- Head teachers who booked a youth theatre company to preach
a message of sexual abstinence in their schools have been told not to repeat
the invitation because it is "unsuitable" for pupils.
- Sex education advisers in East Sussex have recommended
that teachers should consult them before allowing actors to give performances
about controversial issues such as sexual health.
- Their advice has led to the resignation of one member
of Eastbourne's Sexual Health Forum, Sue Relf, who said she wanted to organise
further visits by the company this year.
- The row blew up after eight secondary schools in the
resort were visited by the Canadian Challenge Team, an Ottawa-based volunteer
youth group which travels the world with its message that "the safest
sex is no sex".
- Actors use sketches and jokes to present facts and figures
intended to offer abstinence as an option to young people who may think
that they are alone in not being sexually active.
- The concept has been given credibility among teenagers
by the well-publicised pre-marital celibacy of pop stars such as Britney
Spears and Jessica Simpson and the actress Lisa Kudrow of the television
- But the Challenge Team's performances last November and
December did not find favour with the Personal Social and Health Education
(PSHE) team for East Sussex.
- Marilyn Stephens, the PSHE adviser, said she was not
told of the visit before it happened and there were a number of concerns
about the contents of its 45-minute show.
- "Members of our team went to see it and were quite
anxious about some of the messages it was portraying," she said. "In
particular, its anti-condom message was not helpful. There were also some
wrong facts about HIV and Aids. We would be unhappy to support another
- Mrs Relf has written to the chairman of the Sexual Health
Forum to resign in protest. She said guidelines had since been circulated
by the PSHE team "in order to preclude visits to East Sussex schools
by this team, or any similar groups, in the future, as it was considered
they were unsuitable".
- She said at least four schools in the town were planning
to invite the team to return this year.
- The dispute has highlighted the controversy over abstinence
teaching, which is growing in popularity in America but does not find favour
with British bodies such as the Government's Teenage Pregnancy Unit, or
the Sex Education Forum, part of the National Children's Bureau. Its report,
Just Say No - To Abstinence Education, says: "Children and young people
are entitled to a balanced educational programme of sex and relationships
education . . . Abstinence education falls short of this established good
practice and fails to meet the needs of children and young people on a
number of counts."
- These include "fear-based" messages and an
exclusion of "big groups of young people, including those who are
gay and lesbian".
- Rebecca Visser of the Challenge Team said it had spoken
to more than 600,000 teenagers throughout North America and Europe since
it was founded in 1993. "We are not anti-sex, nor are we trying to
scare kids away from sex. But our message is that chastity is a positive,
realistic and healthy lifestyle."