I grew up in the “teenage pregnancy capital of Europe”, Scarborough. When I was 13 in 1998, 55.8% of teenage girls became pregnant at some point.

sexeducation.jpgJess/BookElfLeeds lives in Leeds, where she runs the Travelling Suitcase Library. She writes for www.leedsbookclub.com and www.forbookssake.net, and tweets as @BookElfLeeds

I grew up in the “teenage pregnancy capital of Europe”, Scarborough. When I was 13 in 1998, 55.8% of teenage girls became pregnant at some point.

This figure has now dropped, but Scarborough still has the highest percentage of teenage pregnancy, and the lowest percentage of teenagers having abortions, in North Yorkshire.

Growing up, we were painfully aware of this. The year we left school, the fashion was to sign each other’s ‘leaving books’; many girls signed each others “see you in the maternity ward!” The oldest joke in Scarborough is: “Why are there so many teenage pregnancies? Because there’s nothing else to do.” For half the year, half the town was unemployed, or underemployed. It was almost a given; if you left school at 16 you’d be pregnant the year after. Many, many girls in my year had mums in their early 30s, grans in their late 40s. It was normal.

Why? Well, if the majority of the members of the new Sex and Relationship Education Council, which has been given the seal of approval by Education Secretary Michael Gove, are right, it’s because we weren’t told to ‘save’ ourselves till marriage and were instead told that condoms provide 98% protection rate against STDs and pregnancy, and that it is more important to be prepared and confident when saying yes, than never exploring your sexual side until you get a wedding ring on your finger.

When I was a teenager everyone was having sex. Of my six close women friends I grew up with, four had sex before they were 16, three of those with boys who were also under 16.

I am incredibly privileged, middle class, straight and cis, so are these women. We were having sex because we wanted to, because we were exploring our bodies and our sexuality. There is a very good reason that sex with a child is illegal, and children should of course be protected from harm and abuse, but that does not mean that education providers should be forced to stick to a curriculum that promotes a certain religion, or ethic. It is a child’s right to be educated; not given a morality lecture.

For me is the most important word: Choice. The Sex and Relationship Education Council is an umbrella body, but anyone not promoting an anti-choice, pro-marriage outlook keeps on getting wet. Parents can already choose to withdraw their children from lessons that relate to SRE, but apparently this is not enough; even children from single parent, or communally parenting families must be told in school that in order to be acceptable to the consensus you have to be straight and married.

The government wants less teenage girls becoming pregnant. I don’t really see what is so wrong with women over the age of consent choosing to become mothers, or mind that my taxes go to pay for them to be able to bring their children up out of poverty. I would rather that all types of family be supported and celebrated, rather than only those resulting from heterosexual marriage. I would rather my government didn’t give validation to lobbying groups that are anti-women, as some of the bodies on the SRE Council are by virtue of their anti-choice stance. I would rather we didn’t have a woman-hating government.

Challenge Team UK, one of the organisations on the Council, is not a Christian organisation. Their volunteers are so passionate about the choice they have made to save their virginity until marriage, which is their choice so fair play to them, that they want to tell the world about it. The FAQ part of the website includes, to my non-religious eyes, a fairly sensible question: “What if you save sex for marriage and then find out that you are sexually incompatible?” To this the answer is “Men and women are sexually compatible.” This is what the government thinks that children should be taught; there is one way, and one way only, and anyone who disagrees must be vilified.

The Sex and Relationship Education Council consists of:

Evaluate

Lovewise

Challenge Team UK

LIFE (trigger warning-abortion described as ‘damaging’)

Silver Ring Thing

Family Education Trust

Right To Life (couldn’t find website)

Drawing of “sex education” by Haya Al Dossary, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license