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

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

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions