Fantastic news: sex education to be made compulsory in all schools by 2010.

A government review has concluded that sex education should be made a compulsory part of the national curriculum in both primary and secondary schools. Religious schools will not be able to opt out of the curriculum, although they will have the right to teach their own bigotry, sorry, beliefs on “contraception, abortion, and homosexuality”. Quite how that will sit alongside the curriculum I don’t know, hopefully it won’t. The Guardian reports that:

Children will learn about body parts and the fact that animals reproduce from the age of five, puberty and intercourse from the age of seven and contraception and abortion from the age of 11.

Sounds sensible to me. And to pre-empt squeals from the Daily Mail, the head of the review board assures us that:

We are not talking about five-year-old kids being taught sex. What we’re talking about for key stage 1 is children knowing about themselves, their differences, their friendships and how to manage their feelings.

Of course, the usual suspects are nevertheless up in arms:

Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: ‘One of the dangers of introducing sex education at an early age is that it runs the risk of breaking down children’s natural sense of reserve.’

Natural sense of reserve my arse. I’ve had sexual feelings from the age of about seven, and, even if it is the case that I’m a complete freak, I think it’s fair to say that many kids have a genuine interest in how their bodies work and where they come from. All the curriculum will do is provide them with the answers that they have a right to know.

But, wait, there’s more:

‘We have had 30 years of sex education in secondary schools and it has never been easier for teenagers to get hold of contraception without their parents knowing, yet we still have the highest rate of teenage conceptions in Western Europe, and both abortion rates and sexually transmitted infection rates have continued to rise.’

Wells fails to note that we’ve had 30 years of extremely patchy sex education that has generally not been fit for purpose. The fact that it’s now easier to get hold of contraception doesn’t mean that it is sufficiently easy to access nor that teenagers are knowledgeable enough or comfortable enough to use it in the correct manner.

What exactly does Wells propose we do? Because let’s face it, most teenagers are horny as hell, and simply telling them that sex outside of holy matrimony just ain’t cricket really won’t make the blindest bit of difference to teen pregnancy rates, the number of abortions or the spread of STDs. They are categorically Going. To. Do. It. Anyway.

What will make a difference, as the government has finally realised, is ensuring children and young people are given sufficient information about their bodies, relationships, safe, consensual sex, contraception and sexual health before they begin any kind of sexual exploration, and that means compulsory, comprehensive sex education for all. Here’s hoping it turns out to be as good as it sounds.