David Blackburn

Sex, rights and duties

Sex, rights and duties
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The news that Ed Balls will force 15 year olds to have at least one year of mandatory sex education in schools has re-opened that old debate – who should provide children’s sex education? Personally, I doubt whether teachers or parents are better suited to the task, as both use either clinical candour, which children find hilarious, or a stream of inscrutable euphemisms. The wider debate reflects the fact that some teachers and parents advise effectively and others do not because it is invariably couched in terms of rights.


Under such criteria, there is no doubt who should take precedence: the state does not have the right to educate children about sex. Yet Ed Balls thinks he does. His motives are honourable, he wants to tackle teenage pregnancy, but that does not justify his outrageous imposition of mandatory punishments for those children who do not attend classes for mastering the art of putting a condom on a carrot.

The pro-state argument runs to the effect that sex education is some kind of human right and the state should provide that. That is admirable, but surely the right to opt out on moral grounds is fundamental? Faith groups oppose the proposals, not on the grounds that they do not want their children to receive sex education, but because they do not want their children to receive that education in an ethics free environment. That right is inalienable.


I do not object to schools providing sex education; it is the state’s duty to do so – teenage pregnancy and the sexual health of the young are concerns, even if their effects are often exaggerated. I do not think that a moral dimension should necessarily be added to those classes; they should concern facts, not abstractions. But that those lessons become mandatory, supported by the threat of disciplinary action, without regard for a matter of conscience, is pernicious. These proposals must be resisted.