THE BLOG

This Valentine's Day, It's Time To Tackle Unrealistic Depictions Of Sex And Relationships

10/02/2017 09:18 GMT | Updated 10/02/2017 09:18 GMT

In a few days time, millions of people will give and receive cards for Valentine's Day.

Couples across the world will lavish each other with candle-lit dinners, fluffy teddy bears and fancy chocolates. The flurry of Facebook and Instagram posts from other people's perfect Valentine's Days will be relentless.

Millions of others, meanwhile, will feel alienated and alone, perhaps because their own realities of sex and relationships don't match this hyper-romanticised version that becomes inescapable at this time of year.

If you're single, in a bad place in your relationship or if you're struggling with your sexuality or self-esteem, Valentine's Day can be a hazardous time, heightening feelings of pressure and anxiety.

But for young people in particular, this is not just a problem in February; the effects of unrealistic expectations of sex and relationships are year-round, and will last long into adulthood.

terrence higgins trust

Because while children and teenagers are saturated with augmented, filtered depictions of 'perfect' relationships and sex from all angles - social media, romantic movies, pornography, you name it - they are still missing out on the very basic understanding of what a real, healthy, consensual relationship and sex life looks like.

Why? Because, somehow, Sex and Relationships Education still does not have compulsory status in every school.

It's hard to fathom that it's 2017, and Sex Education is still being brushed under the carpet by our government. We're still hearing those classic moral panics about schools 'promoting' homosexuality or underage sex as excuses not to make it mandatory in every school.

But this isn't about promoting one agenda over another. It's so much more important than that - it's about basic safeguarding for children and teenagers. Something we should all be on board with.

Currently SRE is only mandatory in council-maintained secondary schools and even then, it is only covering the biological basics of heterosexual sex, periods and reproduction. It doesn't even come close to meeting the needs of a young person growing up in this new world of sexting and cyber-bullying.

Sex, sexuality and relationships are a core part of life, and how young people deal with them will play a fundamental role in their mental health, safety and happiness. We need trained, trusted professionals to help prepare them for this, from a young age.

Some people will say, 'Why do you need to teach this stuff? We've all got on perfectly well without it.' Except we haven't, have we? Generation after generation, we have struggled to eradicate abuse scandals, homophobia, rape culture, mental health problems, STIs or the HIV epidemic.

We can do better for young people growing up today, and tomorrow - we must.

We need to prepare them for the realities of sex and relationships in 2017. We need to acknowledge LGBT relationships in SRE, so that we can stamp out homophobia and teach young LGBT people that they're valid. We need to talk to young people about HIV and STIs, and give them the skills to negotiate condom use even in difficult situations. And we need to teach them that sex should be pleasurable and consensual, so they can identify when abuse is happening.

The only way this will happen is if the government listens to the never-ending roll-call of experts, professional bodies, charities, parents, students and teachers who are calling for SRE to be made mandatory.

A handful of MPs badly let down young people a few weeks ago when they voted against an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill that would introduce statutory SRE.

Thankfully they have another chance, probably their last for the foreseeable future - MPs can vote again when the Bill gets to report stage this month. If they catch up with the rest of society, and put the needs of children and teenagers above any other agenda, we could soon be on the brink of having mandatory SRE, at last.

But how many healthy, loving relationships will never even begin, if MPs continue to wilfully ignore the need for compulsory SRE?

terrence higgins trust

Here at Terrence Higgins Trust, we're not leaving it to chance. We're urging everyone to write a Valentine's card to their MP this week, asking them to vote in favour of mandatory SRE as the Bill goes through Parliament.

Hundreds of passionate LGBT students have already joined in thanks to the incredible support of National Student Pride and the NUS LGBT campaign. We need to mobilise.

So, as Valentine's approaches, I'm thinking about the millions of handwritten cards that will be left on people's pillows, piled into Royal Mail vans and posted through letterboxes in the coming days.

And I'm wondering if all those millions of people took the time to write a Valentine's Day card that really means something - asking their MP to support mandatory SRE - we might just change the lives and future relationships of young people, for generations to come.

That, for me, is the best gesture of love you could make this Valentine's Day.

Send your MP a Valentine's Day card asking for compulsory SRE at www.tht.org.uk/endthesilence