Why has sex education not been overhauled yet?
Jordan looks at the shortcomings of sex education and what could be done to improve it.
Some content in this article may be uncomfortable and/or triggering
My experience of sex education at school was bizarre and that seems to be a common theme. Everything was taught through a song, a strange cartoon, or a game, and the limitations of the content are frankly scary. Excluding putting condoms on phallic objects, and scaremongering about pregnancy and STIs, what did we learn? The answer is practically nothing of value.
Providing a useful and inclusive sex education curriculum would be absolutely invaluable to young people in navigating themselves as well as society in general. Here are a few of my suggestions.
Focusing on women’s health
Surely at the very least the aim of sex education should be to inform teenagers about their bodies, and make them feel comfortable and confident. Teaching from both an androcentric and purely biological “sperm swims to egg” perspective missed out on an important chance to empower young women. For starters, learning about other birth control options rather than just condoms, would equip teenagers to make informed decisions, rather than remaining clueless until they take to the internet or visit one of those secretive sexual health clinics (would be nice to know the services they offer, rather than making them yet another taboo). How about getting in a sexual health professional, in a Jean from Sex Education-esque way? School could’ve helped so much in normalising female pleasure, sexual health struggles, and championing body positivity. Yet with the absence of these things from the curriculum, they continue to remain awkward to talk about in general society.
Teaching outside heteronormative boundaries
As an extension of this, expanding the curriculum beyond the bounds of heteronormativity would have a huge positive impact. The bare minimum would be teaching that there are different sexualities and genders. The idea of “normal” sex and relationships is so damaging, as it doesn’t even acknowledge the diversity of sexual experiences and self identity. Although it is now expected that LGBT content should be taught as part of the Relationship and Sex Education curriculum, it is to be taught ‘at the point which schools consider it appropriate’. A truly inclusive curriculum should teach about same-sex sexual behaviour; correct use of pronouns; all the labels for sexuality, sex and gender, but also that you don’t need to use any of them. It should be so much more than an uncomfortable video of a cartoon man and woman having sex.
Child pornography and the internet
Rather than being something that wasn’t covered enough in my curriculum, this was covered but in completely the wrong way. There was an incident at my school of someone sending sexual photographs and them being shown around, and the girl in question was shamed in front of the whole school in assembly, in hopes to teach us about the dangers of sending explicit pictures and messages. The person who had actually shared these pictures was never criticised in the same way. Covering the laws relating to child pornography and revenge porn etc, would be a really useful lesson for young people in the digital age.
There needs to be so much more emphasis on consent. I hardly remember learning about it, which absolutely baffles me. The implications of this are obvious, and it’s hardly surprising that effective sex education makes it more likely for young people’s first sexual experience to be consensual. In a world where victim-blaming is still rife, a real focus on consent would help to eradicate this harmful culture. How can something so vital have been glossed over?
My sex education was bad, and some people’s was worse. Despite recent efforts to reform, there is still so much missed opportunity. Yes, teaching teenagers about sex is going to be a bit awkward, but providing them with real advice and information would be invaluable. Young people are the future, and an in depth and inclusive sex education would help them shape the world into a safer and more accepting place.