The Government announced today that sex education is now compulsory for all secondary schools in England, while primary schools are expected to start teaching on “modern relationships”.
Let me explain why this makes me so happy: my own sexual education was a very patchy affair. In primary school it consisted of watching a cartoon with the sensitive title: Some of Your Bits Just Ain’t Nice. It was essentially about cleanliness, but the take-home message for the less attentive viewer was that one’s genitals were a vile phenomenon, intended to be washed and then ignored.
When it came to secondary school, I expected my sexual horizons to broaden, education-wise. They didn’t. Having gone to a selective state school that became an academy while I was studying there, sex ed was given as a half-baked afterthought, after they had finished discussing how to bring my maths grades up to scratch.
It was taught as a sub-strand of PSHE, that catch-all subject in which they thought we could learn about safe sex, cyber bullying and Anne Frank, all in the half hour before lunch. The only sex education lesson that contained any useful information was the one where the condoms were brought out. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that they would be covered in spermicide, and therefore refused to touch them, let alone put them on a cucumber.
Though it was a silly, enjoyable free-for-all, the hysteria of this session overwhelmed any likelihood of learning anything useful. Not only were we not really taught how to put condoms on in the end, but we were left totally uninformed about the difficulties safe sex can throw up. No one told me the things that I subsequently learned from hands-on practice and trips to the clinic. No one told me that men might be resistant to wearing condoms, that you also need to use them for oral sex, or that putting one on and then taking it off halfway through doesn’t do the trick – never mind the fact that “pulling out” doesn’t constitute a sufficient method of contraception.
Furthermore, no one taught us about female condoms, or even suggested or remembered that anyone in the class might be gay or bisexual. The concept of being transgender seemed also to have escaped the notice of the “sex ed teachers” (by which I mean a roster of geography or PE teachers and heads of years, who had a free period at the right time and could teach the class with seemingly little to no training).
But at least when we were putting condoms on cucumbers (well, most of us were – I was cowering in the corner, shouting that sex was an aberration and hoping that hormones never kicked in, which, of course, they did) we were doing something.
By the time we turned 15 years old and sex, for the first time, became extremely relevant (bordering on being the only thing any of us were thinking about), PSHE had been renamed “the revision period”. Instead of patching up the vast holes in our sexual knowledge, we were instructed to sit quietly and revise for our upcoming GCSEs. It’s really rather ironic having an A* in biology when you’ve got chlamydia.
So I’m incredibly thrilled that the many, many children of the next generation (after all, most of us don’t seem to know much about contraception) will have the chance at accruing a slightly more comprehensive understanding of sex, before they go out into the adult world and promptly ignore all the advice they’ve been given.
At least, then, they will know what they’re ignoring, so that when a man says, “I just don’t enjoy it with a condom”, they can reply, “I hear gonorrhoea’s even less enjoyable, so wrap it up”.
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