Relationships and Sex Education: an alternative view
Relationships and Sex Education: an alternative view
Louise Kirk highlights important developments in education policy
There has been a lot of concern about the new Regulations for Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) which come into force in September 2020. Judith Nemeth, Director of the Values Foundation for Faith and Families in Education (TVF)1, has paid several visits to the Department for Education (DfE) and says that there is now a new team dealing with the subject “who are more friendly to the faith perspective” than the old one. Exactly what will be enforced by Ofsted we have yet to discover (the DfE’s Statutory Guidance on topics to be studied already goes further than the letter of the Law, which actually states that the education must have regard to the age and religious background of the pupils). What is clear is that we need schools, churches and parents who are prepared to stand up for the considerable rights left us within the law or we will be pushed over by the likes of Stonewall just for not daring.
A true Catholic approach
The task of creating a true Catholic RSE programme is massive. We aren’t just talking about getting the best out of new regulations. We are talking about reversing decades of damage in which Catholic schools have been led by the secular agenda instead of vice versa. Promotion of the LGBT agenda is one thing, but it is still small fry compared to the big problem, that of ordinary young people who should be setting up the married families of the future but who are failing to do so in large numbers. We are talking about the backbone of Britain becoming crumbly.
Right back in the 1980s Christine Vollmer, creator of the Alive to the World programme of which I am UK Co-ordinator, set up a prolife organisation among the poorest of the poor in the shanty towns of Caracas. She was puzzling over how one could prevent the lovely young girls from becoming teenage unmarried mothers. And then she noticed something. These girls had every bit as much desire for romance and marriage and family life as richer children, and the boys just as much yearning for heroism. What both sexes lacked were the values and direction to take them to their goals – their own families were chaotic, and the Christian moral framework had largely broken down round them. Interestingly, a report by the Centre for Social Justice published last year showed similar findings in this country. Some 78% of 14-17 year-olds thought finding a lasting adult relationship not only important, but more important than a career. A similar number (8 out of 10) wanted to get married at some point. And yet a few years later, as Sir Paul Coleridge of the Marriage Foundation has pointed out, this desire for marriage has a way of dwindling.
Values and strength of character
Here surely is our overall goal for RSE: not just teaching children to abstain from sex for a time but giving them the values and strength of character to remain chaste in preparation for a lasting marriage. Eligible young men and women are ones who are generous and self-controlled in spirit, who work hard and make use of their talents, present themselves well and get on with others, and, in general, are givers to the community and fun to be around. You will notice that those most eligible to found future families are also desirable in the workplace and in any other vocation they may have: as a priest, or nun, or single person. They are the good citizens that any country should prize.
How do we achieve this education?
I would suggest by hijacking school sex education with a specific target in mind: destroying the hold of contraception. Most revolutions rest on ideas. The sexual revolution is unusual in that its ideology depends on a material instrument. Remove it, and all sorts of things start to fall back into place. Imagine a world without contraception. Girls would no longer agree to easy sex with boys, recovering their roles as the natural door-keepers of intimacy. Boys would be encouraged to ask their girlfriends to marry them, much earlier than at present. Both would recover their sense of modesty, and the natural interplay between boy and girl, man and woman, which is at the heart of romance and true love. When Sir Paul Coleridge gave the Lords & Commons Family & Child Protection Group a presentation on his ideas for marriage reform, he showed us that divorce and family breakdown followed on historically from introduction of the Pill. He also told us that, from the 1600s until the end of the 1970s, unmarried co-habitation never accounted for more than 5% of couples in any strata of society. Now 87% of higher earners (over £43,000) still marry but only 24% of low earners (under £16,000). Given the benefits of marriage, economically as well as against every other marker, this is widening inequalities in a disastrous way.
We are able to contemplate such action because of massive strides in understanding natural fertility. Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABM) of spacing births follow ecological trends and are now as effective as the Pill at avoiding pregnancy. What is more, teaching children to understand their own fertility promotes chastity and self-respect and prepares young people for fulfilling sexual lives in lasting marriages. Everybody likes to learn about themselves, and the truths of the human body, the psyche, and the differences between men and women, are fascinating. They are also relevant to teenagers in the here and now. Opening these to young people makes sense of our Judaeo-Christian morality and of St John Paul’s Theology of the Body.
Science can thus be shown to support the Catholic Church’s teaching on the inviolability of the sexual act, and it’s not only Catholics who are saying this. If you go to a World Congress of Families you will find delegates from every faith, mostly Christian, coming in behind similar pastoral policies and thanking the Catholic Church for giving a lead. Modern methods of natural fertility management not only give couples a reliable tool to help them plan or avoid conception. They have also been found to heal and preserve happy marriages: the divorce rate is something like 5%. It’s a glorious irony that NFP has done what the Pill was touted to do: promote fulfilling sexual lives.
The vehicle created by sex education gives us an outreach into every home in the land. Taking it over and replacing contraception with teaching natural fertility is of course fraught with difficulty. At the time of Humanae Vitae the controversy
revolved around one form of family planning over another. Now we would be taking on the commercial interests bound up in the contraceptive industry, together with the ways of life to which it has given rise: the various LGBT varieties and also having women give priority to careers over having children. Earlier this year the New York Times carried a fullpage ad in which 180 US companies claimed that access to abortion is necessary to keep their workforce functioning.
So is such a scheme possible? Not only is it possible. Eventually it will happen regardless of what we do or don’t do, because no society lives forever according to a lie. We can also believe with Cardinal Trujillo, the formidable President of the Pontifical Council for the Family in St John Paul’s time, that learning the truth of our human sexual biology has its own resonance and ability to convert. If we allow ourselves to be God’s instruments, he will lead the enterprise which will no doubt take decades to accomplish. There are already factors pointing in our favour. For a start, the Pill is fifty years old, its drawbacks are increasingly aired and its ethos is out of kilter with today’s environmental sensibilities. What’s more, despite the money thrown at new solutions, none have been found. The human body and psyche were not designed for contraception, and the search for “the perfect method” will only ever be filled with mirages. Contraception would still be taught, of course – it has to be – but truthful facts would reveal it as a blunt instrument past its sell-by date.
Open children’s eyes
Overturning the Sex Education Forum’s goals would do more than this. Where present sex education is based around things to be avoided: premature pregnancies, STIs, sex abuse, lack of consent, which is a depressing way of teaching relying on fear for its motivation, fertility appreciation opens children’s eyes to the wonder of their being, which in turn leads them to respect childbirth, themselves and other people.
Where present methods attempt to make boys out of girls, supposedly giving them the ability to “enjoy their sexuality” and prepare for a career without the encumbrance of motherhood, true sexuality prepares girls for both aspects of their personality: homemaking and career. It also teaches boys their essential role as providers and protectors of their future families.
Where present methods treat all children as potentially promiscuous, true education balances the needs of innocent late-developers with those of the precocious and vulnerable, teaching both the virtue of purity, which can be described as being actively loving in every relationship, in the manner appropriate to that relationship.
Where present methods preach self-esteem and fulfilment as a goal, turning children in on themselves, true teaching shows that God gifts each person individually for a specific vocation which it is theirs to seek and pray for. It prepares them for sacrificial love.
Where present sex education targets getting through adolescence without mishap, true sex education gives young people a sure foundation for the rest of their lives.
There is another big difference, which is why I have left it till last. From the very beginning sex educationalists ousted parents from their necessary roles as prime educators. What I would propose is a close collaboration between parents, schools and also parishes, accompanied by outreach to the medical profession. The medical profession got us into this mess, and we will need the help of good doctors, nurses and fertility consultants to bring us out. We will also need hard work and intense prayer. This is principally a spiritual battle and it will take a united effort to win.
Louise Kirk is UK Co-ordinator for the Alive to the World character education programme and author of Sexuality Explained: a guide for parents and children.
1 See www.values.foundation under “Initiatives” for further useful information.