Over the last week, I've had a number of conversations with friends, colleagues and Facebook acquaintences about the Marie Stopes International advert, which aired for the first time on Channel 4 last night. Many of them had been taken in by the way the controversy had been reported by the press, and fully believed that the advert would be pushing abortion as the only option. One went as far to say, "I don't understand how showing abortion on TV is going to promote it, surely it'll be too gross to come across in a good light". This follows the news today that the number of abortions being carried out in the UK has fallen for another year.
Cath Elliot's post on Comment is Free outlines many of the points I wanted to raise with regards to the way the story was manipulated by the press; "rather than the "Oh-my-God-they-want-to-kill-all-the-babies! shock fest" the likes of Christian Concern for our Nation (CCFON) and the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) had been hyping it as, what we were presented with instead was a completely innocuous ad for a women's support service that didn't even mention the word abortion once."
The reaction from my friends has merely highlighted to me something I have believed for a long time - we don't talk about sex education enough in the UK, and when we do, we don't talk about it in the right way. The focus is on how to have safe sex alone, which fails to address the underlying issues of whether or not it's right to have sex at that point in your life, or with that person. It doesn't even begin to address issues of self-respect, body image or even how to talk about sex with your partner or your family. Never once was it mentioned that sex is more than just pro-creation and that sex is actually lots of fun when you do it right!
Sex was never a taboo subject in our house. With my Mum as a Youth Worker, we always had boxes of condoms under the stairs, which used to be doled out whenever any of our mates asked for them. But even with all the information at my fingertips, a supportive family and the freedom to ask any questions I wanted, I've still found myself in some questionable situations. I have been able to make the choices that suited me best, because I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to make those choices. So many women and girls aren't lucky enough to have what I had. That's why adverts on TV which promote the places you can access unbiased and factual information are vital.
I've never found myself in the position of having to decide whether abortion is the right choice for me. Friends have, and I've seen the anguish they've gone through. Maybe because I had enough of the right information, I could make the decisions about the type of contraception was right for me and feel confident in my decision to have sex (or not as the case often was...)
My plea to you today is, please continue to support the sharing and promotion of information about sex, relationships and reproduction. Please don't let avenues be shut off before women and girls have been able to consider whether that option is right for them. And please, please, please let's keep pushing for better compulsory education in our schools - not just the 'passing round a Femidom and everyone laughing at it' sort of education, but the type that empowers our young people to say no, to feel good about themselves having sex and to be fully prepared for it.
If you need impartial and confidential advice about any aspect of sexual activity, please contact Marie Stopes International