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Same-Sex Sex & Relationship Education Matters

Same-Sex Sex & Relationship Education Matters

By Cliff Joannou

It’s rather ridiculous how we are in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century and the majority of children and teenagers go through their youth without ever having any form of satisfactory Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in school.

What was your sex education like? At primary level, mine was non-existent.  At my all-male Catholic secondary school all we were given was a rudimentary outline about reproduction. No safer sex information. No discussion of intimacy or relationships. It was effectively the missionary position of sex education.  An epic fail in terms of adequate SRE. That was over 20 years ago and little has changed. What is the purpose of a school if not to give young people the knowledge with which to conduct themselves in a competent and informed manner in an adult world?

So, what is age appropriate SRE and why do children need it? ‘Age appropriate’ means teaching seven year olds what they need to know, such as similarities and differences between boys and girls or how to look after our bodies and stay safe and healthy. As they get older, teenagers should be taught not just about biological procreation but also about STIs, and other necessary facts that are appropriate to living in a modern, open and image-saturated world.

Furthermore, they should also be taught about LGBTI lifestyles. Doing so addresses the growing issue of school bullying by not relegating or ignoring non-heteronormative relationships. LGBTI children will grow up to feel that those relationships are equally valid and important.  And let’s not be alarmist here: swathes of children will not suddenly turn gay because they are taught about gay relationships. But a whole group of scared and isolated LGBTI children will suddenly feel reassured that their feelings are not perverted, and anti-gay prejudices will be challenged at a crucial stage.

“What is the purpose of a school if not to give young people the knowledge with which to conduct themselves in a competent and informed manner in an adult world?”

An important point in SRE is the issue of relationships.  Young people should be taught the value of intimacy not as a commodity but as a point of self-respect. It’s as vital for teenage girls in order to give them self-worth over their bodies and address the UK’s high level of teen pregnancies, as it is necessary in tackling the issue of increasing HIV transmission amongst young gay men.

The sheer lack of preparation we give children for the real world is shocking. Instead, the state refuses to interfere in what some more right wing politicians deem to judge as a family matter.  But ask most parents and you will find that they often avoid discussing issues of sex and relationships with their children.

We have to start being realistic.  This isn’t twenty years ago when you as a teenager would secretly flick through the underwear pages of the latest Littlewoods catalogue. (Or the Next catalogue if your parents were ‘aspirational’.) Perhaps you stumbled across your dad’s stash of old porn mags. (Or were those situations just me?) I faced a rude awakening when I was confronted by the realities of a predatory, sexualized real world when I first engaged the gay scene.  Yet, those were more innocent days before the digital revolution.  Today young gay guys don’t even need to enter a bar or club to meet other gay men.  They can download an app, or flick through the endless stream of porn online.

But please don’t get my message wrong here. I’m not saying porn or app cruising is bad. I firmly believe an informed and educated sex life is key to a healthy mindset and personal happiness. But if we aren’t openly informing and educating young people at the beginning of their journey to self-exploration then they simply aren’t going to get to the healthy and happy part.
When it’s effortless for a curious 16 year old to stumble across a clearly advertised chemsex session on an app involving ten guys or more, there is cause for concern. It’s worry enough that we live in a world increasingly dominated by visual gratification and body objectification. By delivering age appropriate SRE at an early stage we immediately begin to challenge the body fascism that celebrity culture and, yes, even the gay publishing world dictates.

Let me make another point clear here: there is nothing wrong with porn or the fantasy image. We are not here to demonize sexuality and one’s desire in seeking sexual gratification. What is not right, however, is if the every day nature of sex and relationships is not presented in tangent with those elements, and that is only delivered by educating young people about the difference between fantasy and reality.

Age appropriate SRE absolutely needs to be statutory.  However,  teachers are not presently taught how to deliver it during their training. The government either needs to ensure that they are educated from that level, or introduce specially trained advisors that attend schools in special sessions to deliver the SRE guidance that children have a human right to receive.

It should be compulsory for all children and teenagers to attend SRE classes. If parents choose to withdraw their child from those sessions, then that is arguably a parent’s right to do so. However, those parents should then be required to attend a meeting with SRE advisors to discuss their reasons for withdrawing the child from the class.

Why? Well, because human rights don’t apply only to adults. Children and teenagers have personal rights that supersede those of their parents. It is very much a young person’s right to be given the freedom to discuss the feelings and emotions they have and how they relate to the world that exists around them. It’s their body, and they should be given the knowledge of how to treat it with the love and respect they deserve.

Read the open letter on QX Magazine: www.qxmagazine.com/feature/call-for-the-same-sex-s-r-e-to-be-statutory-in-all-english-schools

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Same-Sex Sex & Relationship Education Matters