibility of the family, teachers, health professionals, youth workers or peer educators, it is the quality of ‘connectedness’ that determines whether the facilitator is regarded as a credible and trustworthy informant. Without that sense of human ‘connectedness’ it is unlikely that any transformational learning will take place.
Try to visualize that poor teacher charged with the task of convincing a class of fifteen year olds that sex before marriage will lead to misery. Assuming she has managed to generate any sense of connectedness in previous lessons, I can guarantee it will rapidly evaporate as she tries to frighten young people into thinking that the multi-billion dollar media and fashion industries have got it all wrong. Like it or not, the media teaches our youth to equate sexiness with happiness. Classroom evangelists whose doctrine is based on the propagation of fear rather than reason risk becoming so disconnected with their students that any worthwhile messages which might critique the influence of popular culture lose all credibility.