Sex. Just a word. With a lot attached to it. Has it grabbed your attention? Probably – you’re here. Does it make you feel uncomfortable? That probably depends on lots of things.
Can you remember your first sex ed lesson? Mine was when I was 11, and in year 6. A massive black box-like TV was wheeled in on the trolley, and we were all made to watch a video of a woman giving birth. (do you remember the good ol’ days of having to actually rewind a cassette ?.. seeing it all in reverse first was an experience in itself). The class was then split into girls and boys. Girls were taken outside to sit on the field and taught about periods (all sunshine and rainbows) and I’ve no idea what the boys talked about. We then carried on, the whole subject was a taboo – and apart from boys making jokes in the playground, that was it.
Next we move onto high school, and massive TVs were a thing of the past, however crap sex education was not. All I really remember is in year 9/10, ages 14/15, we got a lesson on the types of protection, abusive relationships, how to put a condom on and what the different types of STIs/STDs looked like. There was a still a HUGE amount of immaturity (kind of expected) and stigma around the subject. I don’t if this is found everywhere, but I know that if a girl already knew/was confident on how to put a condom on she was called a slut and if she didn’t then she was frigid. Contrastingly, if a boy knew how to put one on, he was one of the lads and *sarcastic tone* cleary very experienced – something to be proud of. And if not, they were not one of the lads, and it was something to point and laugh at. If I took anything away from these lessons – it was this horrible stigma and attidue. That is the only thing I really remember. And I think the concept of girls sleeping around being shameful and boys sleeping around being something to show off about, is still quite a dominating attitude. This is something I fundamentally disagree with, but that’s kind of crossing over into gender roles/equality territory – and that’s for another day.
Apart from that, that was it for sex education for me. It was worse than useless, because all I really gained from it was thinking that sexual experiences had the ability to define you – admittedly through little fault of the teacher, she actually did really well in terms of delivering the lesson comfortably and in an age appropiate manner. The general culture of the younger society and sex was the issue – and that’s probably down to a huge number of external influences that aren’t going to change any time soon.
The thing I now look back at and realise is that although the lessons we ‘learnt’ were important – they were tick boxing exercises that were not inclusive or helpful. Putting the greater question of whether sex should be a taboo topic or not aside – a lot of people don’t feel comfortable discussing sex in a classroom environment, as a fact. I think lessons could have been improved by giving out links to reliable websites so that whatever issue we were having we could research ourselves, and talking about things that we might get false impressions about from the media. Also despite what a LOT of teenagers say, there won’t have been just me in that class who’d not had sex by the age of 14, and when people really needed that information further down the line, we didn’t have it or remember it. So what was the point?
At uni I’ve joined a charity/society called Sexpression. Sexpression is where uni students run sex education lessons in local schools and sixth forms. It’s really informal and real, and I really wish I’d have had something like it when I was that age. It addresses topics that school teachers are often reluctant to – such as the reality of porn and body image. For example one of my favourite activities to run is a game where students are given cards with things that are only in porn and things that happen in real life and they have to sort them out. The thing with this is I’ve seen students MIND BLOWN that some of the stuff happening in porn doesn’t happen in real life, and students actually really relieved about it too – and that’s why it’s great. It’s also inclusive, it includes sex ed for all sexualities, and the aim is to talk about sex like it’s the most natural and normal thing – because it is and it shouldn’t be something that people are ashamed to learn about. As long as it’s not harmful and it’s consentual – whatever you want to do or not do is perfectly fine, and anything to do with sex is a personal choice, and one that really shouldn’t be shaped into a ‘norm’ by the education system/society.
Sex is INGRAINED in our lives. We are indirectly exposed to it all the time. Films, the media, adverts, newspapers. The attitude of women being constantly targeted for how they look,dress or behave is everywhere. (Ladies Day at the Grand National for example).
Sex is everywhere – and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But the attitude of ‘LOOK! SEX! but don’t talk about it. it’s bad. protect the children.’ – that’s what’s wrong. Because we’re teaching children/young people that it’s something to be both celebrated and ashamed of, and that leads to poor education, poor sexual health and stigma.
So there’s my rant/thoughts on sex ed, something as you may have guessed, I am pretty passionate about. If you have any thoughts feel free to share them in the comments and if you’re at uni have a look to see if there’s a Sexpression branch because it’s so much fun to get involved with! 🙂