I remember the first time I truly became interested in equality for women was when I saw an article about Nadine Dorries and her bill to create abstinence-only sex education for girls. I was 15 when I read about this, and you may be surprised (hopefully not) to hear I was pretty fuming that someone had even considered taking a political step backwards in terms of women’s sexual rights. In a time where women and girls are supposed to be able to make their own choices about their sexuality and their bodies, it is shocking that a woman had even suggested this proposal.
Sex education has always been of great importance to me, not because my parents or relatives refused to speak of it or answer questions on sex and sexual relationships – on the contrary, my parents were very open on these subjects – but because I wanted to know as much as possible about something that had (apparently) a tremendous significance in my future life. I know that it isn’t as important as everyone makes it out, and some romantic relationships can function without sex ever having a role. I don’t think it needs saying, but not all things are about sex.
What worries me most about the sex education I received in high school was that it was not until about 3rd year (the Scottish equivalent of year 10 in England/Wales) that I actually saw a drawing of what a vulva looks like – which is a bit strange when you consider that around half the planet have vaginas but we all know what a penis looks like from Primary 7 (year 7). The only reason I got to see that drawing was it was in an online video that my teacher of the time was showing, and I assume the only reason I got to see that video was because my teacher was a biology teacher, as well as being an extremely rational individual. Sure, if you bought any of the mainstream magazines you may have seen a very simplified diagram, which was about as much use as an umbrella in the middle of a desert. I am not knocking the attempt by teen magazines to prepare us for sexual life, but it’s not unreasonable to make sure that there is a more accurate drawing.
The problem with sex education is how limited it is. Sex education, in my experience, does not cover relationships and certainly does not cover relationships that are gaining more and more recognition (which they deserve), such as LGBT sexual relationships. I think once we spoke of it, but it was never discussed in detail in case some of the very religious or conservative parents started a bit of a fuss about it. Another thing which is left out is female orgasms. I know sex education is mainly about reproduction but I think girls should get taught about the pleasures of sex instead of just learning about the male anatomy and its orgasms, as well as the utterly petrifying way childbirth is presented.
Another worrying thing is that I never even knew about dental dams until 5th year (year 12). I never knew they existed. Why had this not been mentioned before? Why was I told about all the other forms of contraceptive, but not the one that involved protection during female pleasure? Seems a bit strange.
When I saw that drawing of the vulva, I felt embarrassed as well as slightly ashamed, mainly because it was not something that had been regularly shown to me, which maybe on some level made me feel that that part of my body was not something to be proud of. Proper sex education is important, as girls should be fully aware of their bodies and encouraged to become proud of them, instead of feeling ashamed and not having sufficient information. Most of all, sex education needs to stay in place for those who may (unlike me) not have someone to ask all the awkward questions I asked my parents.
Photo of sex education books on a shelf, including “Lesbian Sex” and “Sex Position Bible”, by See-ming Lee, shared under a Creative Commons licence.