For a while I have wondered why if the sex education system in the UK is relatively good (compared to some) we have so many teenage pregnancies. I’ve always assumed that these kids just haven’t bothered to use any form of protection, rather than simply not knowing enough about it to help.
Personally, I’ve never felt inadequately prepared after sex education. Perhaps this is because I was a bit of a geek and liked to actually listen to authority figures when they spoke, perhaps it’s because I started thinking about it from a youngish age or perhaps it’s because I had the helpful insights of ‘The Period Book’ to introduce me to puberty and all its joys.
Memories of my sex-ed experience include when we got to chapter 7 (Reproduction!) in the science textbooks we were allowed to move from our boy-girl seating plan and sit where-ever we liked(!) which I’m sure was more interesting than the anatomy of a penis/vagina. I remember the school nurse telling us about how the ‘clinic in town did some lovely passion-fruit flavoured condoms’ and everyone thinking “EWEWEWEWEW!” at the thought of our slightly overweight middle-aged nurse STILL HAVING SEX. I have a horribly accurate memory of being in college studying reproduction/fertility and having to watch that video where someone thought it would be a good idea to put a camera on some poor woman’s cervix and film her being ejaculated into by, what was at the time, a giant wide-screen penis. This definitely just felt like far too much information. Especially when it also went on to show the same woman giving birth in graphic detail too. I feel so sorry for that kid-teenagers across the country have watched their conception/birth whilst squirming in their seats and trying not to look.
However, I digress. The sex-ed I got at school certainly gave me enough information to choose what I would like to happen to my own body when I needed contraception myself. I knew the different choices and that some suited other people better than others and, possibly more importantly, that I would never feel safe having sex with only a condom between me and an unwanted pregnancy. Now, of course, I am a lot more clued up, but I did OK then too.
Having talked to friends and read a couple of blogs on the subject (over at the Vagenda) it seems that this is not the case with everyone. Friends who went to more religious schools than mine were basically taught not to have sex rather than how to protect themselves. Another friend said “If you hadn’t got pregnant by year 8/9 in my school you were in the minority.” This is clearly a MASSIVE FAILING. (And more worryingly still is-1 in 4 pupils apparently still receive little to no sex ed at all.) The way people view it also needs to be changed-it’s not stripping kids of their innocence and it’s not more likely to make them go out and start having sex with everything. Even if it does, they would do so armed with greater knowledge about contraception and keeping themselves safe, how can this be a bad thing?
Kids need an open and frank discussion about sex because they’re so curious and there’s not a lot of places they can get answers from that aren’t going to potentially do them harm. Kids need to be taught more than just the ins and outs of sex too. They need to be taught that straight, gay, bisexual and transgendered people are all normal, plus all the other inbetweens. They need to know that there is a whole spectrum of relationships they can have and that not all of them boil down to which part goes in who and where. They need to be encouraged to explore the emotions surrounding sex-they need to be told that sex and love often get tangled up in complicated ways (and that’s fine!) but that sex doesn’t always equal love.
They need to be shown that it’s not about gaining notches in the bedpost but a shared experience between two consenting people that they should only enter into when their emotions are ready as well as their bodies. They need to be told that wanking won’t make you go blind and yes, girls can get in on the action too. The need to know that they shouldn’t have a baby without being emotionally, financially and physically ready for it, and that if they’re not any of those things they should be given advice on abortion and why it doesn’t make you a murderer or any less of a person if that’s your decision. They should be told that if you choose to sleep with lots of people it doesn’t make you a “slag” or a “stud” and that everyone’s sexual experiences are different and that is definitely OK. And they should be given details on all types of contraception as a mandatory thing. These kids can be in charge of their own futures but only if they’re given all the information to begin with.
It’s obvious kids need more information to get a proper handle on the big issues of SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS and it’s obvious that not many people who are in charge seem to care about this. Television shows like Channel 4′s The Sex Education Show have been trying to make people more aware about these issues and it’s a start, albeit a slow one. I’ve signed this petition because I think every little bit helps.
Let’s encourage our kids to grow up to enjoy sex, but enjoy it responsibly with a full grasp of all the things they need to know about it first.
It’s time to stand up for Sex Education, who’s with me?
Jenni (@circlethinker) is a science geek, a theatre aficionado (both on and off the stage), and a big fan of socks. She’s in her early twenties and recently finished up a Biomedical Science degree at Sheffield. Jenni has a lovely blog over here (where this post first appeared) and you can find her on Twitter right here.