Behind the Headlines 4

Not a specific news item this time but a whole raft of coverage:

The Scout Association have released new guidance on sexual health. These guidelines mainly apply to 14-18 year olds, also known as “Explorer Scouts”.

This has predictably been better reported better in, ahem, some areas of the press than others. Lurid headlines about Scouts being handed out condoms, and stories suggesting that actual sex education lessons comparable to those taught in schools will be taking place in every Scout Hut up and down the country. Based on this misinformation lots of people cough and splutter without engaging their brains and thinking there may be more to it than a tabloid newspaper story.

What was being announced was a new guidance note giving hints and tips on what to do if a young person approaches a leader with an awkward question. There is no obligation for any leader to give sex ed lessons, indeed the guidance suggests referring the young people to the experts, and the press release echos this. Actual sex education will remain the responsibility of the schools.

In Explorers we think about, discuss and examine all aspects of life. Scouting exists to develop well rounded people, with a sense of judgement and awareness of the world they live in. It is not just an outdoor activities club. The guidance focuses mainly on the moral side of all this, and not the biological side. Avoiding peer pressure and abstinence are key messages in all this, not “here’s a condom- get on with it, if you want”. So the spluttering types who are ranting about how we shouldn’t be encouraging sex don’t realise how close we are to how they would like us to be.

Schools teach sex from a biological and practical basis, and some kids think that there is something missing. Scouting gives young people space to talk about their lives, ask questions openly, and make sense of it all- not just on this issue but on any issue that concerns them. And, while I may not have been the best leader on this topic, I have worked closely with someone who was quietly asked the sort of questions that this guidance helps to answer.

Yes Explorer Units can, if their members ask, arrange trips to health clinics. Scouting has always focused on healthy living as part of the development of its members. But such trips are not compulsory programme items, and it is not the case that all units will run such trips: it will depend on the unit members’ needs if it is appropriate.

If the explorers don’t feel the need to discuss or focus on this topic, they will not be made to. And Explorer Units will not be handing out condoms willy nilly (if you pardon the expression)- that is a definite media distortion.

The bottom line is Scouting has been concerned with developing the moral, physical and spiritual potential of young people since year dot, and this is just part and parcel of that. These issues have never been off limits, we just now have guidance on how to deal with them.

As a coda, I have read how the person who wrote the press release “wants shooting”, because people in the more sensationalist end of the media were bound to take the wrong end of the stick. My point of view is this: The lions share of the blame for people getting hot under the collar after reading a sensationalised story in the tabloid press without the appropriate “pinch of salt” lies fairly and squarely in the minds of the people getting hot under the collar. Cries of “they should have known people would take the wrong end of the stick” unjustly spares due opprobium from the people whose nature it is to take the wrong end of the stick.



  1. Mad

    Someone posted a link to the Daily Hate’s article on this, and far more scary than the biased reportage were the readers’ comments that followed. As I commented to Rob at the time, the Mail readers would appalled by some of the conversations we have had at Guides, particularly when on camp, but – for as long as the girls continue to find the conversations useful and know that they can confidently ask about anything that worries them – I’m not going to change the way we do things.

  2. Mike

    The relationship between a Leader and a young persons teacher is completely different, whatever aspect yp prefer to see the difference by, whether the informality or the that they see them less it certainly seems more appealing to them. Having it on paper now just seems to sensationalize the fact that it happens, did people not realise it before now?

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