Sex Education And Teenage Pregnancy
“Do cats get married, Daddy?”
The question came from my four-year old granddaughter. She’s one of twins, and is obsessed by cats.
“Nope,” Daddy replied.
“Then how do they have babies?” asked Millie.
With the news of a thirteen year-old fathering a child fresh in his mind, and wanting to foster a sense of relationship, my son-in-law quickly revised his denial.
“Well - perhaps cats do get married after all.”
SEX EDUCATION REVIEW
It’s a tricky topic. Not how cats make babies, but how children shouldn’t. Much is made, nowadays, of educating the young. But educating them in what, exactly? And is there an optimum age for sex education?
I knew nothing of procreation until I was thirteen and asked my mother. Coincidentally, she had just begun the pregnancy which was to produce my youngest sister. Did that ‘lack’ of education until my early teens deprive me of the means of sexual abstinence? I hardly think so!
What I did know was that families stuck together, and that even when parents yelled at one another (as mine did, on a daily basis) they still loved one another and might as easily be found in a fond embrace as shrieking abuse at each other. It was a practical lesson in relationships which certainly furthered my education in terms of behaviour, love, forgiveness and commitment.
SOURCES OF MORAL AUTHORITY
But what stopped me from putting into practice the emerging forces and attraction of puberty was good old-fashioned morality and authority. My parents were the source of both. But they were backed by a church and society which revered discipline and upheld an overarching belief that adults – generally speaking – wanted the best for the youngest members of the species, and knew better than children how to achieve it.
My father had to sign a form sent out by my secondary school to say that I would be in bed by 7.30pm on school nights. In bed! Not simply at home. And being a man of integrity, he would not put his signature to something which he didn’t intend to uphold. I don’t recall his ever raising a hand to me or my sisters, but my mother was certainly not averse to administering a well-aimed slipper to a bottom or three. My father’s strategy was to threaten (and carry out) “bed, with bread and water!”
Many’s the time I snivelled my way up the three flights of our London home to my bedroom, shouting, “I hate you!” But love and peace would be speedily restored once my stubborn will was sufficiently bent to apologise; and a hug and verbal acclamation of my father’s love for me would be instantly forthcoming. The fact is that, despite, or in the midst of such strict discipline, I grew up both fearing and adoring my father. To say that I loved him enough to want to please him would be an understatement. Just as it would be correct to say that I was sufficiently in awe of him not to want to incur his displeasure.
So why did I become pregnant, out of wedlock, in my late teens? One answer, I believe, was that gaining my independence coincided with the beginning of female sexual emancipation. Leaving home, getting a job and flat-sharing took me away from the influences of my parents and into a whole new way of looking at life. The sixties were a time of moral confusion: worse, it was an era of moral neutrality.
TEENS AND ALCOHOL ABUSE
The chief aim of this new ethic was to promote self-expression. Discipline, denial and abstinence, it was thought, were the antithesis of self-growth and development, of fulfilling one’s potential. Self, rather than community became the idol we all worshipped; and liberation the pinnacle of achievement; success. Persuaded of the truth of this new morality, it was the easiest thing in the world to convince myself that a sexual relationship equated to love; that it was my Right to love and be loved. Add to that the safety net of the contraceptive pill, and the fact that alcohol boosted a new-found confidence in an otherwise low self-esteem, and I was ripe for the plucking. Adulthood, as perceived in these terms, beckoned alluringly.
TODAY'S TEENAGE ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE
My adolescence is long gone, but is it really so different today? Well, yes. And no! My generation swept away what some perceived as the constraints of authority: the family unit, authority, the concept of religious conviction and morality. And in my opinion, that is an indictment on us. In its place, we’ve handed down to our children and their children a morass of insecurity and instability: both personal and public.
For all the affluence we have to offer our children today, few of them grow up with the level of commitment, selflessness and love that I enjoyed in my family, school and community. Serial relationships resulting in multiple parenting has replaced marriage in the majority of ‘family’ units. Where marriage does occur, frequently, divorce follows. Abortion; debt; illiteracy; corruption in high places; weak and ineffective law-makers have taken the place of respect for authority; excellence in schooling; vocational politicians.
Yet children, themselves, have not changed. Babies are not born promiscuous, knife-wielding, drug-taking thugs. They display the same basic human need for love, security and stability as ever; the same desire to look up to someone they know, trust and revere; someone they want to please. That someone was once your father – earthly and heavenly. Is it any wonder that, in the absence of both in today’s sad society, children look to each other to provide a semblance of love and acceptance? Or that that sometimes results in children, like a thirteen year-old little boy, becoming parents, themselves?
BBC Radio Devon Interview
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