"He asked me if I wanted to suck his c***," she said. She is 11. So is he.
They are in year 7, in science class, discussing oral sex.
Did I hear this language being used at that age? My automatic reaction is no, but this is probably due to the thought of 11-year-olds discussing such sexualised topics. We have no control about what young children talk about with each other, over text or online, however much we like to think it is innocent.
The sexualisation of culture has become a major focus in the last decade. This phrase captures the growing sense that Western societies have become saturated by sexual representations. This year, David Cameron backed plans to protect children from advertising marketing and media content that exposes them to sexual images/language or excessive pressure to consume. But where has the benchmark shifted from innocence to sex?
When children are exposed to language and topics that are indecent, they experiment with the meaning. They don't fully understand the concepts, but they use them as an attention-seeking gimmick. Children use sexualised phrasing and appear 'confident' to cover up a lack of confidence in that area. But embarrassed or shocked reactions to these words are likely to spur them on to do it again, and enjoy the danger of this language.
Kids are exposed to sex education in year five or six, learning about the scientific nature of the act. Lessons focus on jargon and the description of birth process. No part of sex education gives rise to such promiscuous language.
The NSPCC did a qualitative study of children in the phenomenon of verbal sexualisation through 'sexting', a form of communication that adults have little control over. Kids are receiving their first phones at younger ages, giving them a sense of privacy at around 10 or 11. The report, published this year, showed that 'verbal requests for sex acts' were among the communication between young people. Girls were reported to have been 'annoyed and mystified' by boy's requests. But with increasing peer pressure around them, they cover up their lack of knowledge of the terms by simply agreeing or carrying on the conversation.
Girls don't want to be ridiculed, so they play along. The report's findings, 'damned if you do, damned if you don't', showed that just 'saying no' or ignoring these comments, can sometimes become more complicated causing the pressures to intensify.
As a guide, the NSPCC produced facts on the appropriate sexual behaviour of children. They say that it is between the ages of 13 and 16 that children should begin to use sexual language with peers - and yet it is increasingly happening earlier.
Arguably, their increased use of available technology can contribute to a widening perception of adult life. We cannot control what every child sees on the internet, however much we try. Children readily have access to the meaning of words they hear at school, to sites such as 'urban dictionary' which expose gruesome terms and the ability to surf sexual-related topics online. They know how to search stuff. They know how to use Google. They can find out what they want about a topic by simply typing it into the search engine. Is it funny to use this word at school? Will it gain them popularity?
Possibly the main driving force for such language between children, is that sex, and sex at a young age, has become more socially acceptable. Twenty years ago, it wasn't acceptable to be a teen mum, or to discuss oral sex in a crude way at the age of 11. But by becoming more pervasive, and less shocking, it is accepted as a way of life. Is this a gateway for children to see it is as acceptable to engage in conversation about them? Children explore, discuss, and engage in sexual conversation 'acceptably' at an earlier age than they did ten years ago.
I'm trying to think what else society is doing to tolerate such sexual language at a young age. Arguably, the increased numbers in teen pregnancy has given society a reason to expose children to sex at a young age. With an intention to crack down and 'stop' teen pregnancy, they are also exposing children who would not engage in these acts, to the nature of it. This post comes at a time when we hear about 13-year-old girls being given the birth-control jab or had contraceptive implants inserted at school without their parent's consent. A survey by The Telegraph revealed that school nurses have given implants or jabs to over 900 13-16 year olds. A further 7,400 girls have been given contraception at family planning clinics. By giving children contraception at such a young age, they are likely to question this. Why do I need it? What is sex? What do I get from it? Can I do it now?
I go back to the 11 year old being asked to suck her friend's c***. She probably hasn't heard this phrase before, but she won't want to appear embarrassed. She's likely to laugh it off instead of ignoring him. She doesn't want to appear 'uncool'. She might discuss it with her friends. And there, is the verbal sexualisation of an 11-year-old.