THE BLOG

We Need to Talk About Sex

02/05/2013 17:34 BST | Updated 02/07/2013 10:12 BST
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Do you remember the time your mum or dad sat you down for a chat about the birds and the bees? Good for them if they did but I bet it was a conversation you were desperate to end. For many parents and children talking about sex is excruciatingly embarrassing and many people simply never take the plunge and leave it to schools to pick up the baton.

Yet this week Ofsted said that many schools are failing to give pupils decent sex and relationships lessons - teaching only the 'mechanics of reproduction' (which makes sex sound like having an MOT) and not the emotional, cultural, social aspects that they so desperately need.

Schools are ideally placed to equip children and young people with knowledge about sex and to open up discussions in class about what is and isn't ok in terms of behaviour - offline or online. And Ofsted's findings come just weeks after teachers called for pupils to be given lessons on the dangers of pornography.

So whose responsibility is it to teach our young people about healthy consensual sex and relationships?

In the past teenagers have often grown up with a mixture of myths about sex and adolescence is still a confusing labyrinth where young people are left to stumble through their first sexual experiences. At best this leaves teenagers dealing with embarrassment and worry. At worst this lack of knowledge can result in unplanned pregnancies, poor sexual health, and a warped view of sexual relationships that can lead to young people being pressured or forced into sexual acts.

The internet age has brought a wealth of information and advice that can be accessed in the privacy of teenage bedrooms and shared at the click of a mouse. But this online library also contains much more highly explicit pornography that all the newsagents in the country once kept on their top shelves, and it is no longer out of reach of curious young minds. Research commissioned by the NSPCC has found that many young people now see pornography as so normal they expect their own relationships to mirror the exaggerated, unrealistic and sometimes extremely disturbing sexual acts depicted online.

It feels like every week in the media parents are urged to check what their children are doing online and install filters to limit access to inappropriate content. However, many adults still feel intimidated by technology and are jaded by their children running cyber rings around them.

The NSPCC recently campaigned for tighter controls of adult material online so that service providers automatically blocked content unless the consumer specifically asked them to unblock it. The government did not go this far in its recommendations but it, and the industry, are at least taking the issue seriously.

I believe it's crucial that children are taught about healthy, caring relationships rather than turning to pornography which can give them a warped and disturbing view of sex. We know that very young children are being influenced by sordid material and have come to accept that sexting is part of normal life. As well as influencing their behaviour this can also put them at increased risk of abuse.

ChildLine is doing the best it can to help educate children through its Schools Service but there is also an important role for parents to play. Even though it might be a difficult subject they should talk to their children to help them stay safe.

So the next time your children ask you what sex is or tell you they have seen something rude online take the opportunity. Sit down and start talking to your children about sex. It's an issue that, however embarrassing, is something society cannot afford to be taught by the school of XXX.com