The news last week that Sex Education will not be made compulsory across UK schools surreptitiously blocked by David Cameron and pals, has angered many like myself to say the least. But let's be honest, the announcement only added salt to a wound that has been festering for decades. It's time that we all woke up to the fact that British sex education sucks, and more than that - its damaging our young people, harming our society, and deepening gender inequality in the UK.
Photo credit: flickr.com
Sex, the way we talk about it, think about it and look at it, has fundamentally shape-shifted in the past few decades. Sex education however, is yet to register this. It remains stuck in the twentieth century: an anachronistic, awkward bridge to occasionally be crossed when needs must.
It currently consists of two staple ingredients: birth control and sexually transmitted disease (STDs). Garnished with a generous helping of cringeworthily out of date videos and interactive 'help the teacher put a condom on a banana' activities, I bet you're reddening just reading this as you recall your own experience. I recently discovered my ten year old cousin had watched the same video I'd been shown over ten years ago, and even then it had seen far better days.
Yes, teen pregnancy is a massive issue, as are STDs, but just talking about these is giving only a small piece of the bigger picture. Porn, healthy relationships, sexual pleasure and that most fundamental of c-words, 'consent' are all noticeably absent on the current menu.
Boys aged 12-17 are amongst the biggest consumers of porn, and shockingly according to an NSPCC survey, one in ten 12-13 year old children fear that they are addicted to pornography, whilst many more think watching porn is a 'normal' part of their lives. In spite of this, most curriculums don't even acknowledge it. In doing so, schools essentially deny one of the biggest influences on teenage attitudes towards sex, and miss a crucial opportunity to educate.
Most of the ideas porn propagates about sex to these young consumers are unhealthy and false. Many (not all) porn clips present women as submissive instruments of male pleasure, and immaculate, hairless objects. You don't need an expert to tell you that these ideas are trickling down to gender relations amongst British teenagers.
Rapidly developing technology has witnessed trends in the sharing of explicit photos amongst young people, and other forms of technology facilitated sexual coercion. Its impossible not to see a link between the dramatic rise of online porn, and the sheer lack of any real education on this issue, and this kind of behaviour. How can one shamefully archaic sex education lesson once every five years possibly compete with the porn which is viewed multiple times a day by so many teens.
UN Goodwill Ambassador, Goedele Liekens, in a documentary for Channel Four last year, 'Sex in Class', exposed that current UK sex education curriculums omit any reference to female sexual pleasure, and often use incomplete or incorrect diagrams to show female genital organs. Through ignorance and miseducation, young women are made to feel as though their sexuality is a taboo: embarrassing and even shameful.
And what about consent? Almost a third of girls experience unwanted sexual touching in UK schools, 1 in 3 young women experience sexual bullying in school on a daily basis and according to the World Health Organisation, globally school is the most common setting for sexual harassment and coercion. With consent not even a mandatory part of sex education (where its even taught), are these stats really all that surprising? In March 2015, though the government backed a series of lesson plans under which children would be taught the meaning and importance of consent, ministers did not make them compulsory. The reality is, many schools just won't bother.
Warnings of 'online stranger danger' frequent lessons on personal and social education (PSHE). Whilst I'm not denying this is an issue, I can't help feeling that we're rather missing the point here. Whilst we're busy telling students about the scary people 'out there', real issues of sexual coercion and violations of consent are going on within the walls of our very classrooms. A little ironic don't you think?
In a society so full of mixed messages when it comes to sex, the government are missing out on a golden opportunity to provide objective, supportive education for young adults on sex and go some way towards addressing the glaring gender imbalance in how sex is perceived amongst teenagers. Don't expect parents to go it alone: in the sex-clogged internet age we live in, the birds and the bees just don't cut it.
Sex is not just a biological act as the current curriculum would have you believe, but a crucial part of how men and women relate. By presenting it as such and omitting things like consent, healthy relationships, porn and also LGBTA education, schools send out the message that these are irrelevant. The sexist narratives on PornHub play on without anyone telling young people that this is not reality. Girls are left feeling like their own sexuality is something to be ashamed of, and that they must 'look and behave like a pornstars' as one Childline survey found. As for consent - how many teenagers could actually tell you what that means?
Sexism, misogyny and the physical manifestations of these, are a product of long-developed attitudes. In order to inhibit these at the earliest opportunity, schools, instructed by the government, have to update and adapt when it comes to sex education. If not, the consequences can only be dire.