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We must defeat the concerted push for anything-goes Sex and Relationships Education

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All through the past month in the run-up to Christmas we have seen a concerted push across central and devolved government across England, Wales and Scotland for compulsory Sex and Relationships Education of a radically individualistic nature.

Dubious tactics at the Department for Education

The Department of Education opened its ‘eight-week consultation’ on changing SRE in England this week, when parents and teachers are too busy with Christmas festivities and shopping to have the time to scrutinise the policy documents properly. Although the closing date is 12 February 2018, because most people take time off at Christmas, the real time for responding is considerably shortened. This is obviously deliberate as all other consultations opened in mid-December were on completely non-controversial matters. The exact same tactic was used when Justine Greening announced plans to open a consultation this autumn on amending the Gender Recognition Act, on Sunday 23 July two days after the end of the Summer Term.

The worst problem with the consultation is the imposition of a 250-word limit for each answer. This should not happen as the public need to be free to answer the Call for Evidence rigorously to back up any views put forward. Does the Department for Education really want to hear what people think, or is its framework favouring seasoned radical SRE activists? Christian Concern will provide guidance on this consultation in January.

The Scottish Government wants primary school pupils to learn about sexual consent

This push for compulsory SRE is happening across Britain and is clearly co-ordinated across all levels of government, despite the fact that education is a devolved matter in Wales and Scotland. At least there is a public consultation in England. The same cannot be said for the Scottish or Welsh governments.

Last month, the Scottish Government was strongly criticised for proposing that children in nursery and primary schools should be learning about sexual consent (see Table 1.9, page 31 of the document ‘Equally Safe: A Delivery Plan for Scotland’s Strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls 2017-2021’).

As was said by critics at the time, children do not need to learn this in primary school. They can learn generic principles about maintaining their own boundaries and respecting others. Frankly, the only children who already know about sexual matters at that age are those that are being mistreated in their home life. This raises questions about who exactly is behind introducing the notion of consent into primary education, for to introduce it is to normalise consent to sexual activity as opposed to saying ‘no’.

The Welsh government’s experts complain about ‘heteronormativity’

Also this month, the Welsh Government announced that its ‘panel of experts on sex and relationships education’ wanted to change SRE in Welsh schools so that children as young as three would be taught it. Recommendations 1 and 2 make this clear. The panel also complained that SRE was ‘too biological’ and ‘heteronormative’. What this means is that these ‘experts’ disapprove of the notion that being heterosexual is the norm or should be the norm.

This is very dangerous territory here after Gareth Bennett AM was found guilty of violating the Standing Orders of the Welsh Assembly for implying that transgender people ‘deviate from the norm’. The Standing Orders prohibit ‘disorderly, discriminatory or offensive language’. The Standing Orders also apply to Assembly Committees, which means the free speech of Assembly Members in speaking with members of the public giving evidence to Committees is restricted. If a Committee were to hold a consultation or evidence session on these SRE curriculum recommendations, it would not be possible for Assembly Members to have a free and frank discussion with members of the public – their own constituents (!) – on the huge problems involved, as criticism might be deemed ‘disorderly, discriminatory or offensive’.

‘Relationships can be made of two or more people’

Digging deeper into the report we see just how serious the problem really is and why it is so important to speak up both regarding the proposals and in favour of free speech. Here is the ‘working definition of relationship’ developed by the experts:

“The world is made up of all kinds of relationships that shift and change over time. For example, they can be platonic, romantic, non-sexual and sexual... 

Interpersonal relationships...can be made up of two or more people, and range in duration and intensity, from the very brief to life-long commitments. Inter-personal relationships can include a range of consensual and non-consensual associations and bonds between, for example, strangers, peers, friendships, families/kinship relations, partnerships, civil partnerships and marriage... Relationships are often regulated by law, custom, ritual and mutual agreement, and operate in the context of shifting, uneven, unequal or abusive power relations.” (Annex 4, page 28)

Logically speaking it is clear that this definition leaves room for polyamorous relationships (sexual relationships between more than two people) and polygamy, which is illegal. Normalising ‘very brief relationships’ also arguably normalises promiscuity. It is also deeply sinister that the definition excludes any distinction between adults and children. The age of consent is not mentioned once in the report. All this is truly alarming and we dare not turn a blind eye to it.

The need for vision

All across the United Kingdom what we see here is the terrible confusion among adults about how we should set policy on sexual behaviour. All adults now of working age have grown up since the sexual revolution and as such increasingly struggled with responding to policy changes as well as personally with the temptation to abandon a Christian moral vision in personal life. In one sense we are all in the same boat on the stormy sea. That said this report is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic as far as leading the way forward is concerned.

In the conclusion to his monumental study ‘Sex and Culture’, the social anthropologist John Daniel Unwin from Cambridge University warned as far back as 1934 that every society that has allowed sex outside marriage to be normalised has descended to the lowest level of culture within three generations. In the United Kingdom we are well into that third generation. It is the responsibility of Christians to lead us out of this mess. Christian moral reasoning has long provided a vision for human sexuality which is based on human dignity, the promotion of virtue and the suppression of vice. In the new year, Christians across the United Kingdom need to stand up clearly and honourably, without shame or apology, for public policy which enables all people to live and behave with true dignity, respect and decency in the realm of sexual behaviour.