STYLE

Why Are We So Uptight About Sex Education In Schools?

10/03/2011 18:20 | Updated 22 May 2015

Try as I might, I've never been able to forget the sex education I received at school.

At the age of twelve, all the girls were ushered into the hall where we were told all about periods and shown how to attach a brick-sized sanitary towel to a belt. It was embarrassing, hilarious and much too late – at least half of us were already having regular visits from Auntie Flo.

The following week, a red-faced teacher showed us how to put a condom onto a banana and then we were led into a darkened room and made to watch a horribly gory childbirth video. One of the boys passed out and a couple of the girls were sick.

And that was that.

Around the same time, a girl in my year took a few months off to have a baby. A couple of my friends had pregnancy scares and another described an incident that sounded suspiciously like rape.

Unlike most of my friends, I'd already had some sex education at home. My teenage cousin explained all the horrifying basics when I was nine, and my mum bought me a book called 'Where did I come from?' which contained the immortal words, "Making love is like skipping: it's fun but you can't do it all the time."

Twenty five years on, the fact remains that not all parents can face the embarrassment of teaching their kids about sex – and many believe that the best way to protect their children and preserve their innocence is to keep them in the dark for as long as possible.

So I wasn't surprised by the outrage provoked by the release of new sex education teaching materials in the form of cartoons, films and books, which have been cleared for use in primary schools.

The material, which is aimed at children aged five to eleven, covers everything from the basic mechanics of sex, to erections and masturbation, sexual positions, oral sex, anal sex and prostitution.

Obviously, the more detailed and explicit material is aimed at older children, and the rest has a recommended age of seven-plus. Schools can choose to use it at their own discretion – or ignore it altogether.

Predictably, family campaigners and Christian groups are up in arms, but is it really such a bad thing to teach children about sex?

At present, it's only compulsory to teach children about basic reproduction in secondary school science lessons. And although many schools do teach sex education, parents can choose to withdraw their children from these lessons.

But that's probably not a good idea, considering that we still have the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe. According to the Office for National Statistics, 41,325 girls under 18 in England and Wales became pregnant in 2008 – and 7,577 of these were under 16.

These figures indicate that teenagers are having sex, often without understanding the risks or using adequate contraception. So isn't it our duty to educate them how to do it safely?

Most parents are well aware that children become curious about their bodies long before they start school – and many start asking where babies come from at a very early age.

While it's perfectly reasonable to tell a three year old that mummies and daddies make babies together when they have a 'special cuddle', there comes a time when they want – and deserve – more information.

I wouldn't have a problem with my almost five-year-old daughter being taught about sex at school because I've already discovered that answering questions in a matter-of-fact way is the best way to tackle sex education.

And to the parents who worry that pre-teens don't need to know about prostitution or anal sex, well there's every chance they'll learn all that and more via Google. At least if a teacher is giving them the facts they're more likely to understand what makes a healthy, consensual relationship than they would if all their knowledge comes from internet porn.

Last year, an Ofsted report found that lessons about sex, relationships and health were not good enough in a quarter of schools, often as a result of teacher embarrassment or lack of knowledge.

So surely we should be pleased that new teaching materials ensure that children are getting age-appropriate information that's delivered in a way that can understand.

Because if we wait too long to teach them what they need to know, then there's every chance we'll be leaving it too late – and our children will be left to live with the consequences.

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