Let’s talk about sex

I have been watching BBC3’s Tough Young Teachers with great interest.
To the layman it must have been an educating experience. An insight into a secondary school environment, albeit a particular one, with the focus on what goes on behind the scenes of our children’s learning.

But as a mother of two primary school children, I was really shocked to find out that the teaching of sex education was left to two unqualified teachers, barely out of university with no relevant training in the subject of sex and relationships education. The two tough young teachers were as clueless and embarrassed as their students. I cannot help but wonder, is this an accurate portrayal of teaching sex and relationships education in England?

Currently sex education is not compulsory. However many schools (primary and secondary) include the topic in their PSHE curriculum, but according to OFSTED the provision is patchy. Which to some degree explains the bleak picture that the statistics reveal:

  • The UK has the highest teenage birthand abortion rates in Western Europe with rates of teenage births to be five times those in the Netherlands, double those in France and more than twice those in Germany. Albeit according latest figures the number of teenage pregnancies is decreasing year on year
  • Violence in teenage relationships is increasing
  • A “page 3” culture prevails in many parts of the society and shapes cultures and attitudes towards women
  • An increased sexualisation of children

The picture painted by the statistics makes me anxious. Obviously sex and relationships education urgently needs a shake up. But with limited budget and ever increasing pressures is designing a modern, age-appropriate and effective curriculum a priority for schools? Will head teachers be able to put in the time and resources required? Or will the curriculum be set just to ticking yet another box?

For a start teachers should be trained to be able to talk comfortably and confidently about sex matters. They should be able to convey the message that sex education is not an embarrassing topic and engage in intelligent conversations with their class.

But I am convinced that even the best designed and delivered school-based programmes won’t have an impact, unless schools engage with their parent community.

Here is why. Research with young people shows that they want to discuss sex matters with their parents. In addition to that, parents want to talk to their children about topics related to sexual matters but they lack the vocabulary and feel uncomfortable.

If you add into the equation that inevitably the family environment shapes the attitudes of children and young people, it becomes obvious that only well informed and confident parents can support and guide their children effectively.

Sex education is indeed a sensitive issue but unlike any other subject taught in school, it can empower young people to take charge of their lives and deal with the pressures and can set the foundation for children to become confident adults.

I feel that as a matter of urgency, it is parents that need to be educated about talking to their children about sex. So what are we waiting for?

Please share any experience you have with your child talking about sex. What support do you think you would need to help you support your child?

References:

Parents as educators of sex and relationship education: The role for effective communication in British families, Health Education Journal July 1, 2013 72: 417-430

The Family Planning Association

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