'You're so gay' used to be the worst thing to be called. Thankfully, a lot has changed since I was a kid at school. The acceptance of the gay community has greatly improved but using 'gay' as a slagging for someone still persists. Recently, I got asked if I was gay by a few different people and it got me thinking.
In the past, being called gay or having my sexuality as a straight man questioned would provoke me to be hostile, in a similar way you might for most things you would be wrongly asked or accused of. No-one likes to be called something they are not, and having an adverse reaction to being called gay isn't necessarily homophobic. But, without a proper education structure that teaches about sexuality in school, it is easy to not understand the LGBT community and therefore have misconceptions that lead to stigmas and stereotypes that are untrue, and often harmful. It is easy to see why there still is homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in British society, and although thankfully not ubiquitous, is still present when so much uncertainty still surrounds the topics. It is might actually be unfair for us to expect someone to be completely tolerant of something they are not ever properly taught about; it is a very common default for many humans as we can see with history of the treatment of Native Americans, travellers and mental health, as a few examples from the many.
Of course in modern society it is easy to find information and this should not be an excuse. Yet not all of us have access to the internet, nor do many young people even attend school as much as they should. The ignorance of the government, however, not to include significant cultural issues that face young people, students, adults, all of us on a daily basis, is disgraceful. The past Education Acts are so focussed on subjects that lead to only certain career paths. Not that mathematics is not important, but if all you have is algebra and reading old books such as Wuthering Heights for English lessons, then it is no wonder that young people are left disenchanted in the same way that politics is heading. We need to engage children in more than just learning for exams, but for life. School is so important and by not having robust and comprehensive personal, social and health education as part of the curriculum for all schools, this problem is likely to persist.
Sex and relationship education is not compulsory for all schools, nor is it required to be of a set standard. For England and Wales, Ofsted found the level of sex education to be patchy, and in Scotland it is up to the school to try and fit it in somewhere. This often leads to lessons geared towards sex being scary: only for creating babies, that STIs are a normal part of being young and abortion is a procedure that is basically a form of contraception - not including the emotional impacts of everything. Porn culture is a phrase now used to instil fear in the middle classes rather than saying the simple message in schools that porn does not reflect real sex in many ways. This may seem obvious to many reading this, and that's great, but being a teenager is hard enough without not knowing what sex really is, not feeling your body is how it should be with such media pressure these days; the list goes on.
There are so many articles about sex, relationships and porn in the media, on the internet, magazines and talked about as a general conversation. Yet why are we not talking about it in schools? The evidence is there to show that sex education definitely does benefit children to give age-appropriate information to prepare them for puberty changes, for how to have safe sex and how to respect women. Without this, we will keep having a higher abortion rate than most of Western Europe, partly because women choose less effective contraception methods such as the oral pill rather than long term reversible methods such as the implant in the arm and the intrauterine device. This is a cultural response to a lack of information in a similar way that people often don't know what counts as consent to sexual activity or touching. The Everyday Sexism Project shouts loudly about how ubiquitous sexual harassment is in Britain, yet we ignore the methods of how to lessen the effects. Sex education isn't going to instantly solve all the issues it would set out to tackle, in the same way laws against crime don't stop them all occurring but is still an effective method that must be instigated.
Now for some facts from the UK as opinion needs to be backed by them if I'm to convince you:
- 24% of schools had no sex and relationship education (SRE) trained staff in Scotland, and in 52% of schools the staff currently responsible for SRE delivery were not trained
- Less than 5% - 13/299 primary schools did not formally offer SRE when it should be 100% coverage across Scotland;
- Denominational schools predominantly expressed views that contraception should not be discussed even if raised by pupils (76%), and 70.6% were unwilling to discuss STIs
- When prompted, the children could remember other aspects of SRE, such as health promotion and anti-bullying events, but had little understanding of the role of the informal curriculum in developing positive relationships
- Case studies show that schools' initial fears about parental complaint went unrealised
- Evaluations of comprehensive sex education and HIV/ STI prevention programs show that they do not increase rates of sexual initiation, do not lower the age at which youth initiate sex, and do not increase the frequency of sex or the number of sex partners among sexually active youth
- Abstinence-only programmes just don't work
- More than half (53%) of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people are never taught anything about lesbian, gay and bisexual issues at school
- In a ChildLine survey of 13 to 18-year-olds, 60% said they had been asked for a sexual image or video of themselves
- One in three 16 to 18-year-old girls experience unwanted sexual touching/'groping' at school
- In a NSPCC study, one in three girls and 16 percent of boys reported that they had experienced sexual violence from a partner
- A 2013 NAHT survey found that 88% of the parents of school-aged pupils want SRE to be taught in all schools
- 83% of the parents of secondary aged pupils want to see issues around pornography addressed in school SRE (NAHT 2013)
The education system needs to change to include sex education. There is a petition aiming to do that in Scotland and hopefully it will be passed to be an example to England, Wales and Northern Ireland that they should follow suit. The good thing is anyone can sign it so please do support it.