The Scouting Association in the United Kingdom is adding a new metaphorical merit badge to its ensemble this week as it rolls out its first national sex-education program. The optional program, “My Body, My Choice,” is designed for Scouts ages 14 to 18 and is aimed at lessening the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and lowering the teenage pregnancy rate in the U.K., which boasts higher rates than any other country in Europe. With 40,000 Scouts in the 14–18 range (and as of 2008, 85 percent of all U.K. Scouts were male), the association has the potential to reach out to many young people with the program.
Scout leaders now have access to a formal package of informational materials regarding sex and sexual health, and while some of the material seems a little silly—a game where you match the STI to its symptoms, for example—for the most part it seems like a useful addition to the association.
Some sort of sexual education has been required in all U.K. primary and secondary school curricula since late 2008. But studies have found that these compulsory lessons have proved to be less than effective in reducing the rate of STIs or curbing teen pregnancy.
The Scouting Association says the in-school education just isn’t enough. On BBC News, Scout leader Matt Mills spoke about the limitations of the schools’ sexual education:
I think it does need to be a program. Sex education in school is different. … It often focuses on perhaps the mechanics of sex and the biology behind it. What we’re talking about is relationships mainly and sexual health, so we think it’s different.
Conservative parents’ groups reacted negatively to news of the program, of course—but it’s not like the Scout Association hasn’t fallen into hot water before. When the organization initiated a similar program on a smaller scale in 2008, some groups questioned why the Scouts, often connected solely with outdoor adventure activities, would have anything to do with responsible sexual education.
Bear Grylls, the nation’s chief Scout and a TV host in the country, spoke highly of the new program, announced by the association on April 4. Grylls said:
We want to help young people become confident, clued up, and aware. We only get one body, so respect it and people will respect you.
I think it’s great that the Scouting Association is taking it upon itself to better promote safe-sex practices and not blindly (and, more times than not, incorrectly) assume that none of the young members are having sex. With such a positive, learning-based environment already in place, it only makes sense to take advantage of that infrastructure with important conversations like these.
My question, however, is why the targeted age group is 14- to 18-year-olds. Isn’t that too old? By 14, a significant percentage of the students will already be dealing with a different sort of firewood and flames, and by 18, a minority of Scouts, if the membership follows national U.K. trends, will have not had any sexual experiences. So why not start younger, to equip Scouts with this information before they’re even in scenarios where sex is an option? If the school system is doing a poor job at communicating basic information about STI and pregnancy prevention, the Scouting Association has a great opportunity to fill in. But if they’re going to fill in, why not take a more proactive, preventative plan of action?
—Photo via Mirror.co.uk