Monday, 8 November 2010

What is Love?

In July last year I wrote about a guide for parents by the Family Education Trust(aka Family & Youth Concern) about Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). Not content with trying to cause fear and loathing in parents, now they have written a leaflet for teenagers called What is Love?

The leaflet would be easily dismissed as the work of yet another small but vocal Christian group trying to impose their moralistic values on young people were it not being sent to all secondary schools.

For anyone unfamiliar with the FET, run by Norman Wells, it's a Christian organisation with a certain not entirely unexpected agenda. There is no mention of faith in the leaflet, however. Is that because the FET has realised young people don't like being preached at and is trying to be covert?

So what is love? In a nutshell, love is just saying no to the ugly sex until you are safely up the aisle. Or terrible, terrible things will fall upon you.

The leaflet is full of super advice. Here's a selection of it:

'First of all, we need to recognise that not all love is true. There is such a thing as false love and many people confuse it for the real thing'.

Because young people respond so well to being patronised... With any luck, most of them will stop reading at this point.

What is this false love? It's 'physical attraction, infatuation or lust'.

Just in case you've never heard of lust, there's a helpful definition: 'Lust is the longing to use another person for the fulfilment of your own selfish desires... You will never find love through sexual encounters based on lust. Lust will leave you empty, frustrated and unfulfilled every time'.

Just in case we can't understand that, there's a case study about Tom and Jen who spend a lot of time chatting online and texting and 'who find in each other the fulfilment of their sexual desires'. Call me cynical but I strongly suspect they are Made Up. It sounds to me like they're having a pretty good time. But no, their relationship is doomed to fail because they are being Selfish.

Poor Tom and Jen don't know that true love 'will last a lifetime', it is 'more powerful than the strongest feelings and emotions'. Huh? Love is not a feeling or emotion?

So what should they do? 'When you truly love someone, you will keep yourself exclusively for them. This is one of the reasons why sexual intimacy belongs in marriage'.

Here we go. The abstinence message. Once more, with feeling: all the evidence says abstinence teaching doesn't work.

The Government has been consulting on guidelines for SRE. The second reading of the Bill is on 11 February 2011. The consultation document clearly states that 'research evidence does not support the use of an approach to sex and relationships education that only teaches abstinence' and 'that schools should use a range of evidence-based teaching methods'. Has the FET squeaked in under the wire before the Government guidelines are finalised in case abstinence-only teaching is banned and no school would be allowed to use or distribute this leaflet?

SRE is not just about sex, it covers all kinds of relationships and how to negotiate them, how to cope with bullying, how to be a responsible adult and so on.

In the document for parents about sex education, the FET mixes propaganda with what I shall charitably call factual inaccuracies, such as: there is no good evidence against abstinence, that teenage pregnancies are rising therefore sex education doesn't work and should be abandoned, that there are moral absolutes, that homosexuality is not a 'normal and natural lifestyle'. The FET believes that 'young people do not need to learn about a wide range of 'sexualities' and sexual behaviours; they do not need detailed information about the full range of contraceptive methods and they do not need to be presented with a menu of sexual options from which they can make 'informed choices' when they feel they are 'ready' to become sexually active'. He adds that 'there are some sexual practices that it may be better not to know anything about at all, at any age'.

The FET policy is to treat young people like mushrooms - keep them in the dark and throw horseshit at them.

The parents' guide also states that: 'Modern sex education is characterised by a lack of honesty...'

That's an interesting definition of 'honesty' from an organisation that has a rather malleable relationship with the truth and evidence.

What's more, saying that sex belongs only in marriage and is only for reproduction isn't going to play too well with the very many children of single parents.

Research (as opposed to made-up stuff) shows that young people want honest, complete, fact-based sex education from people they trust, as Dr Petra Boynton has written about.

The message that postponing sex until you're ready is a good one but for most people, that won't be after they're married. Far better to teach young people how to negotiate sex so that it is pleasurable and safe rather than just telling them not to do it, which leaves them utterly unprepared when it does happen.

Not surprisingly, there is no mention of love between people of the same sex in the leaflet.

But what happens if we ignore you, oh wise ones?

'Where a sexual relationship is pursued to express passing feelings and emotions, it is ugly and destructive and will lead to misery and regret'. And of course you will get an STI.

This is starting to sound like a 70s teen slasher movie, the sort where a bunch of teenagers get together and anyone who dares to have sex gets killed by the possibly dead guy in the mask while the virgins survive. Maybe starring Jamie Lee Curtis.

Why do we need such sage words now?

'Young people today often expect to have a series of short-term relationships before they finally settle down with someone for life. Such casual relationships frequently prove to be a training ground for divorce rather than for happy and fulfilling marriages. But it hasn't always been like that, and it doesn't have to remain like that'.

Where is the evidence to back up these statements? It really isn't hard to look things up these days and get some statistics to back up your arguments. Except when they don't exist.

In what time and place were young people all chaste? In the Victorian era when the orphanages were bursting at the seams with illegitimate babies and an estimated 10% of the urban population had syphillis which, in one part of London, also killed 57% of infants? In Mediaeval times which needed legislation like the Special Bastardy Act of 1235? After the war when we were celebrating the survival of British Values? Compare the rates in 1945 with before and after here. Or maybe the FET is thinking about some other lost time and place, like Narnia.

Finally, there are some handy tips for finding true love. One of them is:

'It's a good test to ask yourself 'How does he treat his mum?' or 'How does she treat her dad?' It is quite likely that they will treat you the same way'.

This is deeply deeply creepy in many ways.

So hey kids - Don't do the ugly sex. Don't think about sex. Don't learn about sex. Sex is only ever to make babies after you get married. And don't enjoy it too much even then - which you probably won't if you've never learnt anything about it.

With any luck, the leaflets will get no further than the bins of schools around the country.

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