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

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job:TEACHERS REQUIREDWe are...

Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistant ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Hislop the Younger, by-election polling and all about the olden days

John Rentoul
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to 'adapt and survive'

Nigel Edwards
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?