John Hayward Posted: 9 July 2009
Keywords: Sex & Families,
Earlier this year I suggested that just as it would be negligent for a parent to teach their child how to operate a car and to hand them the keys without also instructing them in how best to drive the vehicle on the roads, so too we need to help children understand the 'rules of the road' when it comes to sex.
Now, following a three-year social experiment involving 2724 young people and costing tax-payers £5.9m, the Government is to scrap its Young People's Development Programme (YPDP). Intended to reduce pregnancies among underage teens deemed by professionals to be at risk of teenage pregnancy, substance misuse or school exclusion, an independent assessment has shown that YPDP participants were in fact 3.55 times more likely to become pregnant, 2.53 times more likely to have early heterosexual sex, and 1.61 times more likely to expect to become a teenage parent. They were also more likely to experience temporary exclusion from school and truancy.
The YPDP initiative was informed by other youth development schemes such as the Children's Aid Society's Carrera programme in New York, which claimed to delay young women's sexual experience, increase their use of contraception, and reduce pregnancies, although no such benefits were reported for young men. However, studies of attempted replications of the Carrera programme in the United States have found no benefits for young women or men, with recent reviews calling for further evaluation.
Perhaps the country's politicians will now realise that the next generation is not lacking in information about sex - even pre-teenagers, for instance, are encouraged to 'experiment' and are offered explicit sexual guidance in so-called 'fashion' magazines. Neither are they lacking access to contraceptives - those with free and confidential access on the programme were no more likely to use condoms than those not on the programme. What they are lacking is an understanding of the wider personal and social implications of sexual intercourse and the maturity to know what to do with that wealth of knowledge. Even late teens, particularly young women, continue to show what is known as adolescent egocentrism - an enhanced capacity for self-centeredness that means they regard themselves as much more socially significant than they actually are - with the consequence that they are often unrealistic about their future possibilities and fail to understand the impact of their present choices.
So, as the Government abandons its failed attempts to address the problem of Britain having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe, perhaps it might also wish to reconsider its proposals to introduce compulsory sex and relationships education from the age of five.