By what I can only assume was an issue with the timetable I ended up having sex education at least three times during my years of education at middle and high school (yes I went to a ‘middle school’).
And for all their effort I remember being confused, uninformed and altogether none the wiser when the teaching staff tried to inform us about the goings on of the birds and the bees, (a saying I actually still don’t fully understand the significance of. Birds don’t have sex with bees as far as I’m aware).
Having a partner who’s part Dutch and who received (in my opinion) the best sex education in the world, thanks to the Netherlands government, I’m taking the time to look back on my sex-ignorance and highlight some of the key things I’d wished I’d known back then.
I could quote a load of statistics but I think it’s well enough known that my generation are amongst the first to grow up in a world where pornography is in such easy reach. I can hardly blame my education for being a little slow on the uptake of something relatively new, but for future sex ed it seems essential to incorporate teaching on how we should perceive pornography as fantasy and not based on real sex lives. It also seems more important to bring parents into sex ed to try and bridge the generation gap that the internet has caused.
I remember plenty of talks on what to do to prevent STIs but I cannot remember ever being told what’s healthy and good and what I should look out for in my own body. I learnt more about my own body by visiting my GP for an MOT than I did from a whole series of sex education lessons. Even Youtube provided better sex ed than my school ever did thanks to guys like Riyadh K uploading videos on how to check your testicles for cancer – we were never told that in school.
Pleasure was completely missed out of our sex education curriculum. There was such a strong emphasis on the adverse effects of sex and the dangers; the risks of STIs and unwanted pregnancy, that its main purpose was more or less completely ignored. An understanding of the body and pleasure seems essential if you’re going to teach sex ed. There is something intrinsically British about being embarrassed when communicating about our own bodies and all the weird and wonderful things they do. That needs to be swept away.
As a gay man (well, gay boy at the time) I was excluded from most topics covered by our sex ed. Everything catered to a heterosexual norm and the sex lives of gay people, let alone the relationships of gay people, were left well alone. Thank the lord for Queer as Folk.
I only learnt of the real dangers for me as a sexually active gay man through taking some initiative and going to a clinic. I had no clue about hepatitis jabs and emergency HIV treatments and windows of infection. I learnt a lot through being able to ask questions of someone I could trust who knows what they’re on about. I also found that going to a clinic completely reversed my expectations which were based on the stereotype of sexual health clinics being sleazy and disgusting. I found it to be a place where I could freely ask all the questions I had which weren’t being met by the teaching at school, (big up Worthing sexual health, woo!).
There was so much focus on the physical that the emotional side was almost forgotten. All of the emotional side of things more often than not were put down to hormones. Those pesky hormones were responsible for everything! Nobody attempted to delve deeper into the way we were feeling emotionally and why we were driven to think that the Smiths really did understand us like nobody else did.
The darker side of things including abuse and rape was not touched on, which seems absolutely ridiculous. Teaching consent is essential, especially in an age where pornography is distorting the idea of what is perceived as acceptable and unacceptable in a healthy sexual relationship.
In our teenage years we spend so much time obsessed with wanting to look good and fighting Mother Nature who has destined us to be spotty, greasy-haired, squeaky-voiced slobs. Accepting body image and being confident with your own body is probably one of the lessons that comes with age but it certainly would have helped having some reassurances from school forcing our eyes away from the skinny catwalk models and the chiseled muscle men that we were thinking we should look like.
I feel like this may have just turned into a list of failings of our education system. But maybe it isn’t ALL bad and maybe things are changing. If you had a similar experience or if you had a totally different experience of sex ed let me know your thoughts.