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If you’re home schooling your children this summer, you can’t just forget about sex education

It’s easy to shirk the responsibility, but these are important conversations to be holding at home – because, right now, they’re not happening anywhere else

Lucy Whitehouse
Monday 06 April 2020 11:43 BST
Sex education to be made compulsory in all schools in England

With Britain’s families suddenly stuck in household lockdowns that span generations, one silver lining is that some of us are able to use the opportunity to enjoy unprecedented amounts of family fun. Cheerful gangs of relatives are getting up to mischievous raw egg japes and Les Mis-style singalongs. It’s all good wholesome intergenerational bonding.

But if you find yourself struggling for a family friendly activity to fill some of the hours, how about having some conversations about sex?

Hear me out.

In the most normal of times, we know that sex education – open and relaxed conversations about intimacy, wellbeing and identity – is something that we’d ideally weave into the fabric of family life. The safety and wellbeing of young people depend on it, and the landscape they’re facing today, from sexting, to porn, to living social lives online, includes unprecedented challenges.

But it’s not just newfangled tech-related challenges facing young people today. Lack of information goes all the way back to basics. Period education campaign Betty for Schools says that nearly half of girls don’t know what’s happening when they first start their period (I know, it’s shocking), and a recent YouGov survey found that a fifth of parents don’t speak to their daughters about their body parts – with just a measly 1 per cent using the anatomically correct word “vulva”. Probably because they never had anyone use the word around them when they were young either.

In the absence of these conversations, young people, of course, turn to the internet to find answers to their questions. A recent BBFC survey found that young people feel that sex education does not prepare them for sex, and instead they use pornography to learn “what to do”. Say what you want about porn, but we can all agree it probably isn’t the best model for happy and healthy intimacy.

We need to be having these kinds of conversations at home. But generally, we don’t.

It’s awkward, it’s tricky, and aside from anything else, to do it properly takes time. We tend to think it’s mostly covered by the school curriculum anyway. Only now, with schools likely closed until September at the earliest, it isn’t.

So one potential upside to being stuck in lockdown with our children is that it gives us that time to have those conversations. It’s a fantastic, if unexpected, opportunity to start doing sex education properly.

Of course, I don’t mean this to add any extra stress onto the plate of parents and caregivers already run ragged with work and homeschooling and keeping the household not only running, but also sanitised to the hilt. You are champions and you’re doing so much already. But for those families who do find themselves with a bit more time on their hands at the moment, your conversations will have the chance to go above and beyond the basic chat about the birds and bees.

Even if you’d decided to take the plunge, it’s not easy to know where to start. Honestly, it might be the first time more than one reader of this piece has heard the term “vulva” used at all. So here are my tips to give you a hand.

Use resources

Fumble is a great place to start. It’s digital media platform established by a charity for young people to learn about sex, sexual health, their bodies, relationships, friendships, mental health, and sexuality. I’m one of its founders, so that’s my “sexpertise”. Check out our articles, which are fun, diverse, and inclusive, and our Instagram can also be a pressure-free place to start.

Outspoken, aimed at parents, also has ready-made 15-40 minute lesson plans on “everything from body image to porn, designed to be delivered at home with minimal cringing.” These are segmented by age, and available on their homepage.

Sexplain, a non-profit that delivers sex ed workshops, has been working with Anglia Ruskin University to create online learning resources due to launch in the coming week; bookmark this page. These will pick out key relationships and sex education (RSE) talking points from various Netflix shows (kicking off with the always excellent Sex Education).

Decolonising Contraception, a community-based organisation created by and for people of colour, covers everything to do with sexual health, and are delivering weekly free talks during the ongoing upheaval (donations invited).

For mental health advice and information, head to YoungMinds, whose page dedicated to how young people are experiencing the pandemic is particularly helpful right now, and for questions around positive masculinity, try the Good Lad Initiative. Start with their “Boys won’t be boys” Ted Talk, and on the same lines, check out Sexplain facilitator Nathaniel Cole talking about young men and consent. Other great video content can be found on sex educator Hannah Witton’s YouTube channel.

Schedule time – and prepare for it

Use the resources to plan an interactive session, with activities you can do together. Think post-it notes to map out topics and ideas, use drawing, and if you have Playdoh (can be used for any age), try modelling things together. And by things, I mostly mean genitalia. Good for adults too, since a recent YouGov survey revealed that half of adults don’t know where the vagina is. Yes, half. And they can’t all be men.

This interactive format is always better than the one-on-one awkward conversation, as it means you’re exploring topics together.

Keep the conversation going

Keep the door open after sessions, and allow the conversation to continue to evolve. For any specific questions that arise that need clear factual responses, the website of national sexual health charity Brook – with its particularly excellent search functionality – is the place to go.

Great sex education can start at home, but yours, judging from the stories we hear at Fumble, probably did not. Mine certainly didn’t either. My dad’s panicked squirm at just the sight of a box of tampons nestling gently among the shopping is as demonstrative as he’s ever got on the topic.

It’s easy to shirk the responsibility, but the world has changed, and the internet, while also throwing up some questionable content, now offers amazing resources that young people can use to educate themselves and that families can use to open up healthy discussion too.

The lockdown not only gives us the time and space to talk sex across generations, it also means we need to start having these conversations at home, because they’re not going to happen anywhere else right now. Parents, you’ve got this.

Lucy Whitehouse is the founder and director of Fumble

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