We need to go all the way with sex education

Share
Related Topics

According to a new report, sex education in Britain is stuck at the holding-hands stage. Despite the naked couplings in TV commercials for Levi jeans and bus-stop hoardings for bol.com, the advice on blowjobs that appears in teen magazines, the frank discussions on Friends about Doing It and the dramatised aftermath of homosexual rape in Hollyoaks; despite the carpet-bombing of our senses with images of sexual abandonment from all sides - when it comes to grappling with the subject in the nation's classrooms, we have barely got its shirt off.

The report, by the Aids Research and Education Trust, and the Schools Health and Education Unit at Exeter University, found that more than half the schools inspected failed to tell their charges the mechanics of sexual intercourse, more than half are still explaining to 14- and 15-year-olds about their equipment, when they are already seasoned practitioners of the blanket hornpipe; and that some schools ignore such basic topics as safe sex, the age of consent or homosexuality.

One fundamental problem, if that's the right phrase, is that schools do not give children the feeling that sex is directly and personally concerned with themselves. They're taught by diagram and picture, by warning and alarm, by prohibition and threat. What they are not taught is: how to say no to sexual overtures from someone, of either sex; how to discourage an importunate partner with tact or humour, so as not to get labelled a prude or a tease; how to talk about sex without dying of embarrassment; how to establish an understanding with your boy or girlfriend so that, the next time everything goes suddenly quiet and intense, you'll trust each other about what happens next; what to do when you realise you finally are (O happy and utterly petrifying day) going to have sex with someone; and how to make sure you get the etiquette right.

I say this with the confidence of the former blank ignoramus. When I was 12, 13 and 14, none of the above advice or information was available. Instead, Father Colliston, a nice Jesuit priest at Wimbledon College, would talk us through body parts and masturbation and wet dreams like a brigadier drilling his troops. It was probably the same boys-are-like- rutting-stags, girls-are-completely-off-limits lecture with which Lord Baden-Powell used to regale the boy scouts in 1906.

Father Colliston had a terrible stammer that could be cured, it seemed, only by rubbing his long perspex ruler very fast across the back of his neck. In mid-discussion of the male erection as representing "Nature's amber light", he would get stuck on "am-" and feverishly abuse his neck until he became, as it were, unstuck. Once he wrote the dread words "glans", "penis", "foreskin" and "testes" on a blackboard - a new kind, that you could pull down like a roller towel. By the time the science master appeared to take the next lesson, the words were out of sight, journeying up the blackboard's occluded back. When they re-appeared, 20 minutes later, in the middle of a chalked exposition of Boyle's Law, the master's eyes bulged. Instead of making a little joke of it, he rubbed the words off as though removing a lump of ordure from his shoes. Had he been in a position to see South Park, he'd have gone "Eeeeeeeuwww".

This was a curious echo of E M Forster's fictional school teacher, at the start of his 1913 homosexual fantasy Maurice, who draws pictures of genitalia in the sand to instruct the boys during a walk, then hurriedly obliterates them when other grown-ups approach. By the time I hit puberty, in the late Sixties, an air of disgust - of sex being a subject beneath serious investigation - still prevailed. Sex was basically "what you didn't do to yourself"; it hadn't yet become "what you don't do to the opposite sex".

But you can't muck about with sex education. Either you tell schoolchildren the lot, or you don't bother. You cannot begin, as my father did with me, by discussing how apples have pips and rabbits have bunnies, then expect the rest to follow by some informational legerdemain. You must tell them from an early age What Goes Where; puberty is the time to tell them what to do with this information, what to do with and about other people. "Sex education is set up to fail if it taught too late," says James Lawrence, director of the Aids Research and Education Trust. "It needs to be comprehensive and age-appropriate, basically going all the way before young people do."

A more personalised way of teaching children about sex shouldn't be just the whim of an enlightened school. Sex education has been compulsory since 1993. Discussions about contraception and oral sex have been the currency of government films and education leaflets since the Aids scare of the late Eighties. "Don't die of ignorance," the flyers used to say. "Don't ruin your life through embarrassment," is what they should be saying now. It will not ruin the life of my eight-year-old son to discover what grown-ups get up to in the sack. The best that can happen is that he may ponder, over the next few years, what it'll be like to be sexually active, how to do it or negotiate around it. The worst that can happen is, he'll go "Eeeeeeuwww..."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Shropsh...

DT Teacher - Food Technology & CACHE

£24000 - £36000 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside  

Autumn’s subtle charm is greatly enhanced by this Indian summer

Michael McCarthy
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits