31 AUGUST 1974, Page 6

Political Commentary

The politics of sex education

Patrick Cosgrave

Two things of interest in the life of this commentator and of this paper happened in the last week. First, I received a friendly, though judiciously critical, letter from Lord Boyle of Handsworth. Second, The Spectator received a letter from a firm of solicitors called Rubinstein and Nash, acting for the Family Planning Association, telling us that, in their opinion, a letter critical of the FPA — by Mrs P. D. Riches — in our issue dated August 3 "is gravely defamatory of them and that they are likely to succeed in obtaining substantial damages should they commence legal proceedings against your periodical and Mrs Riches." (The text is printed in full on our letters pages.) I will say at once that I have never concealed — indeed, I have broadcast — my personal view that the Family Planning Association is a body the effects of whose propaganda and activities generally are almost unmitigatedly evil, whatever their intentions. I hold this view because I believe that the logic of any pressure group so organised tends to lead towards the meanest end of the spectrum in which it exists: the Family Planning Association is not an association for the planning of families, but one for the planning of the control — that is, the prevention — of birth, and it is an abuse of the language, apart from anything else, to suppose otherwise. The main effect of the Association's activities and literature is, in my informed opinion, to equate love with sex — an inaccurate equation — and then sex with pleasure — another inaccurate equation — and then pleasure with pleasure without responsibility — a third and final inaccurate equation. The evidence behind these views I will come to in a moment.

Those accustomed to reading columns like this for what they tell of the intrigues of Westminster may at this point complain that all this has nothing to do with politics. I can only reply that, though it has not had, it should have had. And here we come to Lord Boyle, a man for whom I have unstinted admiration, though I almost invariably disagree with his policies. I had suggested that, by his progressiveness in various political areas, Lord Boyle had, in his active political career, flouted the moral will of the people. He replied that I had lumped too many subjects together in making that criticism, since the reactions of voters had been very different on different issues; and that, anyway, the moral will was very difficult to define. All that I accept as reasonable, humane, and decent. But there is a political dimension above and beyond it.

I believe that a moral will — in the community and the nation — exists, and that it is best to be defined by the seeking out of truth. What is true — and one's view of truth is best put forward by a precise attention to the meaning of words — should, in a democratic society, be offered steadily by those who want to lead the people: in my judgement, the people will appreciate and regard that. In my column over a year or so I have consistently said that politicians are mistaken in supposing that the cosmetic presentation of politics has any serious or lasting effect, save that of creating disillusion. Lord Boyle appears to be saying that, because at a given moment on a given issue the will of the people appears to be uncertain or divided, a consistent will does not exist. I believe it does; but I accept that its working is hampered by the concealments of intention of politicians, and by the cosmetic use of words by such bodies as the FPA. Problems

are created, further, by the refusal of political parties to accept collective responsibility — unless this is covert — for fundamental legislative decisions in the area of social morals. (This relates very closely to what I was saying two weeks ago about what Conservatives were or were not trying to conserve.) Thus, when the Abortion Law Reform Bill — in my view the Child (Legalisation of Murder) Bill—was passing 'through the House of Commons neither front bench took a collective view on the subject; but the then Labour government, covertly, provided extra parliamentary time so that it could be passed. Our politics would have been far healthier had Labour taken a stand for and the Tories a stand against the Bill. Social morals are too often taken out of politics in this country.

Too many people, however, equate attitude with policy, and fail to see the consequences of a policy that seems to represent a decent and humane attitude. Thus, many believe that we have a population problem in Britain; for this reason, and in order to increase as far as possible the freedom of the individual, such people will approve of methods of birth control freely chosen and practised. Because not everybody in the community is educated enough to exercise that freedom of choice fully they will further approve of well-intentioned bodies who purport to increase the average level of education in such subjects as birth control. So, as good a man as Lord Boyle can support the Abortion Law Reform Bill with reservations about clause three — that clause called social, which is so vague as to encourage abortion on demand. Yet, hardened as we have become to permissiveness and its propaganda, few among the well-meaning would like their small daughters to be taught thus:

"You girls have the advantage of being able to masturbate rather more secretly than boys can because your physiology leaves no traces. Your masturbation is no one's business but your own, so, privacy is appropriate. Make the most of it. . We no longer believe in telling the young what to do, but. . . we would say something like this: 'Make love if you both feel like it. But first make sure you are safe. If you cannot be satisfied without reaching orgasm, there are many ways of doing this without danger of conception, such as manual stimulation, or oral or anal intercourse; but remember that if the penis even touches the vagina there is a slight risk of conception.

You urgently need to be able to think independently and to earn your own living. Only then

will you be free. You will be free to take several lovers of either sex if that's how your temperament sways


That was written by a primary school teacher, and once recommended by the FPA the recommendation was later withdrawn, because of the outcry that succeeded knowledge 01 what was being said in it. I regard, and I think I would be far from alone in regarding, the view of life contained in the sentences I have quoted as evil. To take onlY one point, studies of Arab and Latin American societies demonstrate pretty conclusively that anal intercourse is especially and repulsively a method of exploiting women in a male-dominated environment: there is nothing of love, hut a great deal of gratification of the male, ahlplit it. Yet — we are still with politics — the FPA, which once commended those words, is ill receipt of a government grant. When it was suggested to the responsible Conservative minister, Sir Keith Joseph, that the grant should be withdrawn he replied: Naturally I would be concerned if the activities which, my departmert finances were to lead to a. mora climate that would be generally regarded as offensive, but the grants are mainly concerned with the training of professional staff in the techniques of contracel;" tion, and they do not give me the right to interfere any aspects of the Association's policy with which I might disagree.

Those, I am sorry to say — because I have, in many respects, a high regard for Sir Keith — are weasel and cowardly words. Let us pause a moment to analyse some of them. Sir Keith said that training, technical and professiona.I activities, even if he disapproved of their purpose, did not give him the right to interfere with FPA policy: yet the grant the DHSS offers is discretionary; he had a legislative right to ,t1.0e, 'what he pleased. He "would be concerned' it his Department financed activities leading to a moral climate which would be "generally regarded" as offensive. In other words, the offensiveness per se did not concern him; 139t the problem of how it was looked at did. yet, h's, statement on this occasion was redolent 0, disapproval of what was being done partly With the financial aid of his department. Action, ,however, was clearly not going to be taken because the Secretary of State believed something to be right or wrong, but onlY because a situation might or might not become, in a public relations sense, difficult. Even those feeble remarks, however, coincided with the Withdrawal of the pamphlet from which I have quoted from the FPA lists. If weakness has such an effect, what could strength not achieve? Let me look at another aspect of the matter under discussion, which is suggested ,ThY consideration of what Sir Keith had to say. ri_e testified that government money was spent, nY the FPA, "mainly" (an interesting word, in t!',e, context, in itself) on "techniques." Perhaps t"', most effective of techniques in any professional field is persuasion. And one of the 1110.st unpleasant facets of the FPA's conduct of as business is its clever persuasion, through well-designed leaflets and pamphlets. The persuasion — as was argued more effectivelY than I ever could in the columns of this paper last week by Miss Joanna Nash — is not directed towards the encouragement of the planning of happy families but — and I quote Miss Nash — towards the production of "a whole generation of youngsters who will be trained to associate sex not with love and family life, but with contraception, the clinical mechanics of thF, thing, the idea of constantly 'being careful • Lying more deeply and darkly underneath those tactics of persuasion, however, is the curiously ambiguous attitude of the FPA towards children. Much FPA propaganda stresses the misery of the unwanted child, but in a perfunctory fashion. One of those pretty leaflets, which is on my desk as I write, is called„ "There's one born every quarter of a second That, dear reader, means one baby, but the association in the mind of that slogan with the popular cant phrase about a fool being born

every minute is unmistakable. The association — one developed, clearly, in the interests of a Punchy argument — is unavoidable, and it tends i

towards the creation of a moral climate that s of its nature offensive, even if Sir Keith Joseph does not think it is generally regarded as such.

After all that it seems to me pure cheek on the part of Rubinstein and Nash to take Mrs Riches and The Spectator to task because, inter

Q. she accused an associate body of the FPA a providing propagandists who "will 'be at school gates to tell school children where to get contraceptive advice." Mr Caspar Brook, director of the FPA, once planned a sex teach-in for teenagers at the Royal Festival Hall, which Was abandoned only after very strong protest — and eight votes out of eighteen of the FPA national executive cast for an inquiry into what W, as .going on And — but perhaps neither Mr Ku. binstein nor Mr Nash knew this — Mr Ronald 3ICk, director of the FPA associate in question, PoPulation Countdown, announced on June 12 ,Iast that a new system called Grapevine "works oY sending volunteers in their late teens to the Lates of a comprehensive school for instance. LneY wear distinctive T-shirts and the children soon realise that they have a friend to talk to if theY want to." And, as for Messrs Rubinstein and Nash's innocent-seeming suggestion that ;Ither Mrs Riches or this paper defamed the PA by suggesting that the Association encourages in any way the defiance or breaking of the law about the age of consent, one need qUote only Mr Caspar Brook himself, whose law is "that the age of consent is not relevant ' —I Personally think it is high time the age of consent was done away with." I do not suppose for one moment that aihYbody as civilised as Lord Boyle or Sir Keith

sePh would for a moment consider lending

auPport to views like these. The political Point of the argument however is, at least in Sir Keith's case, that inaction or indulgence leads unavoidably to support, if only because of the subsidies offered such bodies as the FPA by g,.everriment departments. As for Lord Boyle's 4",uggestion that, in matters of morals especially, e will of the public is indeterminate, fickle, or Actrierwise uncertain, the reply is that, though ?_rrnant from time to time, that will is clear and loentifiable: it is for politicians to seek it out. I _ca,nnot see any circumstances, for example, in winch the public will would support the activities of the FPA, once those activities are accurately defined, shorn of their screen of Public relations prose, itself the product of Minds uncertain about moral values, even if NaY are not consciously and deliberately evil.

in my view, one of the businesses of Politicians is to seek to define danger to society, and to hold up their definitions in front of the

They most certainly should expose the true meaning of the words of bodies like the FPA and, if they feel as Sir Keith clearly does — ILCir feelings of repugnance clearly lie at the j'eLart of the conception of the statement which ave quoted — they should act against the roPle behind those words, especially when it fs within their power to withdraw a grant. As cer Lord Boyle, a university administrator and 'rater politician as precise and scholarly as he sno. uld be anxious and concerned always to Point out accurately the errors of causes which, 8° a moment's thought would tell him, offend agai. nst the dormant moral will, just as he once, While disagreeing with both, defined the greater formidability of the second Black Paper on education as against the first. And there is a fact — that necessary and Passionate pursuit of truth on which all politics, a.,11 communal life, depends rests on a basis of tne accurate elucidation of facts — to which either man would do well to attend, and which relates to the propaganda of the FPA. It is, so to peak, a fact of a fact. One FPA leaflet is called „..atraight facts about sex and birth control." une of the straight facts in it replies to the question "Does it matter that much if a girl gets Pregnant?" Having suggested that the main hoices open to the girl in such a situation are: have an abortion •

have the child adopted keep the child, who would be illegitimate marry the father for the sake of the child

it adds that, among the boy's choices are:

arrange an abortion for her get out and leave her 'holding the baby' marry her for the sake of the child.

There are, of course, other choices. The boy and the girl might live together, with their child, in happiness, unmarried or married. In the same leaflet — and in many, many others — the phrases "making love" and "having sex" are treated as being interchangeable, which they are very clearly not. Since it is a large part of the business of politicians — and of political commentators — to warn, such abuse of the language in a sustained and deliberate attempt to change the social and moral mores of a long-established civilisation should be defined, and ruthlessly tracked down.

Whether because they fear that such tracking down might lead to the withdrawal of grants, or whether the FPA are merely responding to the insatiable demands of the sexual bureaucracy they have created (all bureaucracies are insatiable), the FPA has managed, without a great deal of comment, to go commercial. As early as 1972 a subsidiary of the Association opened a stall at a pop festival for the sale of contraceptives. The subsidiary in question, Family Planning Sales Ltd, was essentially marketing two sickeningly titled commercial products — called, respectively, "Forget-me-nots" and "Two's company" — the one a lubricated sheath of standard design made for profit by London Rubber and the other a spermicidal pessary equipped American device. Any profits made, of course, are to be funnelled back into the FPA, thus generating more propaganda encouraging the purchase of more devices, and the greater profits thus generated are to be funnelled back into the FPA . .

But let me pursue for a moment the malign intentions — malign even if they are unconscious — of FPA propaganda. Somebody called Gillian Crampton Smith designed for the Association a leaflet called Too Great a Risk!, which consists of a story told in twenty-four cleanly etched black and white panels. It tells of a boy and girl who have sex; her period is overdue and she thinks herself to be pregnant. Panic mounts, as in any soap opera. Good advice from her sister brings the girl to a family planning clinic, where it is discovered that she is not pregnant after all. She is then treated to a lecture on different contraceptive devices, and she and the boy march happily off together as he exclaims, "Thank goodness! We never want all that worry again — we've learnt our lesson — it's too great a risk." What is too great a risk — making love, or having sex?

Now, it could, of course, be argued that even this leaflet merely warns young people to be careful or, in the words of Mrs Wendy Smith, FPA press secretary, "We are out to help these people. We cannot stop what is going on." A different policy is implied in those words from that offered by the egregious Mr Caspar Brook, who once said, "Sex is to be enjoyed and we want to provide knowledge so that people will not be anxious about it." These hedonistic words are a long way indeed from expressed concern about unwanted babies or human suffering. And another contradiction between Mr Brook's avowal that he would never encourage the breaking of the law on the age of consent is available for the inspection of anybody who wants to look at his statement:

I would never encourage youngsters to break the law. But given that a child is already sexually active, I would encourage it to use contraceptives.

I have done with these quotations, sickening in themselves and in their ambiguity. The essential challenge presented to civilised standards of community and national behaviour, to tradition and standards as well as to decent sensitivity, by such as the propagandists of the Family Planning Association is the same as that presented by all who would exaggerate the part at the expense of the whole, or a technique at the expense of an activity. What the FPA are devoted to is not simply a divorce between a human activity and a human feeling — between sex and love — but the elevation of a technique — the capacity to prevent conception mechanically — into an end in itself. Once the technique is allowed to become the be-all and end-all of a massive propaganda campaign, in part financed through the impersonal machinery of the state, and once politicians accept that, where they do not openly support such campaigns in the name of enlightenment and progressivism, they at least, like, alas, Sir Keith, accept that they should neither interfere with nor attempt to judge the consequences of such a campaign, the very fabric of society itself is threatened. And the threat thus posed should command immediately the liveliest response and the most energetic debate.

If the nation is threatened by a militarily powerful enemy from outside, or if an economic policy is urgently advocated which damages or threatens to damage the cement which holds our society together, one would expect at least controversy and disagreement, the advocacy of solutions or at least policies of perhaps widely differing kinds. Only in the whole field of social morals does the political debate seem to become seized by paralysis. If I or a correspondent denounced the economic policies of Lord Kahn or Lord Balogh or Mr Maudling, or the defence policies of Mr Healey or Mr Frank Allaun, as dangerous, misconceived, insensitive to the national interest or dangerous for our future, one would not immediately expect the arrival on the scene of a Mr Rubinstein or a Mr Nash. Only because for so long and so often have we assumed, and have our politicians by silence or connivance allowed us to assume, that certain areas of communal activity are closed to the anxious energy of political debate, closed to the possibility of new decisions, closed to criticism and argument and exchange, closed by the willingness of political leaders to withdraw altogether from the field of battle do we receive without amazement or even surprise the intervention of paid lawyers in an argument about a subject which concerns the very future of the nation and the race itself. For my own part I do not fear that intervention; I welcome it. For 1 hope we will now be able to bring out into the open all the hidden connivances, implications and horrors of one of the most savagely damaging lobbies a society has ever had to confront. My only regret is that the battle has come so late, and that the good intentions of politicians and ministers, uninformed by critical or decisive intelligence, have allowed the battle to be put off for so long.