Healthcare Tips

National Health Service Leaflets On Sex Among Teenagers, Elderly Spark Controversy In U.K.

June 12, 2020

Two leaflets from Britain's National Health Service have provoked controversy over government messages on sexuality among teenagers and the elderly, the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, the leaflet for teens, titled "Pleasure," says that daily sex "keeps the doctor away." It also states, "Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and [vegetables] a day and 30 minutes physical activity three times a week." It suggests that some form of sexual activity "twice a week" could have health benefits as well. The leaflet was issued by NHS in Sheffield, England, and is available to parents, youth workers and teachers nationwide. The leaflet for the elderly says that it is "never too late to experiment" sexually and offers information on dating services and contraception. The leaflet is available online, and 2,000 copies have been distributed to doctors' offices, health centers and libraries.

Britain has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Western Europe, and the government has prioritized prevention-related policy measures by spending millions of dollars on awareness and contraception campaigns, the Post reports. The country also plans to make sex education mandatory in all public schools starting in 2010.

After the teen leaflet appeared, "dismayed parents lit up message boards," and some educators argued that it "encouraged promiscuity," the Post reports. However, others said the leaflets are a welcome departure from traditional forms of sex education that focus on biology and disease prevention, rather than personal relationships. Hilary Pannack, CEO of the teen pregnancy not-for-profit Straight Talking, said that talking with teens about sexual pleasure "should be done with extreme caution" but that, in general, the leaflet is a "big turnaround for Britain." She added, "British people are very, very embarrassed talking to kids about sex."

Steve Slack, the director of NHS' Center for HIV and Sexual Health in Sheffield and a co-author of the leaflet, said one of the objectives was to encourage teens to delay intercourse until they are ready and feel that they will enjoy it. He added that some of the leaflet's ideas were inspired by the Netherlands, a country that is frequently referenced in British sex education debates because of its liberal attitudes toward discussing sex and its low teen pregnancy rates (Adam, Washington Post, 7/23).

Reprinted with kind permission from nationalpartnership. You can view the entire Daily Women's Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery here. The Daily Women's Health Policy Report is a free service of the National Partnership for Women & Families, published by The Advisory Board Company.

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