Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sexual Reeling

After the Department of Education recently announced that children should be taught about sexting, the government has announced that sex and relationships education is to be made compulsory in all schools in England.

All children from the age of four will be taught about safe and healthy relationships, Education Secretary Justine Greening said, as until now, sex education has been compulsory only in council-run schools. Children will also be taught, at an appropriate age, about sex. But parents will still have the right to withdraw their children from these classes.

I don't know entirely where I stand on this one. The idea of children not properly learning about sex and relationships is one that should be avoided. The only way to minimise sexual harassment, abuse and rape in our society will be through education. So it seems that sex education is the best answer. We want to grow into adults who can treat each other with respect, and have a relationship without fear of accidentally abusing a partner or being abused.

Yet, the evidence of the standard of sex education in state schools is gravely unsatisfactory. I can only vouch for experiences of Hampstead's Sex Ed, but different students from varying years have conveyed vastly differing degrees of education. Rather than learning how to put a condom on, or using the pill, or learning who to go to in the case of an STD or an unwanted pregnancy, I was 'taught' about what love was - the most intangible concept I can think of - and graphically what it looked like to have herpes. Other people from other years told me that they had better experiences, some had worse, some had none at all. 

If in just one school different people can have wholly different understandings of sex, then I hate to think of the vast divergence of knowledge that children are leaving school with. Our Sex Ed needs to be standardised and greatly improved. In the new proposals, no mention was made of any new information to be given about abortion, and the system has yet to teach how to be safe in gay relationships. If the whole point of Sex Ed is to make people safer, then because of purely political ideologies swathes of young people may be ill-equipped for a healthy sex life.

Critics of the proposal, such as Christian Concern said "Children need to be protected, and certainly when they're [still at primary school], we need to be guarding their innocence." Because the clergy are so good at doing that.  "We need to be protecting them from things, working with parents to ensure that what they might need to know - which will be different for every child, different in every context across the country - is properly looked at." Bollocks. Every child has the same reproductive organs, most likely the same concerns, and, unless someone finds a new and innovative way of involving the ears, will have sex the same too. The advice should be the same across the board so no one is less equipped with the information and no one is more likely to be taken advantage of.

National co-ordinator of The Safe at School Campaign, run by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "Parents will be absolutely powerless to protect their children from presentations of sexual activity, which we know is part of many sex education teaching resources for primary school children. [...] The state simply cannot safeguard children in the same way that parents can. This proposal is sending a huge message to parents that they are unfit to teach their own children about sex." Absolutely powerless and in complete command of the situation are two very different things. As stated above, parents will still be able to remove their children from Sex Ed classes - a move that further diminishes the principle of all children having equal understanding - in fact, they can pull them out of school entirely if they feel so inclined. When it comes to safeguarding, unless those parents are going to be there in the room when the kid has his or her first awkward fumble in the dark, they're probably going to have to tell the child the exact same stuff as the school. 

The bit that got me was that the government may be "sending a huge message to parents that they are unfit to teach their own children about sex." You don't say. If parents were such perfect humans that they could provide a helpful understanding of sex and relationships without embarrassment to their children then we wouldn't have boys growing up thinking women are objects of pleasure, or rape is acceptable (or, more commonly, acceptable if the two are married) or girls thinking they are only worthy if they are a virgin or that they can't have sex even if they want to, etc. The problem with shrouding sex in religious ideology is that it removes the child's ability to choose the type of life they want to lead.

In short, sex education in schools may not be perfect, in fact it may not be anywhere close to satisfactory, but it is way better than anything else.

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