Ellie Levenson: Sex education? Don't expect it from teachers

I was determined to lose my virginity just as soon as I could, though it took me a while

Share
Related Topics

The NSPCC, which runs the Childline helpline for children to ring with their problems, has said that nearly 50 children a day call its helpline because they feel under pressure to have sex, and has called for schools to teach the emotional side of sex alongside the biological facts.

I'm not sure that I would have been happy being taught about emotions by my teachers. I am friends with several teachers and their love lives are just as complex and emotional as anyone else's. In fact, one of my former teachers told me recently that my school offered its staff a particularly good social life, and that teachers who spent their spare time coupling up then compared notes in the staff room.

I used to joke that from all the lessons I had at school, I could only really remember acquiring two pieces of knowledge from teachers that have stuck with me. First was that pyramids are strong structures, so if someone is pushing you over you should try to place your legs shoulder width apart and make a human shaped pyramid. Second was Brownian motion which explains, amongst other things, how the smell of farts move across the room. Neither of these have saved me from any heartbreak, but both have proved useful in other ways.

But somehow we expect teachers to know the answers to all of life's problems, and to teach it in a way that will stick with us throughout our lives. I teach journalism to adults a couple of days a week at one of the University of London colleges and also have a pastoral role as a personal tutor. Sometimes students come to me with problems unconnected to their studies. They seem to think that as a teacher I may have some kind of superior knowledge about life lessons. I've lost count of the number of times in the past that they have come to me to say they were having trouble concentrating because of problems with their boyfriend or girlfriend. "Me too," I would want to say, biting my lip instead and passing them over a box of tissues.

But even if I was vested with the kind of knowledge that could help them avoid this kind of upset, I'm not sure I should be passing it on. For although it involves a lot of heartbreak, one of the joys of relationships is that you learn your own lessons and you do so the hard way. Going out with the person with rugged good looks and a motorbike but who has a reputation as a bounder and a cad – yes of course it will end in tears, but would you ever want to be denied the opportunity to find that out for yourself? Watching your phone, having given someone your number? A teacher may be able to warn their charges that it never will ring but would you ever listen? Nor should we. If we listened to people who told us someone was a no good 'un or that it would all end in tears, our lives and experiences would be far less rich. Some things you just have to find out for yourself.

There is a tendency when journalists write about young people having sex to let rip with a torrent of moral outrage and to assume they are being pressured into it. But one thing we adults often forget to attribute to children is that sometimes when they say yes, they mean yes. The children ringing Childline may feel pressurised when it comes to sex but there are plenty of teenagers having consensual sex and yes, enjoying it. In fact the only pressure I ever had as a teenager about sex was from myself, determined to lose my virginity just as soon as I could, though admittedly it took me rather a long time to find someone to do this with.

The fact is that the age of consent is a pretty arbitrary age, chosen because any later and it would be meaningless as young people become sexually mature and choose to flout the rules. Already it does a disservice to those who become sexually mature at a younger age and, in acting on their urges, end up breaking the law. And while I do of course have a problem with much older people taking advantage of young people, I am not concerned with whether they have sex or not when exploring their natural desires with people of a similar age. I know people who lost their virginity aged 14, and I know people who lost it well into their twenties and there is no correlation between length of time waited and whether you have a stable emotional and sexual life as an adult.

So sorry to the NSPCC but I'd rather schools stuck to teaching facts rather than emotions. If children are armed with biological facts about how things work, access to contraception, confidence to say no when they want to and knowledge about rectifying mistakes when they do happen, such as how to access emergency contraception, the emotions can be learnt as they go along.

ellie@levenson.net

React Now

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

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The woman featured in the Better Together campaign's latest video  

Tea and no sympathy: The 'Better Together' campaign's mistake is to assume it knows how women think

Jane Merrick
On alert: Security cordons around Cardiff Castle ahead of this week’s Nato summit  

Ukraine crisis: Nato is at a crossroads. Where does it go from here?

Richard Shirreff
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution