Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Roll up, roll up, get your abortions here...

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


  1. This kind of thing does make me relieved to be British. Here, the fundamentalist nutjobs are a tiny minority, getting more coverage than they deserve because...well, basically because they're nutjobs. There are a lot of countries where these nutjobs have a lot more power and influence.

  2. Sounds to me like you're advocating some kind of sex & sexual identity type education syllabus where sex is put firmly in the context of being part and parcel of being both a responsible and irresponsible adult and also part of the whole journey to becoming whoever you become etc.

    I certainly think what we have now (read as "when I was a lad") is pretty poor.

    On a completely unrelated point, I have no particular love for the queen but a constitutionally apolitical head of state is a fantastic idea, the alternative would be President Tony, followed by President Gordon, followed by something so awful I choose not to mention it. And yes, I know there is a difference between head of state & head of government but I trust you take the point.

  3. I read it as saying sex education should be as broad as possible, which I can't find fault with. However, it is worth remembering that schools shouldn't be the primary source of sex education for kids, although regrettably for some they are. So sex education does need to cover both bases, providing an alternative forum (specifically in the context of your peer group) for those whose parents have provided appropriate education; and fulfilling a role as primary educator for those whose parents haven't.

    PS How do I change my name as it appears?

  4. John, I couldn't agree more, however we have to recognise the importance of providing for those children for whom their hom elife doesn't offer that environmant.
    I'm reminded of a brilliant story my mum tells, as someone who runs amazing workshops with young people about sexuality and sexual health. She starts each session with a quiz, to establish a base level of understanding. Answering the question, 'what do you do if the condom splits?', a 15 year old boy replied 'Wash her out with white spirit?'
    Every woman I know cringes at that point.
    I'm attempting to illustrate the need for it not just to be about the mechanics and process of sex, but a much wider understanding of the human body, along with everything I've already advocated. No more splitting up along gender lines, for the girls to discuss periods and the boys to hear what they already know about wet dreams.
    The fewer myths and fallacies there are about sex, the better. We owe it to our kids to be as honest as possible.

  5. I meant to add - and this includes the options and the choices you have when making decisions about your sexual encounters. Whatever form they may take. Don't judge people for what they enjoy. Give a shit about who they enjoy themselves with. As long as it's safe for all involved, I can't think of a better way to pass the time...