Looking back on my school sex education all I can see are gaps. A majority of what I remember is being lectured about the dangers of STIs and I also have a memory of being taught how to put on condoms. However sex education lessons usually consisted of a great deal of watching videos, usually animated, in order to enable teachers to avoid tackling this apparently ‘delicate’ topic directly. The most concerning thing about this is that I’m fairly sure, compared to most, my school was pretty progressive.
It seems to be general knowledge that sex education is poor. However, so often this fact is not taken seriously. People joke about the way teachers are too embarrassed to talk about certain things and how all of the focus is on STIs and the ‘dangers’ of sex. I personally find this attitude scary. We all need to realise that the quality of sex and relationship education has a massive impact on the lives of young people. We need to understand that missing crucial chunks out of the syllabus, whether it’s due to carelessness, embarrassment or confusion has real material consequences for students. Schools must ask themselves, what is worse? Feeling embarrassed or skimming over crucial parts of education?
Last year, new sex education policies were approved by Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan which stated that sex and relationship education must include more topics such as pornography, rape, female genital cutting, domestic violence and online sex abuse. However this caused controversy as some people were concerned the material would be too ‘explicit’, an attitude which I personally feel encourages censorship.
Why is it seen as ‘controversial’ to provide young people with information on really important issues that are extremely relevant to their lives? Knowledge is power and the current lack of education is making young people vulnerable to abuse, rape, sexual exploitation and becoming trapped in unhealthy relationships. Not talking about these things also perpetuates gender inequality, rape culture and domestic abuse. All young people should have access to comprehensive, open-minded and relevant sex education.
Reflecting on my experiences in school from when I was around fourteen, so many conversation topics were off limits, especially to girls. No one explicitly banned the conversation but there was a kind of unspoken rule. Of course, I can only speak as one person who attended one school however, through conversations with my friends and my own experiences I can say with assurance that there is a long list of the things we simply weren’t taught.
Topics that should be compulsory in sex ed
- An open discussion about the problems with porn, without banning young people from watching it.
- ‘Yes means yes’ consent education. Being sexually harassed in school by male classmates was so common when I was at school that we considered it ‘normal’.
- The qualities of a healthy relationship as well as the signs of an abusive one. If young people are taught how to recognise the early signs of physically or mentally abusive relationships they will be less likely to become abusers or to get trapped in an abusive relationship.
- Sexual harassment in all of its forms including naked pictures/videos being leaked.
- A detailed discussion about the ways in which gender inequality affects romantic relationships and sex.
- The ways in which gay and lesbian people can have sex.
- The experiences of those of non-binary genders and the prejudice they experience in society.
- Earlier education concerning puberty. Particularly because many girls start their period before they are taught about it in school, causing confusion and even fear.
In conclusion, we can either let young people learn this hugely relevant information the easy way or the hard way. The obvious answer, of course, is that we need to provide young people with all of this information, at appropriate ages, in order to encourage healthy relationships, a positive attitude towards sex and open-mindedness. Mainstream education on sex and relationships needs to improve, period.