Textbook lessons take joy out of sex

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The Independent Online
SEX EDUCATION textbooks for teenagers are sexist and boring, according to research by an academic who is also an Anglican vicar.

The writers are more interested in men's sexual organs than women's, give the impression that women are to blame for unwanted babies and neglect to mention that women have orgasms.

They also suggest that sex is a dull business conducted only in the missionary position.

The research, in a paper to be delivered next week at the British Educational Research Association annual conference, examined 15 standard sex education text books for 14 to 16-year-olds.

The Rev Dr Michael Reiss, a reader in education and bioethics at Homerton College, Cambridge, found that 10 of the 15 books made no reference to the clitoris.

Even when the clitoris is mentioned, says Dr Reiss, it is sometimes belittled, for example: "The clitoris is the female's equivalent of the penis."

And in the chapters on sexual intercourse, female orgasm is conspicuous mainly by its absence. While ejaculation is mentioned in 12 of the 15 books, female orgasm features in just five.

Sections on contraception are little better because they give the impression that it is mainly the responsibility of women. Under the heading "unwanted babies" one suggests: "Many of the unwanted pregnancies happen to girls and young women because either they have been given wrong advice or have ignored sound advice."

Descriptions of intercourse show women as "passive (supine) receptacles into which sperm are deposited". Seven of the 15 show diagrams of sexual intercourse with the man on top of the female in the missionary position.

The authors retreat into precise anatomical descriptions: The researchers say: "Some of the accounts managed to make the whole undertaking sound boring, or at any rate devoid of all passion or excitement."

According to Dr Reiss, the books' sins are mostly those of omission. He criticises the authors for avoiding tricky issues such as homosexuality and masturbation. Twelve of the 15 books do not refer to homosexuality. Dr Reiss attacks those that do for giving the impression that "homosexuality is a sort of second-best option which the reader may well grow out of".

For instance: "It is usual to feel attracted to people of the opposite sex. But during their teenage years people quite often have romantic feelings for someone of their own sex...it is a stage that will usually pass."

Masturbation is discussed in only two of the books. Dr Reiss says: "While it may be difficult to write about masturbation, it is probably easier than talking about it, which suggests that careful writing in this area could do a significant amount of good."

He argues that, while nobody is expecting teenage sex books "to provide a second-wave feminist critique of sexual relationships", they should help young people through their adolescent years.