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Sex on the Syllabus

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Sex sells. It's a plain and simple fact that sales execs have played on for years. Just look at the Diet Coke man, iconic music videos by the likes of Madonna and Miley Cyrus, or the raft of perfume ads tempting our senses - you name it, they've used it. And yet those of us on the health and education side of sex seem to be constantly shying away from it.

In the business of helping people enjoy a healthy sex life, we should be out there talking on a level that resonates with people. Instead we use terms like "family planning" or "sexual and reproductive health" which have absolutely no bearing on teenagers exploring their sexuality or university students and young professionals embracing all life has to offer them.

And it's this younger generation that we're letting down by being prudish.

Just like you and me, they are or may soon be having sex. We - their parents, teachers and health professionals - should be equipping them with the information and contraception they need to enjoy themselves safely.

Is it any wonder that our rates of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy are among the highest in Europe when sex education is still missing from our national curriculum? Or that one in nine sexually active young people has chlamydia, and 22 is the most common age for women seeking an abortion?

What a relief then to see the Liberal Democrats reigniting efforts to drag our shamefully inadequate sex education into the 21st Century. Labour has long campaigned for better sex education, David Cameron supports the sentiment, indeed all the parties appear in favour, so why then has no government yet succeeded?

They're certainly not short of support, the voluntary sector and service providers including, Brook, the FPA, the NSPCC and the Sex Education Forum have long been campaigning for change.

Quietly accepting that sexual activity may start earlier than we'd care to admit, 12-year-old girls have been vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV) since 2008. Indeed, were they to ask for it, they could also access contraception through the NHS.

Why then disrespect their intelligence and individual identities by denying them the information to look after themselves?

Respect for religious differences is often cited as one reason but Marie Stopes International has been proving that assumption wrong for many years. In Afghanistan for example, we have been training Mullahs and their wives to share sexual health information with their communities - one such religious leader is even distributing condoms from his mosque.

In addition to making sex education compulsory for all schools, it has also been suggested that some form of sex and relationship education should be taught to children from the age of seven. As a father of two young girls myself, I understand the hesitancy here but if we don't open the conversation early, our children's sexual compasses risk being set by the internet and online porn.

The reality is that our children are constantly being exposed to images of sex. Research published by the IPPR think tank last week found that eight out of ten 18-year-olds think it's too easy to accidentally view explicit images while surfing the net; whilst 46% said sending sexual or naked videos/photos is part of everyday life for teenagers nowadays.

Let's just admit it: sex is out there and schoolchildren know about it.

Without open conversations however, they will not gain a healthy perspective on sex. We need to destigmatise sex, open the discussions to help young people understand how to look after themselves but more than that: understand that sex can be fun and enjoyable when respect for yourself and the other person is part of the equation.

Delivered carefully, age appropriate sex and relationship education could make all the difference to our children's future health and wellbeing. We have more contraceptive choice than ever before. And thanks to the explosion of social media, an array of ways to connect with young people.

This is the missing piece. Let's get sex education on the syllabus once and for all.

Around the Web

The Sex Education Show - Episode Guide - Channel 4

The Sex Education Show Season 5 Episode 2 - YouTube

Sex and Relationship Education Guidance - Gov.uk

Sex education | Education | The Guardian

BBC News - Sex education should start at seven, Lib Dems say

Sex education should start at seven, Lib Dems say

British sex education: A messy history in ten awkward steps

A growing number of Tories are calling for statutory sex education

Of course seven-year-olds should be taught 'age appropriate' sex education

How teachers could be pressuring teens into having sex