At the beginning of August, Northumbria Police and crime commissioner Vera Baird suggested that sex education should become compulsory in UK primary schools to help cut sexual crime rates. As recently as February 2016, however, Nicky Morgan, then Education Secretary, suggested this wasn’t to happen anytime soon. Debut writer, Anelia Thomas, argues that something has to change.
From her experiences, even when UK children do receive sex education, often at second school, it’s just not good enough.
One word pretty much sums up my experience of Sex & Relationship Education (SRE). B******. Not only was it inconsiderate to the complexities of sex, it was vague and felt as though it was begrudgingly administered to our curriculum.
Barring our science class, which taught us about the biology of sex, we were only given a pathetically brief session during which our teacher, who, dripping with shame and embarrassment, demonstrated how to use a condom with the use of an anatomically shaped piece of wood as a prop. At the end of it, I remember thinking is this it. Is this really all there is to sex?
When I look back at it now I realise that I learned more about sex from episodes of Sex and the City and columns in Cosmo Magazine because it offered an unfettered discussion on sex, love and relationships.
Fast forward a few years and it seems that the state of Sex Education hasn’t changed much. In a report published in June 2016 by the Terrance Higgins Trust, it was found that that sex and relationships education is ‘inadequate or absent in many schools’, with half of young people rating the SRE that they receive in school as either ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’.
Has the government really not woken up to the fact that the world has moved on? How long will are they going to pretend that teenagers – and children for that matter – are naïve when they hold a portal to the wide world of sex within the palms of their hands?
With the help of the internet, for the new breed of teenager’s sex is a concept that is being introduced to their lives earlier and earlier and whilst this revelation may seem shocking for Government Ministers and initiate instinctive urges for them to wrap children in cotton wool, the truth is nothing remains hidden, especially where tech-savvy kids are concerned.
So perhaps it’s about time that we stop sticking to the old mantra that sex only leads to disease and pregnancy and start focusing on the fact that there is so much more to learn about our bodies and sexuality. Instead, let’s start conversations about how to have good sex in a way that’s enjoyable and above all safe. After all, statistically it has shown that progressive SRE improves young people’s sexual health and reduces pregnancy rates.
But there are so many other reasons why our SRE needs a refresh. What about the stinging issue of consent, or gender/sexual identity, or the absent conversation around pleasure and pornography? In the same report by THT, 75 percent of young people said they were not taught about consent. With 95 per cent claiming that they had not learned about LGBT sex and relationships and another 89 percent saying they were not taught about pleasure. Our failure to really talk about sex is not only prudish, it increases risks – especially when it comes to women.
While it’s considerably easy for boys to figure out how to get their kicks, the subject of female masturbation and pleasure is ignored and instead of teaching them that sex should be enjoyable for them too, we divorce the sensation of sex from the act itself and persuade girls to think that they a passive and there to satisfy men, which leads to a matter of issues when it comes to consent and sexual violence.
But what about the ramifications of not having a conversation about LGBT sex and relationships? With a rising social trend for gender non-conformity and gender fluidity isn’t it time to start being open about this now instead of occupying a pejorative disposition? We need to be ensuring that our SRE is something that looks and feels inclusive in order to destigmatize and include things that are important to us as a generation.
Ironically, though, despite the dramatic social change the government continues to be out of touch as in February this year, Education Minister Nicky Clarke announced that there would be no amendment to modernise the framework or make Sex Education compulsory, proving that sweeping the issue under the carpet is a speciality of the British Government. The question is, how will our attitudes toward sex and relationships ever change if were taught that sex is purely about biology?
Will young people continue to turn to the internet to learn about sex – a virtual reality which is often exaggerated and doesn’t necessarily encourage healthy attitudes – Well perhaps they will, but what has emerged is an increasing trend where young people are organising platforms to discuss and share their knowledge about sex.
Take, Eileen Kelly – founder of Killer and Sweet Thing – she’s a 20-year-old Sex Education Blogger who’s passionate about redefining “the talk” and creating a space for people to apprehend everything there is to know about sex.
From Sex Risk Assessments, to Abortions to Enemas, nothing is uncharted or filtered, which is a refreshing departure from the sterile text books and vintage birthing videos. And at least offers us the Sex Education I so desperately wish I got.
Have your say on this important debate on our social media. When do you think sex education should start for children and what do you wish you had been informed about? Let us know.