The relationship between sex education and the family is an important and intimate one. On the one hand, the family is the first provider of sex education for young children and (as we have seen in Chapter 3) a major influence (alongside peers and the media) on the developing sexual values and sexual understanding of children and young people. On the other, the family is itself inevitably part of the content of sex education. Topics such as family relationships, parenthood and family planning are all well established elements in any sex education programme. Indeed, one of the main intentions of sex education is to prepare children for family life as adults.
All of this is obvious and uncontroversial. What is controversial, however, is the teaching of 'family values'. The term 'family values' is itself an ambiguous one. In a national survey in the USA, respondents linked it to a broadly conservative set of values such as 'respecting one's parents', 'being married to the same person for life' and 'respecting authority' (Mellman et al. 1990). In the UK the term is associated with recent pressure from central government to add a more explicitly moral dimension to teaching about the family within sex education, based on a fairly narrow, traditional view of the family. Guidance issued by the Department for Education in 1994 speaks of the need for pupils to 'be encouraged to appreciate the value of stable family life, marriage and the responsibilities of parenthood' (DfE 1994:6), and more recent guidance also lays stress on 'learning the value of family life, marriage and stable and loving relationships for the nurture of children' (DfEE 2000a:5).
This guidance is part of a broader political initiative to support the traditional family (Home Office 1998), an initiative also seen in recent legislation such as the Family Law Act 1996. The latter sets out in an introductory section the general moral principles on which it is based, including, for example, the principle 'that the institution of marriage is to be supported' (Oldham 1997:402). The phrase 'family values' thus appears