In the UK, before the age of 11 there’s no legal obligation to teach sex education in the classroom*, and from my own experience it doesn’t improve afterwards. My primary school was unique in that we actually did have a few sex education classes in year six. Personally I think they get it wrong right from the moment they separate the girls and the boys. At our school, after a standard lesson on how babies were made and what to expect from puberty, they took the boys out for a game of bulldog on the field, and kept the girls behind to talk about periods. Why weren’t the boys involved in that discussion too? Just because they don’t experience it, doesn’t mean it’s not relevant to them. It may even help them be less awkward about it in later life. Recently my brother brought one of those hotel sanitary bags out from the bathroom and asked me what they were used for. He went red and refused to make eye contact with me for a good 30 minutes after I told him they were used to expose of tampons/sanitary towels. Is it really that gross or unspeakable?
The education we received in secondary school wasn’t much better. I remember being shown a power point with a collection of STIs displayed on each slide. The whole class laughed and it was all good fun at the time, but in hindsight the education itself was terrible. To me they prioritised the wrong things. Surely it’s obvious that if your vagina is green and smells like a raccoon, you should probably get it checked out at the doctors. (not a phrase I’d planned on writing today but we’ll I’ll run with it) You know your own genitals, right? It’s great to understand what gonorrhea looks like; but I think that sex education needs to go much deeper. Healthy sexual relationships, contraception, body image, consent – none of this was covered.
They recently tried running a few consent classes at the University of York*, and a few groups walked out in protest. They said it was patronising to sit in a room and be told what rape is and what it isn’t. For most people it might be, because consent is a simple concept. But clearly a lot of people aren’t getting it. I don’t think the concept of classes on consent is bad enough to walk out on. We’re not all raised in the same way, and what is clear-cut to some will not be for others – it’s better to have these conversations face-to-face and make sure everyone is on the same page. Even if it made one person think ‘well, maybe if they’re really really drunk we shouldn’t be having sex’ or ‘maybe if they’re not really into it, I shouldn’t keep going and try to change their mind‘ – even if it made one person think about it a bit more, then it’s made a difference, right? I just think it’s too little too late at 18+ – those classes wouldn’t need to exist if these conversations were being had in schools throughout childhood.
They never covered anything about pornography at school either. I think they should if the content of pornography is going to become more and more unrealistic. My attitude is that if you’re two consenting adults and you’re into something, then that’s none of my business. No matter what that might be. Whip out the butt plugs and knock yourselves out, as far as I’m concerned. But there’s a clear difference between that and the more insidious material you can just as easily be exposed to; including rape, incest and child porn. (Here’s some advice kids: don’t search for “horse riding” on tumblr. Take it from me, it’s not the sort of horse riding you’re looking for.) What happens when you raise a generation of kids on some of the most violent porn we’ve ever had, but simultaneously fail to provide them with an opportunity to discuss healthy relationships in a safe, non-judgmental environment? I feel like if I was a mother I would be concerned about this – especially if I had a daughter and she watched something awful and thought that was how she had to behave if she wanted a boy to like her.
Unfortunately I think we’ll soon find out, the average age that kids are exposed to internet pornography is now eleven.* What impact porn is actually having on the population is hotly debated, but a clear sex education syllabus that didn’t make any assumptions would clear a lot of confusion up.
*03/03/2017 Sex education will be made compulsory in all schools in England, and will be taught from the age of four. This is good step; however it is a shame that parents still have the right to remove their kids. I suppose it’s their decision, but it’s shit to deny your kids basic information about how their bodies work. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39116783