Jasmine Irving

What I Wish They’d Taught Us in Sex Ed…

There’s now a lot of information out there about sex, contraception and puberty, but are adolescents given enough opportunities to discuss and get to grips with the world of sex and relationships? A lot of accounts of sex education involve the teacher feeling more embarrassed and awkward than the kids – I can imagine its intimidating standing in front of today’s next generation talking about sex so I’m not blaming them but society’s attitude in itself has a lot to answer for. We’re supposed to be sexually liberated but today’s struggle between media representations fed to us and ‘real life’ is full of contradictions, bad lessons and doesn’t even begin to allow for growth of the individual. We need to provide a different backdrop for sex and start getting young people to feel confident and valued when it comes to their sexuality.

In my experience, at age eleven the girls got taken off to one room and the boys to another. I have no idea what happened to them but we passed around a crying plastic baby and got a leaflet about periods. Three things stick in my mind from the next lot of sex ed. we had, aged 15, 1) watching a video of a girl sucking a lollipop whilst the narrative told us all about blow jobs, 2) Being shown horrific photos of the worst case scenario genital warts and such like, which put most people off their lunch never mind sex and 3) Being in hysterics whilst trying to figure out how to put condoms onto various shaped plastic penises. Now, I’m not criticising the whole thing, because all in all I learnt bits and pieces of important info, like don’t be silly wrap your willy and how to insert a tampon (if only I’d known about mooncups back then! Now that’s a whole other conversation), but it didn’t even begin to cover what I would hope it to have done in hindsight. So, what should they have told us?


Well, firstly I’d like to know what it is about sex that makes it such a perceived awkward subject anyway. Does it even need its own lesson or should it just be openly discussed across the subjects during puberty? It threads into art, English, science, religion etc, sex is as much a normal part of life, culture and society as anything else. If we are going to have sexualised images of objectified women and subjective men in a position of power, shoved down our throats from the minute we start walking around town or watching TV then surely there needs to be some sort of consistent counter point of view offered. If children are going to stumble upon pornographic images when searching for perfectly innocent pictures to use in an art project then surely this needs to be explained to them. If women are made to feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding their baby in public yet turn to page 3 of the Sun and there’s a huge pair of tits, then kids/adolescents need help to be able to talk about living in a society with such mixed up messed up ideas about the female body.

And if 1 in 20 children in July 2013 were sexually abused and four out of five children (82.7%) who experienced contact sexual abuse from a peer did not tell anyone else about it (NSPCC) then surely we need to build a safe forum for being able to discuss this openly so that children and teenagers don’t have to suffer in silence, causing problems in later life. What I’m talking about here involves a huge change in the way we do things, and that change can’t happen overnight but a good place to start is in education. We all know how damaging current media representations of masculinity and femininity are and I, like many others want to see an end to this. It seems sex education so often underestimates kids and teenagers, who have the ability to engage intellectually with such topics and form opinionated arguments –but they need to be trusted to do this and be given a platform for it. This will give critical skills which will potentially prove to be much more useful and memorable in later life than Sin, Coz and Tan (I have no idea what these words even mean now, just four years later).

The number one thing I would have liked to have a lesson or 5 on, is consent. So often, people and I would argue girls in particular, due to how women’s bodies are represented in the media, are made to feel like it is impolite to say no or rude to reject a proposal. The general view given is that a women’s body doesn’t really belong to her anyway and that just being a man gives you an inherent right to sex. I wish young adults were encouraged to think long and hard before engaging in something to please someone else without considering if it was something they really want to do or not. And I’m not just talking about sex, in a society where girls are taught to be insecure, to do as they’re told and boys are taught that real men don’t cry, real men are tough, and in a society where bi-sexual, gay, lesbian or transgendered people are taught there’s something weird about them, figuring out the world of relationships for the first time can be really difficult.

In 2009, 25% of teenage girls surveyed in the UK had experienced physical violence by their boyfriends and 1 in 6 girls disclosed being pressurised into sexual intercourse (NSPCC). I don’t remember learning about this in sex education or being told what to do if you end up in such a situation. I wish there was some form of consistent education in all schools to give girls the confidence to say no, or yes if they want, and to know when to walk away if necessary. And to give boys the confidence to talk before acting and to go against the grain of the stereotypical ‘lad’. I wish all sex education would highlight that lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgendered or straight, of any background, religion or culture, knowing yourself and doing what is good and nourishing for your own being is THE most important thing when it comes to sex and relationships. Whether that’s being celibate, waiting for marriage, masturbating, having sex with multiple partners or with one, so long as the individual is happy with their choices. If that choice does involve sex or relationships, we should be teaching the importance of only engaging in that which is mutually beneficial.

Not many adults would choose to go through being a teenager again and in a culture where sex is pervasive, and sex (or rather sexualised women) sells, there needs to be more support and more opportunity for teenagers to make sense of this and to be given the tools to navigate their way through a world where the reality is that girls and women have to be very aware of potential rape and unwanted sexual contact. When a girl goes on a night out, she will more than likely be groped by an uninvited man. Feminism should be on the agenda in every school so that when a girl walks home in her uniform and is whistled at, she feels she actually has the right to tell him where to go. I hope it’s not too long before feminism and proper sex ed. is put on the National Curriculum because I’d like to think when I have kids, my daughter won’t have to be scared and my son won’t have to be feared and both will understand the meaning of self-awareness and mutual respect when it comes to sex.

5 thoughts on “What I Wish They’d Taught Us in Sex Ed…

  1. Great write-up. I strongly agree with you that better sex ed is necessary especially in light of the extent to which women are raped and abused.

    “I wish all sex education would highlight that lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgendered or straight, of any background, religion or culture, knowing yourself and doing what is good and nourishing for your own being is THE most important thing when it comes to sex and relationships. Whether that’s being celibate, waiting for marriage, masturbating, having sex with multiple partners or with one, so long as the individual is happy with their choices.” – loved this part! I think that our entire cultural approach to sex (in accordance with cultural values regarding everything else) is anti-individualist. I so strongly agree with you that the thrust of sex ed should ideally be individual wellbeing. However, you and I are in the minority. Our culture is widely disapproving of individualism and also the notion that one’s own wellbeing should be one’s highest priority (ethical egoism).

    For this very reason, I have to depart from your final conclusion that feminist sex ed ought to be legislated into universal existence. Laws supposedly trying to force misogynists to stop hating women don’t seem to me very sensible ways of changing our cultural patriarchy – they just seem like very profitable systems for lawyers! Certainly, laws in the U.S. prohibiting discrimination haven’t erased the wage gap/glass ceiling, nor have they done anything to prevent sexual assault (in much the same way that they haven’t erased racial bigotry and hate crimes). Our culture – that is, our general practices and values – is still profoundly misogynist, and no law is going to change that. I can tell you that in the U.S. efforts to force rational, science-based sex ed into public schools have resulted in public outcry and a resurgence of evil religious diatribe (The film Carrie comes to mind!). It is precisely this deep-seated hatred of humanity that is FAITH that I feel must change in order for us to progress in our cultural attitudes toward sex.

    BTW you mention “a culture where…sexualized women…sells” – a woman (or a man for that matter) with a healthy, rational sense of her sexuality unfortunately doesn’t seem to sell at all – she seems in fact completely invisible! My impression is that women in subordination to men-gods do sell, though.

  2. Hi, I thought I had replied to this but my comment never posted I think the internet broke at the time of it posting! Thanks very much for your thought-provoking response, I agree our culture is mostly disapproving of individualism which is a huge shame. You are right about laws not being all that helpful in many cases, and I don’t think feminism will be adopted by the majority in schools – this conclusion was suggesting how it would ideally be and being put on the national curriculum would illustrate an already changed way of seeing which may not happen any time soon but getting better sex ed. is a start anyway!

    Good point about what kinds of sexuality end up selling.

  3. Pingback: The Taboo Designed to be Broken: Sex and the Education Reform | 6KShort

  4. I have a daughter that will turn 12 next summer and I am extremely worry about the people around her and with who she spend time with… I have try so many times to discuss Sex, STD and boys with her and she does not really allow me to approach her…. she is refusing to talk about it… The most worrying part is that at school, they have Sex ED and she is always making fun of the subject like if she was not taking it seriously…

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