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The Scarleteen book and website are excellent sex education resources: a big feminist thumbs up!

When Daily Mail-ites accuse government ministers of “brainwashing”, you know said ministers are probably onto a good thing. Secondary school teachers are being encouraged to “canvass young people’s opinions on what ‘they’ think they should learn at various ages”, and have been provided with a booklet full of what appears to me to be eminently sensible advice, including this questionnaire for pupils, complete with suggested “correct” answers:

Cue panic at the Mail:

Critics have already warned that the review is an underhand attempt to bring in compulsory sex education for primary pupils.

[…]

Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern, accused the forum of trying to manipulate impressionable youngsters.

“It’s verging on brainwashing,” he said. “The forum is committed to promoting the view that there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to sexual relationships.

“The authors of this toolkit are clearly aiming to steer children away from a belief in moral absolutes and encouraging them to think everything is relative.

“The only truly safe and healthy choice is to follow a clear moral code that keeps sexual intimacy within the context of a faithful and lifelong marriage.”

Mr Wells said it was a “serious abdication of adult responsibility” to allow the curriculum to be shaped by the views of impressionable children.

It is, however, clearly moral and right that we allow the likes of Mr Wells to force his views upon these children. With the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe and 1 in 3 women needing an abortion in their lifetime, teaching abstinence until marriage and reinforcing the feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt that are part and parcel of this approach is clearly the best way forward. *head/desk*

Luckily, it looks like most teachers are in favour of compulsory sex education:

These fears were compounded by a Times Educational Supplement survey yesterday, which revealed that two thirds of primary teachers support compulsory sex education. Many want it for seven-year-olds.

About time too. Because now we get to the edumacate me section of the post. I am 23 years old and have been sexually active since I was 15. I am now about to list all the things that I either do not know, or was forced to research independently, because I was not taught them at school. I am quite embarrassed about some of this, but I think it needs to be put out there: this, along with the high teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the UK, is the reason we need compulsory sex education in this country.

  • I never practiced putting on a condom during sex education. As a result, I have always been – and still am – embarrassed and awkward about using condoms, leaving the man to deal with it. My first boyfriend was similarly ill equipped to use condoms correctly, and as a result I had to take emergency contraception when I was 17 after a condom split. (As an aside, this was on a Sunday when the local family planning clinic was closed – I had to get it from Tesco’s pharmacy at a cost of £20 – some young women would not have been able to afford this – FREE contraception now, please).
  • I did not realise until very recently that you could get an STD from giving fellatio. I am still not 100% clear as to whether you can get STDs from cunnilingus – I assume you can, but is this preventable? This links into another issue…
  • I was never told anything about female orgasm, ejaculation or cum. This resulted in all kinds of worries as to whether I was normal and healthy, while the general refusal to recognise female ejaculation (take it from me, it exists by the bucket load, hehehe…) prevents discussion of the potential for STD transferral through this fluid.
  • I have always been aware of my right to say no to sex and to resist pressure. This is a good thing, though easier said than done. However, the idea of gaining active consent was never touched upon in my education, and is something I only became aware of when I discovered feminism.
  • Similarly, there was no discussion of the importance of NOT pressuring others, the implication being that no one in this school would do such a thing. Quite who these mysterious pressuring individuals were I don’t know… Schools should have a responsibility to recognise and try and counteract the messages that many pupils, boys in particular, will have absorbed from pornography, and focusing on active mutual consent and pleasure could go a long way towards doing this. Better still, get these values instilled early, and maybe young people will start rejecting the misogynist porn that saturates the internet.
  • Homosexual relationships were mentioned in the context of families, but not sex itself. While pupils may have had some awareness about the risks and issues involved in heterosexual sex, they would have hd no idea about homosexual sex, and my ignorance with regards to cunnilingus is a case in point (though this of course also applies to men going down on women).
  • I didn’t know what cystitis was until I suffered from it. Since the doctor told me to go to the toilet immediately after having sex I’ve never had it again, and if they’d just bloody tell us about it at school so many women wouldn’t have to go through the pissing burning hot razors hell. I also didn’t know what thrush was or how to prevent and treat it.

Well, I think that’s enough for now, but it’d be great to hear about other people’s experiences of sex education at school (or lack thereof). I think it’s crystal clear that we need to introduce compulsory sex education classes in all schools. These should be taught be a properly trained and qualified teachers, and I actually think there should be some kind of informal assessment involved in the course to give young people the incentive to learn, and ensure that they at least know how to put a condom on properly, if nothing else. Making the course more formal and ensuring that everyone gets involved will take away some of the embarrassment factor, or at least make it a shared, collective embarrassment, rather than having individual kids fear ridicule if they want to practice putting on a condom or asking a question.

Finally, and to pre-empt the inevitable ‘we shouldn’t encourage kids to have sex’ arguments: sex is natural, it feels good and kids and young people are going to want to experiment. Personally, I have had sexual feelings from the age of seven, and I know I’m not the only one. Nothing that has been done to shame, guilt trip or punish people for having sex has stopped them doing so. We need to accept that kids and young people will have sex and enable them to do so in the safest, most positive and well-informed way. This is particularly important in the current climate, where very stereotypical and often misogynistic portrayals of sex and sexual imagery are absolutely everywhere.

We are currently failing our children and young people by refusing to properly educate them on sexual matters. Not only that, we put their lives, health and well being in danger. So enough of the Daily Mail and their conservative Christian morals: compulsory sex education NOW!

Hat-tip to Rhetorically Speaking for the Mail article.