As I've recently pointed out in previous blogs, sex education in schools is pretty poor. It's very basic and fraught with problems from outside sources, lack of resources and a whole lot of fear.
Don't tell kids about sex! They'll just run out and have it!
The thing is, sex is multifaceted and such a deep and involved subject it simply cannot be glossed over and treated as an aside to PE or Humanities. It should have it's own specific classes. And when I say classes I mean at least two different ones.
You see, there are two major reasons people have sex and only one of them is ever really addressed (albeit poorly) in schools. The first reason, and the only one we ever really get taught in classrooms is reproduction. Human biology. This, I believe, is suited to the science classroom. We all did our “life-cycle of a frog” assignment in school or the “Birds and the Bees” assignment on pollen and plant reproduction and this is where human reproduction should be taught. Penises, vaginas, sperm and eggs. We should learn about ovulation and periods and the developmental stages of a foetus.
This scientific teaching should, I believe, happen in both primary and high school. In early primary I think learning about the names of body parts and their functions is vital, then in late primary go into more detail about what they do and what they are for, and then into early high school and continuing throughout, we should incorporate the safe sex message and knowledge of STIs and how to prevent them.
If you take the shame and embarrassment and fear factor out of the lessons on body parts and sex with children then you are off to a fantastic start and a way of easier, more open communication as our kids turn into teenagers.
Now we come to the second reason people have sex, and it's actually (according to many surveys world wide) the main reason.
Pleasure. It feels good. It does! It feels bloody awesome. All parts of sexual intimacy, from kissing and touching to having actual physical sex. And, because teenagers are slaves to their own wants and desires, of course they're going to bloody do it! It's what teenagers do. They do stuff that feels good.
Teenagers don't often think of the future beyond the next week. They want to go to a party, they go. They want to eat a cheeseburger, they go get one. They want to have sex, they do it. We can't stop them by trying to scare them or bully them. We just can't. That's been proven time and time again. The rise in teenage pregnancies and STIs in young people is absolute proof that the “don't do it, it's wrong” message isn't working.
I think, like I said in the beginning of this piece, we need to split sex education into two equally important, and yet completely separate classes. Science, to talk about the actual science of reproduction and everything that goes along with that, and an entirely new class that revolves around pleasure, relationships, emotions, consent and all the other things that go along with sex that have nothing to do with babies.
When you single out reproduction in a sex ed class, you completely ignore things like LGBTI sexual relationships, which are equally as important to young people. You pass over things like consent and rape and sexual assault. Where to get help. Who to talk to. How to say no. How to accept no.
We need to focus on the pleasure side. What feels good. Why it feels good. The responsibilities we have in consensual relationships. The balance of pleasure. The fact that there are many other things young people can do to feel that sexual pleasure without actually having intercourse at all. Masturbation is so rarely talked about to teenagers and yet I can guarantee you almost every single one of them is doing it.
We need to talk about the emotional side of sex; boyfriends/girlfriends, lust, heartbreak. The social side like peer pressure, bullying, slut-shaming and the ever increasing online social aspects, cyber-bullying, sexting, online predators.
I also think it's important to incorporate parents and guardians in these teachings (probably not in the same room as their kids. That's a sure fire way to get kids to not talk about anything) but in conjunction.
It really is a huge topic and a massively important one for the future health and well being of our kids, both physically and emotionally.
It's not something we can just slip in at the end of a PE class and feel we have responsibly addressed. That's just plain ignorance, bred from fear and I can tell you, it's costing us a lot more and damaging our children far more than little bit of embarrassment you might get at the thought of telling your teenagers about the clitoris.