Today is Valentine’s Day. Today is also the day where One Billion Rising will be undertaking events all over the world to call for the end to violence against women and girls.
As part of this, there is a cross-party debate in Parliament today for sex education to include information about abuse and appropriate relationships. A recent article in The Guardian saw that young people going through secondary school now are still concerned about the quality of Sex Education they receive, saying that “…SRE is too much about sexually transmitted infections (STI) and saying no, and not enough about feelings and relationships.”
Sex Education has changed massively even since I was at school (which wasn’t that long ago!) Sex Ed in the 90s usually consisted of the biology approach, the classic video of a woman giving birth and giggling over the “reproduction” section of our science text books. If there was any more to it then I don’t remember it. We didn’t put a condom on a banana, we didn’t look at STIs or contraception. In fact, all my information about anything that wasn’t biology came from Just Seventeen magazine and their endless and brilliant articles, booklets and information on everything to do with sex, relationships and general Growing Up Stuff. It was invaluable. However, that was then. Now, young people are a lot more clued up on all thing sex, and usually in a very positive way. From my experience working with young people in a variety of settings, most of them will know how to access free condoms, they’ll know about the implant, the injection or the pill and they’ll know how to protect themselves. A lot of schools are part of condom distribution and C Card schemes, those who have a school nurse are able to offer contraception services right there in the school for young people to access for free. It’s definitely come a long way. Young people are clued up.
But judging by the information coming from newspaper reports and campaigns like One Billion Rising, Sex Education needs to change again. Issues around healthy relationships, abuse and exploitation are not being covered, meaning that although we’re equipping our young people with the practical knowledge and equipment to keep themselves from getting an STI and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, we’re not equipping them mentally for the impact of having a relationship. The self-respect to say no, the means to keep themselves free from exploitation. And it’s not only for the girls! Young men need to be taught these things just as much as young women. The internet means that young people have access to a whole load of sexually explicit stuff a lot earlier, and they get extremely mixed and skewed messages as to what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. Respect, mutual consent and communication are not messages that young people usually pick up from pornography. They need an education that teaches them about relationships in the real world, not the one they might access through their computer.
But of course, for any improvement to Sex Education to happen, there needs to be a requirement for a high level of competency in the delivery of Sex Ed across the board. It should be a progressive process across education, teaching age-appropriate relationships education to kids from a young age. It should be required teaching. If young people are taught to respect and value themselves from a young age, it will be part of their development into an adult. It’s completely possible to teach sex and relationships education in whatever cultural or religious setting the young person is in, without indoctrinating them into believing sex is wrong, immoral, dirty or a taboo. In fact, teaching those things often means young people will find it more intriguing. Talking openly about sex and relationships removes the mystery and stops it from being a taboo. Facts are facts, and there’s still space within SRE to encourage discussion and debates around sex and morals as that’s what helps young people form their own opinions and make their own choices.
It’s time for Sex Education to take another step in its development. In order for this to happen I believe a number of things need to be put in place:
– Sex Education needs to be compulsory in secondary school. There needs to be a basic curriculum around sex, STIs, contraception and relationships that is compulsory teaching.
– Every school should have access to a professional who is trained in teaching PSHE to the appropriate level, and who is capable of delivering that curriculum.
– PSHE needs to focus just as much on relationships, sexuality, abuse and exploitation, and online safety as it does on STIs and contraception.
– People need to recognise that teaching young people about sex and relationships means they have knowledge to make decisions about their life, it means they are empowered to keep themselves safe and it stops sex from being an illicit taboo.
Sex Education has come on a lot since I was at school, but it needs to keep developing and progressing along with young people’s needs. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and think that if we don’t talk about it then it’s not a problem. I’m hoping that the Government stops sticking on this issue and makes a proper step forwards on Sex Education.