- Empty Hearts, Infertility And Loneliness: The Price We
Pay For Licentiousness
- It is a modern article of faith that sexual freedom spells
greater happiness. Repression is bad for your health. Modesty is for dinosaurs.
Anyone who dares suggest a downside to sexual incontinence is more or less
accused of wanting to introduce Taliban-style morals police into the bedrooms
- Instead, as the British Government gears up to produce
yet more initiatives to combat teenage pregnancy, we are told that there's
nothing wrong with the sexual free-for-all. Promiscuity soaring upwards?
Welcome evidence of greater openness, tolerance and honesty, says a Lancet
- More and more people who don't think marriage is a necessary
prelude to having children? Proof that cohabitants should get the same
rights as married couples, say researchers for the British Social Attitudes
survey. An increase in under-age sex? No problem, say government advisers
on teenage pregnancy. Just dish out the condoms.
- Sex is now Britain's major recreational sport. The message
is, have fun but be careful - a bit like telling people to avoid going
off-piste on the ski slopes. The Labour government insists that every relationship
is just another lifestyle choice. Sex is approved of as long as it happens
within the context of a 'loving relationship', a concept as elastic as
it is fragile.
- The trouble is that this sexual freedom is being bought
at severe cost to individuals and to society. Far from the Brave New World
heralded by the Lancet's authors, their study suggests a rather more troubled
- 'Openness' and 'Honesty'? On the contrary: the new promiscuity
has meant more two-timing and betrayals. The Lancet says one in seven men
and one in eleven women had overlapping or concurrent relationships in
the past year.
- 'Tolerance' - but what are we all tolerating? One in
ten adults now has a sexually transmitted disease, risking their lives
and their fertility. New cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia more
than doubled between 1995 and 2008. Last year there were more than 3,600
cases of HIV, the highest ever annual figure.
- To the official mind, though, the main danger from the
sexual free-for-all is teenage pregnancy - which is, of course, nothing
to do with sexual freedom, perish the thought. The reason we have the highest
teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, apparently, is the unavailability of
contraception and the lack of sex education.
- So the great and the good who advise the government's
Teenage Pregnancy Unit are suggesting that children below the legal age
of consent should get the Pill and condoms at school, and that sex lessons
should become a compulsory part of the national curriculum.
- So much for respect for the law; so much for the idealism
that invented the age of consent to protect children from sexual harm.
There's an unshakable belief that more contraception and sex education
mean less pregnancy. But they don't. The British Medical Journal reported
last year that most pregnant teenagers had previously obtained contraceptive
advice; they even visited their GP more frequently than other young people
to get it.
- Young people hardly lack sex education or access to contraception.
The more these have been made available, the more sexual activity has increased
among the young. Government advisers serve up the old chestnut that the
Netherlands has an open attitude to sex and few teenage pregnancies. But
the Dutch are in fact highly responsible about family life, and many of
their Calvinist schools put across the very opposite of a free-wheeling
approach to sex.
- Sex education and contraception are beside the point.
It's our culture which produces young women who, inadequately parented
- often in broken families - and left in huge emotional need, think a baby
is a passport to a life of independence and emotional fulfillment.
- The terrible irony is that the people who kidded themselves
they had most to gain from sexual freedom, women, are the ones who have
lost out the most. It's not just the wretched teenage mums trapped in their
council flat with a couple of toddlers and a packet of Prozac.
- As the Lancet study revealed, the vast majority of women
who have had early sexual experiences regret it. Even among those who lost
their virginity between the ages of 18 and 24, as many as one in five regretted
it. Is it any wonder? For they have thrown away their trump card.
- Women, including those who are promiscuous, overwhelmingly
look for faithfulness, commitment and marriage. But men increasingly fail
to see what's in it for them. Women used to hook men into permanent commitment
by their sexual unavailability. Now they behave sexually in the same way
as men and then they wonder why men aren't interested in sticking around.
- Instead, more men look for sex with no commitment. Twice
as many men now pay for sex as they did ten years ago. This may seem odd,
since so many women are now sexually available. But paying a prostitute
frees men from the commitment which women crave and which is now so lacking
in our society. The result is a huge increase in solitariness and loneliness
and the progressive destruction of our social ecology.
- Our governing class assumes that nothing can be done
to turn this tide. But that's not true. Young people often want to be helped
to resist the enormous pressure for early sexual activity. In the United
States, abstinence education programmes have had extraordinary success
in bringing down teenage pregnancy rates.
- These are far from joyless, finger-jabbing schemes. The
Washington-based Best Friends programme, for example, creates a club that
girls love to join because they do fun activities around the notion of
respect for their bodies. In that context, they learn three things: no
sex till the end of high school, no alcohol till the lawful age for drinking
and no drugs ever. And they are taught ways of resisting the peer pressure.
The result is not only minimal rates of teenage pregnancy and alcohol or
drug use, but their educational achievements soar.
- Mention abstinence programmes to British government advisers,
however, and they run screaming from the room. Instead, our local authorities
are dreaming up more goodies to bestow upon unmarried mothers, thus giving
girls every encouragement to join their ranks.
- Of course, sexual license is a huge cultural shift. There
can scarcely be a family in the land that isn't touched by its ramifications.
But as America shows, it is possible to change the national conversation.
People there are slowly coming to realise that the sexual free-for-all
may not be in their best interests.
- Politicians shouldn't preach or hector. But they can
educate people to realise that their own best interests lie in behaving
differently. Signals from the top are crucial. At the moment, these are
all pointing in precisely the wrong direction. It would take courage and
leadership to turn them round - qualities which, when it comes to our governing
class, somehow don't quite spring to mind.
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