The perennial debate about sex education in schools has surfaced again, this time fuelled by allegations that children are being taught about oral sex and anal sex. There have even been reports of a drag queen being charged with educating kids about the 73 genders, though this has been disputed.
The Prime Minister weighed in to say that he was “concerned” to hear about this, and that an already planned review of sex education would be brought forward, with a proposed ceiling on what can be taught to any age group.
It’s no real surprise that everyone loses their mind when we try to talk about sex education. It’s an emotive topic. Sex is a big deal, and teaching kids about sex is a really big deal because if you do it wrong, you can spectacularly screw them up.
I know this because I went to Catholic school where sex education was a Wild West of myth, rumour, religious doctrine and just enough biology to pass the GCSE (because the results league tables are as important as getting into heaven).
I was told that condoms are only 35 per cent effective. That the morning after pill was a form of abortion. That sex was for marriage, and that doing it outside of marriage was a one-way ticket to Big Trouble.
The worst thing about this mad approach to sex education – other than the years of therapy it took to undo all my Catholic guilt around sex – is that it didn’t work. It just meant that while doing it, we were all guilty and confused, and there were constant pregnancy scares (as well as actual pregnancies).
I understand why the idea of children being told about blow jobs is shocking. But 79 per cent of 18-year-olds have seen porn, and one in 10 children have seen it by the time they leave primary school.
While we all know that has to change, until it does, all we can do is try to equip children as best we can to deal with a world saturated in porn. We do that by being honest, not by pretending that sex only happens when Mummy and Daddy love each other very much.
The current textbook – Great Relationships and Sex Education – was part of the latest row because of a section which reads: “Love and affection are often important parts of good sex, but not always. For others, good sex is quick, rough and anonymous.” Which is, whether you like it or not, undeniably true.
I was taught that sex was for the purpose of procreation, between a man and a woman, within marriage. I’d been having sex for over a decade before all three of those things were accurate for me.
The legacy of my sex education was that I left school feeling confused, guilt-ridden and unclear about whether you can get pregnant on your period. I’m now 31 years old, and a former sex writer. And yet I am still intermittently confronted with factual aspects of sex that I didn’t previously understand. It’s taken a lifetime to undo the accidentally disastrous hatchet job done to me. So while I understand the knee-jerk reaction to headlines about drag queens and blowjobs, it’s so important that we don’t overcorrect. Decent sex education is one of the most useful tools that we can give young people.
And the only sensible way to tackle sex education is to have an organisation which teaches it universally, in all schools. One set course, taught by actual experts, who don’t deviate, or get embarrassed or shoe-horn in their own views. A course based on peer-reviewed evidence, which teaches young people how to have safe, mutually gratifying, consent-based sex.
And much as we might want it to, that course cannot exclusively be about loving partners having missionary sex with loads of eye contact, because that’s just not the way life works.