Before sitting down to write this article, I had a think about my sex education and realised that it was, without a doubt, shockingly inadequate.
I’m pretty sure we were meant to start our foray into the world of sex ed in year six, but it was pushed aside last minute for more important things, namely, rehearsals for the musical Joseph. There was a biology lesson or two in year 7, and I distinctly remember a PSHE lesson on periods, pads, tampons etc. and perhaps a short discussion on contraception. But that’s it. That’s where my formal education into one of the most important and complicated parts of human existence stops.
It’s been five years, though, since I walked the hellish halls of secondary school, so I thought it best to ask someone closer to the source. I turned to expert teenager, my 17 year old brother. I asked him what sex education he’d had at school. ‘I don’t know, I don’t remember really’. Can’t have been that great then. He went on to recall watching a video about a woman giving birth in year 5 and, maybe, he said a class in secondary school vaguely about sex ed. I asked if there was anything about consent or relationships. No, nothing like that, he said, nothing so important that he actually remembered it, and whatever had been taught was definitely all biological.
Hark back a good 45 years to the time of my parents’ teenagehood. Upon asking, they also recalled perhaps some biology lessons on penises going into vaginas, they supposed there must have been something like that. I mentioned consent. My dad laughed, ‘oh lordy no!’, he said, ‘absolutely nothing like that at all’.
Fifty years of progress in so many ways (although perhaps questionable taking into account current events and leadership – but that’s for another angry article) but no progress on sex education. Okay, sex never changes. It’s a biological process that humans have been doing since their humble cave beginnings and will be doing when we’ve colonised other planets, but attitudes towards sex are a different issue. Ever changing, ever evolving, our attitudes towards sex are more liberal now than they have ever been before. But why is this not being reflected in the sex education of our children?
In the past few years we have seen the continued acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people throughout the world. We have seen consent campaigns from that video that went round about the cup of tea metaphor, to the NUS and Sexpression’s ‘I Heart Consent’, and the ‘Pause, Play, Stop’ website set up by Somerset’s rape support charity. We’ve seen attitudes towards sex generally become freer, with slut shaming called out and celebrations of female sexuality become the norm. But kids still come out of school with no notion of what makes a healthy relationship, no teaching on consent, no idea what to expect when these things really start to happen.
It was only on the 1st March this year that the BBC posted an article about sex education becoming compulsory in schools. Even then, it probably wont be implemented until September 2019, and parents still have the right to withdraw their children from these classes. But why has it taken this long to realise that sex education should be compulsory? School is a world dominated by exams, grades, and preparing for the next step in education, but not in life. Sex education, adequate PSHE lessons and anything that isn’t directly going to help you pass exams is left by the wayside. ‘They can learn about that later’ they say, ‘when there’s not so many important exams to prepare for’.
There is a huge failure in the older generation to see that honest education on sex, relationships and constent is possibly the most important thing for kids to learn before entering into teenagehood and adulthood. I know too many people who have been sexually assaulted or who have been in abusive relationships, and pretty much everyone I know acknowledges that the first time you have sex you don’t really know what you’re doing. If you’re a girl, you expect pain. We’ve been told that the first time is ‘always painful’ that ‘we’ll probably bleed’, but that doesn’t have to be the case. We are told that a good sexual experience, especially in the early days of having sex, is one that isn’t painful. Forget pleasure, forget intimacy. As long as it’s not painful, you’re doing good.
And on top of that, there’s the issue that all of the limited, strictly biological sex ed we’ve has is extremely heteronormative. If you’re LGBTQ, you’ve pretty much been left aside by school sex ed to completely figure out you own way in the sex world. A sex world that is, arguably, a lot more confusing when you’re LGBTQ than when you’re heterosexual.
There just seems to be this strange barrier of awkwardness from teachers and parents alike when it comes to talking about sex. Perhaps it is because they think early teenagehood is to young to be talking about these things because kids that age aren’t having sex yet. Perhaps it is because they don’t want to face the awkward questions that they will inevitably be asked, because this topic is just so other. But to be honest, parents and teachers, get over it. I’m sure you can endure a couple of minutes of awkwardness to make this confusing world a lot safer and healthier for your kids.
If we could just get over this strange awkwardness and learn to talk about these things, all of this would be so much easier. Imagine a generation that enters into their sexually active life with an adequate sex education. This would be one that includes lessons on the biology of sex, of course, but from the angle of all different sexualities. One that encompasses what sex can mean for you emotionally and how it can change a relationship (in the broader sense of the term).
It would include not just sex in terms of penetration, but the whole world of sexual acts that surrounds it. There would be lessons on consent, from all gender angles, in relationships, out of them and in all situations, and in communication during and about sex. Male and female contraception would both be talked about, with boys learning about the pill and implant (etc) as well as condoms. There would be adequate talking about relationships – what makes an unhealthy one and what you should expect from a sexual partner. And more than anything, emphasis that not having sex is okay, that sex is not the be all and end all of a happy life, that there should not be the arms-race-esque rush to lose your virginity that fuelled the gossip of our school corridors.
Get Volume #17 now.
Words by Holly Carter