Letters: Sexual health

Sexual health: isn’t it time we all grew up?

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I write as a retired GP in response to Ellie Levenson’s piece (Opinion, 17 February) on Jade Goody and cervical-smear tests. A few years ago, I had a letter published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology lamenting the raising of the cervical-smear eligibility age and emphasising the huge number of incidental findings that I had encountered in asymptomatic women – many significant. And for a quarter of a century or more I have been puzzled at the strangely convoluted relationship that women have with their own physical and psychological gender and speculated about the causes of the variability between women in their acceptance of genital examination.

Not only are these complicated questions that remain unanswered but they concern systems that vary and interact dynamically with social and environmental factors too. Important cervical changes may be held to be vanishingly rare in the under-25s but that is a retrospective view. The precautionary principle suggests that all sexually active people should make use of the full spectrum of preventative and screening options.

There exists a strange paradox here, too. The age of first intercourse is decreasing, the numbers of reported partners is increasing, STDs are increasing, unplanned pregnancy is frequent, sexualised images and text are more ubiquitous etc, and yet a morbid delicacy seems to be gaining ground which inhibits women (especially) from accessing the freely available sexual-health services and militates against routine examination.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could adopt a non-judgmental, unpressured, grown-up attitude to sex in all its manifestations and implications. We are sexual beings but there is no compulsion – non-participation or deferment can be reasonable choices. STDs and unplanned pregnancies would be almost unknown if people would make use of the existing facilities and technologies.

Steven Ford

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

The fantasy world of UK drug policy

Deborah Orr’s article (12 February) on the categorising of drugs was timely. The whole subject seems to have entered a fantasy world. The recent attacks on Professor Nutt in Parliament illustrate this point. He might have been misled in even trying to give the advice he did, but at least he was genuinely trying to do the job that the current legislation requires. Free speech itself is threatened by the MPs’ idiotic notion that even rational debate on drugs is dangerous. Just another illustration of how drugs policy is slowly corrupting the entire world.

Colombia has been in chaos for decades. Our soldiers are dying in Afghanistan from bombs and bullets paid for by drugs. Mexico looks as if it’s almost totally gone to hell as a result of drugs. Is some small EU country going to be next? Criminalisation of drugs is fuelling organised crime everywhere, and it’s growing more powerful year by year. The anti-drug industry that feeds off this is in every way as bad as Eisenhower’s Military Industrial complex, which itself is far worse now than it was in the 1950s. Our own ACPO is a vociferous member.

Decriminalisation would bring massive benefits. Lots of crime would evaporate. The quality, therefore the danger, of each drug could be regulated. It need not be easy to get drugs, just legal and controlled, with reduction of addiction and abuse as the aim. It would even reap tax benefits as the enforcement and crime-fighting costs would evaporate and drugs could be taxed just like alcohol and tobacco. Look at how Switzerland has made heroin a boring drug restricted to middle-aged has-beens, by supplying it free in an intelligent way.

Stuart Shurlock


Johann Hari is right to point out the enormous destabilising power of drug syndicates (11 February). But he is wrong to imply that the fortune spent by the US trying to eradicate Colombia’s coca crops has been successful. Coca production in Colombia increased by 27 per cent in 2007 and it still supplies the majority of the world’s coca. Eighty per cent of cocaine consumed in Britain originates in Colombia.

Colombia’s armed conflict, fuelled by the cocaine trade, has claimed 70,000 lives over the past 20 years. Threats and violence against community leaders and human-rights activists – including groups working with Christian Aid – are commonplace. The tentacles of organised crime reach into the army, which carries out the majority of human-rights abuses, and the legislature – a quarter of the Colombian congress is under investigation for ties with narco-paramilitary groups. Meanwhile, poor farmers are criminalised for making a logical economic decision if they want to feed their families and put their children through school.

The UK government’s response to the cocaine problem is focused on seizures and arrests; a policy which Hari rightly criticises as ineffective. Christian Aid believes the UK should refocus on the root causes of the problem – massive rural poverty in an otherwise wealthy country. The UK must ensure that its significant business interests in Colombia, financial assistance, as well as European trade deals, support poverty reduction. Poor farmers need realistic alternatives. The demand for cocaine isn’t about to dry up, but there are better ways of cutting the supply.

Jonathan Glennie

Christian Aid Country Representative – Colombia,


Wrong to bar anti-Islam Dutch MP

When Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned in 1960, the ensuing court case and publicity was the best thing that could have happened for its publisher, Penguin Books.

Following the lifting of the ban by the courts, millions of people who would never even have entertained the idea of reading a book by D H Lawrence couldn’t wait to get their hands on a copy of what, at the time was considered to be a salacious, if not pornographic work.

This is exactly the effect that the Home Office’s ill-considered refusal to allow the bigoted Dutch politician, Geert Wilders into Britain will have. Millions, not only here but around the world, will be prompted to view his anti-Muslim film Fitna on the internet. Last year he came and went without even being noticed. The same thing would have happened on this occasion.

But thanks to short-sighted idiots at the Home Office, Mr Wilder’s has received a level of publicity for his bigoted views that he could never have hoped for in his wildest dreams.

Robert Readman


Scotland more than pays its way

I was very disappointed to read Dominic Lawson’s tired and wrong-headed analysis of the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK (Opinion, 17 February).

Mr Lawson implies that Scotland somehow “owes” the rest of the UK a debt of grovelling gratitude for financing the recent bank bail-outs. The facts render this argument absurd.

Firstly, the taxpayers bailing out the banks include hardworking Scots. And the reality is that Scotland more than pays its own way in the UK. That is proved by the most recent analysis in the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report, which shows that Scotland had a budget surplus of £837m in 2006-07, compared to a UK deficit of £4.3bn. The flow of resources in the UK is clearly from Scotland to London – not the other way round.

Secondly, the UK Government has also directed huge sums of money at other sectors, such as the automotive industry, which are not large employers in Scotland. Mr Lawson is not suggesting Scots should be up in arms about this.

The relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK would be greatly improved by Scottish independence.

The facts show that Scotland sends more resources to the UK exchequer than it gets back in return, so I suggest that Mr Lawson owes the people of Scotland an apology.

Stewart Hosie MP

SNP Westminster Treasury Spokesperson,

House of Commons,

London SW1

No to wage curbs, even for bankers

Today it’s curb bankers bonuses. What will it be tomorrow? Bankers’ salaries? Lawyers’ fees, journalists’ salaries, and so on down the line to car-makers’ wages, bin-men’s wages, and confrontation with the unions?

Have we learned nothing from the disaster of the incomes policies pursued by Harold Wilson and Edward Heath in the 1970s, culminating in the ruin of our economy in the Winter of Discontent?

Whatever prosperity we have enjoyed over the past 30 years has had a direct relationship with the freedom to negotiate, and set, individual rates of pay and remuneration. We change that at our peril.

Alan Carcas

Liversedge, West Yorkshire

Faith and science both seek truth

David Goddard is surely misguided in his critique of Keith Ward (letters, 14 February). Even if science could explain beyond reasonable doubt how we are here, it would still not have answered why we are here. These are entirely separate disciplines, and it is the tendency – by religionists and secularists alike – to confuse the two which leads to an unnecessary sense of conflict between science and faith.

Faith and science are frequently portrayed as incompatible, but in fact both are engaged, in their respective spheres, in a search for truth. The fact is that the cause of truth can only be advanced when doubt can be honestly expressed. We do each other a grave disservice when we stifle such expression.

Peter R Brown

Worthing, West Sussex

Green credentials of Mini Cooper D

The loss of jobs at BMW’s Cowley plant in Oxford is sad news (report, 17 February). This decision will be even more regrettable if it puts at risk production of the Mini Cooper D.

The Mini Cooper D emits 104g carbon dioxide per kilometre, the same level of emissions as the Toyota Prius. The Mini was highly rated in last year’s WhatGreenCar awards and was ranked higher than the Prius in a 2007 study.

Fuel-efficient cars will be important in our efforts to tackle climate change. The government should be investing more in cleaner transport so that a range of energy-saving initiatives can reach their full potential.

Professor Sir David King & Dr Oliver Inderwildi

Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment

University of Oxford


Sign language

The remark, in Nature Notebook (17 February), that the head of the Kew arboretum was “rubbing his hands” at the recent cold weather led me to wonder why that indicates glee while “wringing” them shows misery.

John Hawgood


Revenge and the law

After the Paolo da Silva case (report, 17 February) newspapers will again overflow with indignation at a “soft sentence”. The law doesn’t, and shouldn’t, give the revenge – personal or vicarious – that so many people obviously want. At the core of the criminal law is the principle of intention. Even if the outcome is as hideous and sad as the Stathams’ case clearly was, it makes no difference; you should not punish on a return-for-suffering basis, still less for emotional relief. You punish for intent and act.

Edward Pearce

Thormanby, North Yorkshire

Financial crisis

Before the economic situation began its present nosedive, I seem to recall that the pace of life was pretty unbearable and stress-related illness was becoming a major issue. As the world’s response to the current problems appears to be to throw trillions at them in the hope of getting us back to how things were, might it not be worth taking the time to ask if that is where we really want to go?

Mark Howson

Market Harborough, Leicestershire

Welsh rugby

Brian Viner owes the Welsh rugby community an apology after his error (“Sparing the haka does us all a favour”, 13 February) when he said the All Blacks won the match against Wales in 1905. For the record, the score was Wales 3, New Zealand 0. So the haka didn’t do them much good that day, at least.

Amanda Epps

Charlbury, Oxfordshire

Apostrophe madness

The smartly printed menu for the Valentine’s Day lunch at our local restaurant included a starter of “Asparagus and Gruye’re Feuillete”.

Max Double

Amesbury, Wiltshire

More jobs for UK?

If KFC is creating 9,000 jobs (report, 17 February), how many spin-off jobs will be created in the NHS as a result?

Simon & Laraine Gosden

Rayleigh, Essex

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