Let’s talk about sex, baby
By the time sex education was taught at my secondary school at the end of year nine, one girl had already left to have a baby and another was pregnant; a little too late then, perhaps? A third girl became pregnant a few months later, supposedly by the same father as number two, proving that perhaps one lowly 50 minute session to describe sex and the tornado of topics that come with it just doesn’t quite cut it.
Having had such an unmemorable education on the topic, I was surprised to see a survey by www.babychild.org.uk that shows nearly two thirds of parents asked disagreed with sex education being taught in schools ‘even if it is from a young age’. Their concerns ranged from thinking sex education is ‘inappropriate for children,’ to believing that it might ‘encourage children to ask more about sexuality and sex,’ whilst others feared that ‘sex would be trivialized,’ if taught to younger children in schools.
The first and third seem reasonable enough – if the parents don’t own a television, otherwise the arguments seem somewhat invalid. As for encouraging children to talk more about sexuality and sex, I can only see this as a positive thing. Although it might be uncomfortable, they’re better off learning from elders as opposed to coming to their own scew-whiff conclusions with peers.
Having discussed sex education with friends in the past, I know that several people in my area got the privilege of watching the same video in the last year of primary school. This showed your average 2.4 nuclear family playing volleyball on a beach –naked. The boys were then separated from the girls so we could take part in a taster session about the terrifying fact of life that is the menstrual cycle, while the boys were taken to another classroom and given a brief outline of the topic, chiefly to warn them why there may be some horrified faces back in the classroom.
This week Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, has introduced a bill which would require schools to provide girls of 13-16 with “additional sex education [that] must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity”. Having received 67 votes to 61, it’s doubtful the bill would become legislation, but it seems disturbing that not only has little changed in a decade, where some feel the genders should be separated for different lessons about sex, but moreover that anyone would deem it necessary or appropriate for only the girls to be taught to say ‘no’, let alone 67 MPs.
So, what’s the law on the matter at the moment? As Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls had announced plans to make PSHE compulsory for all pupils from September 2011, but these plans were unsuccessful. At the moment schools must provide Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) for ages 11-14, (although parents can opt out if they choose, so it’s not compulsory), but for 5-11 year-olds schools are only advised to teach the subject.
Interestingly, parents from the survey were also asked ‘Have you already been asked about sex by your children?’ and nearly two thirds answered yes. Half of those admitted their child was aged between four and five when they first asked the question, and a further 36% said they were aged between six and seven when they first asked. Therefore the overwhelming majority of parents asked had been forced to broach the subject with their child before they’d even reached eight – another three years until any form of sexual education is even required to be taught by schools.
Why, if children are aware of the topic from pretty much the time they start school, would the majority of parents think it’s an inappropriate subject to be taught from a young age?
My first memory of the topic in the playground was a rumour going around that a girl had been “fingered” in year five (aged nine-ten) and not long after the expression “blow job” was being thrown around. Myself and (I hope) most of the other children lacked any real idea what these words meant, but these were also the days before the internet. Try a moderately safe search on Google you’ll be inundated with search results.
Despite the number of teenage pregnancies in England and Wales falling by 4% last year, Britain still has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe, and there’s also a disparity between areas, with the North East of England being most affected. There are also a couple of STI statistics that are less than flattering for the UK, including that the number of annual cases of Chlamydia doubled last year, and cases of genital warts increased by almost 30% since 1999. Homophobic crimes were also reported to be on the rise in London a year ago. These are all elements of sex education that aren’t approached early enough, or in the level of detail needed.
There is also the small matter of the law to think about. Hopefully all of us are aware that the legal age of sexual consent is 16, but did you know that ‘sex’ is constituted of penetrative sex, oral sex or masturbating together? Even if two teenagers consent to sex under the age of 16, and the female is 13-15, the male could risk a prison sentence of two years – if the female is under 13, life imprisonment.
‘Sexting’ is another trend to have entered our consciousness in the past few years to coincide with the prolific use of camera phones amongst young people. The act is a serious criminal offence in itself as it is “taking an indecent photograph of a child”, nevermind the act of voyeurism, or “distributing indecent images of children” if the teenager then passes it on.
It’s all very well and good for some parents to feel it’s their place to educate their children about all things sex. But with my generation and others before having been let down by education on the topic it seems unrealistic that we were aware of the facts then, let alone the facts now. It is apparent that we not only need to educate children from a younger age, encompassing all elements of sex that any of us could’ve possibly been inquisitive about, but we could also do with educating some parents of the importance of being able to discuss the topic more openly and why exactly it should be compulsory in schools.Tagged in: homophobia, national curriculum, sex, sex education, sexting, STD, STI, underage sex
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