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School Sex Education – How Far To Go?

School Sex Education – How Far To Go?

Various studies have proven that having sufficient sex education dramatically reduces things like teenage pregnancy and STI transmission. Which makes sense of course, because if you don’t know about these things then you can’t avoid them. Gone are the days when society was tight-lipped about sex. It used to be the case that girls were only sometimes told about what to expect on their wedding night (because obviously no-one had sex before marriage…..joke), but they often weren’t and the whole remained an enigma until the occasion itself.

And then there was the issue of contraception. It wasn’t until the 60s when the contraceptive pill came onto the scene that women were able to take control of their sex lives and have the ability to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies. Condoms have been around since the dawn of time, but femidoms haven’t and this was why the Pill was such a revolutionary thing. But we are far beyond that now and today’s teens know everything about everything – which is predominantly a good thing. However, the issue of porn is a contentious one, because who wants their child (under 12) watching some of things that are so easily accessible floating around on the internet? There are so many predilections out there and the fact that teens are normalising things like BDSM and other fetishes as normal is a worrying thing. As is the assumption that all girls look like those in porn and anything else isn’t worth bothering with. So, how much should children be taught in school and when should they be taught?

First all, let’s break down sex education into different sections, starting with straightforward male and female anatomy and how pregnancy works. Children as young or 8 or 9 are starting their periods these days so getting that info about the menstrual cycle available to them needs to happen at a younger age than contraception. Of course, some of them have already talked to their parents about this so what the school offers is purely supplementary, but lots of children don’t get given this information which means that the school curriculum needs to be a comprehensive one if it’s going to be a catch-all solution.

And once the simple anatomy of the situation has been dealt with, there tends to be a period of time where nothing more is necessarily covered at school, but the tide is turning on this one, and the thinking is starting to be that school curriculums should be covering ALL aspects of sex and relationships as a matter of course. Even now the curriculum allows for the schools to teach about informed consent, about the realities of sex versus the porn they might see and about things like abusive relationships. But how far should they go? How far is too far?

Going back to a starting point, all children should have access to the basic information that they need outside of lesson time so they have the opportunity to let the facts sink in without being distracted by giggles and sniggers in the classroom when the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ are mentioned. They may well have their own questions to ask, which is why this access is so important and it can be very helpful to be pointed towards health websites, given leaflets, etc.

As they get older and the realities of relationships are on the horizon, this is when information about contraception and how to access it becomes essential. Especially now when the contraception options are so wide. Some methods are not necessarily suitable for younger people (the coil, for example) so the education needs to be comprehensive, like knowing that most sexual health clinics give out condoms for free. It’s at this point that they also need to be taught about sexual health and how to avoid picking up STIs/STDs, how to protect themselves, basically. It’s also round about this age that informed consent needs to become a BIG topic. There can be confusion and misunderstandings and some younger teens might not know about it at all so it’s imperative that they are taught about it and given access to any materials that they might need. All too often there are reports of children being groomed for sex without realising that’s what’s going on, so that’s why it’s absolutely essential that they are taught about it.

And then there’s the different facets of relationships to consider. What’s important for a successful relationship, how to recognise when it’s an unhealthy one, when it becomes best to end things and how to cope with all the various emotions that will be involved.

But – what could the cons be, if any?

There’s a delicate line to be drawn here between giving enough information and giving too much information. Eight year olds do not need to know about fetish websites and the realities of watching porn, so a balance is essential and they need to be protected from things that children and young teens should not be knowing about.

What children are being at home by their family also needs to be respected. It’s not going to be great if the parents want their children to be sheltered until they’re older but the curriculum insists that this information is necessary at this age. At the moment this is currently managed by sending a letter home (or probably email in this day and age!) informing the parents that these lessons are coming up and giving them the option to withdraw their child from it.

The schools should also decide when to hold lessons about what constitutes consent, what rape is, how to understand if you’re in an abusive relationship, etc.

Ultimately, it’s important for educational bodies to be leading the way on sex education and its various bits, whilst also bearing in mind that they need to respect the wishes of the parents.

Stuart Brown

Stuart Brown

I'm Stuart, senior Editor at British Condoms. I am an expert in all areas of sexual health and have a passion to drive knowledge to youth in the UK. Any questions for me or media enquiries, please feel free to tweet me @britishcondoms. Always open to engagement.

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