Thursday, January 3, 2008

Cause and effect... or is it?

Rather hysterical coverage in the press this morning on teenage pregnancy. David Paton of Nottingham University Business School has just analysed Department of Health figures and come up with the statistic that more than 20 girls between 13 and 15 become pregnant every day.

Of course this is sad news. And I totally agree with Professor Paton's analysis that social deprivation and family breakdown are key factors influencing these figures. Where I disagree with Professor Paton is where he claims that because deprivation and breakdown are key causes of teen pregnancy, sex education doesn't figure in the equation - more, that knowing about contraception (here I quote) "leads to an increase in risky sexual behaviour."

I do understand that you've reviewed the figures, Prof Paton. And I do understand that you've drawn conclusions that appeal to the moral majority. But they just don't tie in with what I'm seeing in my postbag from real teenagers who open up to me. Not a single one of these young people reports that knowing about condoms makes it more likely that they will have risky sex. Not a single one says that having available family planning services normalises sexual activity. Why? For the blindingly obvious reason that those who use these services are those who take precautions and don't appear in the statistics you're quoting.

What I read in my postbag are cries from the heart. Yes, these are very often linked with family breakdown and social deprivation; if a young girl feels unloved and insecure - and if her family members are also thus struggling - then it makes every sense in the world that she will cling to whoever will give her love, even if the price of that love is sex, ignorant of protection and contraception.

What everyone seems to miss here is that 14 year olds - like their adult counterparts - don't have sex in order to be irresponsible, rebellious and pregnant. They have sex in order to be accepted, valued and loved. Unless we take that on board then all the statistical analyses and horrified press coverage in the world will never get the teenage pregnancy rate down.

PS: going to Argentina to dance tango for twelve days. I'll be back writing after that.

1 comment:

Nick Gulliford said...

It's a bit dangerous of me to comment on Professor Paton's study simply based on what has been reported in the Press. However, my understanding of what he is saying is that - based on the figures for expenditure on sex education - teenage pregnancy increases most in the areas where the expenditure is greatest.

The palpable silence that surrounds the omission of figures that might be published and used to measure domestic and social cohesion by neighbourhood over time is mystifying. Does Labour wish to conceal just how incompetent it really is at exercising the levers of power?

One set of figures which is released – but by local authority, not by neighbourhood - concerns teenage pregnancy and abortions.

Sex education failing to halt teen pregnancy - By Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent 31/12/2007

“In the 1970s, rates were similar across western Europe, but while other states have had marked success in bringing down the numbers of pregnancies, Britain now has the highest teenage birth rate: six times that of Holland, four times that of Italy and three times higher than in France.”

Britain also has a record number of teenage abortions.

The Ofsted Sex and Relationships Education report [April 2002] had as its top recommendation that pupils should be taught more about ‘values’. It would appear to be a recommendation that has been unheeded.

Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust charity, said that the Government had allowed the "systematic removal of every restraint that used to act as a disincentive to under-age sex …….. The problems associated with teenage pregnancy will never be solved so long as the Government persists with its reliance on yet more contraception and sex education ……… What we need is a radical change away from a culture which has reduced sex to a casual recreational activity."