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The Sex Ed They Should Have Taught You at School

Because we all know what a great job schools are currently doing.
September 22, 2016, 2:08pm

Some happy condoms (Photo: Flickr user bnilsen, via)

A report published last week found that most children find sex education "irrelevant". Which is perhaps unsurprising, given that the last time the British government updated the sex and relationships (SRE) syllabus was in the year 2000. For context: that's when the PS2 was released, when Lenny Kravitz was topping the charts and when people had literally just realised that Y2K wasn't a thing and we weren't all going to perish in some far-fetched software meltdown.

Thing is, this guidance – this very old guidance, which pre-dates the existence of online porn and came out just as the age of consent for homosexuals had been lowered to 16 – isn't even compulsory in schools, despite pressure from a cross-party group of MPs. But maybe that's no bad thing? The syllabus seems determined to moralise sex. It refers to the "importance of marriage for family life and bringing up children"; says we all need to learn the reasons to "delay sexual activity"; and ominously warns that "early experimentation is not encouraged".


Speaking to Ester McGeeney from Brook, an independent sexual health and wellbeing charity, she says that schools still ask them to bring in giant scary pictures of diseased genitalia to "shock" kids away from sex. Problem is: there is almost nothing you can do to scare kids away from fucking. They're going to carry on fumbling around awkwardly for evermore, so maybe it's best to be a little more responsible about how sex ed is taught in school? Because in theory, better education means fewer teen pregnancies, less chlamydia doing the rounds, less bullying caused by ignorance and prejudice, and more orgasms for everyone.

So Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, if you're reading this, here are a few more realistic lessons that could be taught:


A lot of sex happens in the dark, or in cramped single beds, or after like 13 shots and an oily kebab that causes your fingers to lose the purchase they are naturally meant to have. All of this makes it quite hard to be dexterous with tiny little foil packets and transparent bits of latex, and calling a time-out to work out which way is up and – just fucking WAIT, Tim, I'm trying to make sure you don't put a baby in me – is a bit of a buzzkill.

That's why Brook's sex-ed classes try to mimic these conditions, with students asked to take part in blindfolded condom races. Because speed is of the essence: you don't want to end up in a situation where you get tired of trying to wrap up and turn to the "oh just pull out and I'll stand up for a really long time afterwards" method, because that is the opposite of reliable.


Also, remember to always carry. Having a condom on you doesn't mean you've automatically consented to anything, nor does it make you a "slut". You're just prepared. You're living your life the Scouts way! (Oh, and if money is an issue, go to a sexual health clinic – they will hurl bags of condoms at you if you're within a five-metre radius of the door).


For some reason I'm as scared of herpes as I am of sharks, which is to say: very scared. Of course, both of these fears are dumb – I don't live near any large body of water, let alone one containing sharks, and getting herpes isn't actually the end of the world. Problem is, I didn't learn that at school, because any mention of herpes was neglected in favour of a thorough scare lecture about chlamydia.

This focus on one particular STI – which is easily treated – leads to lots of misconceptions. Can you contract HIV from train station seats? Is it true that you can cure gonorrhoea by just swilling a load of salt water around in your mouth? Isn't syphilis something ancient princes used to die of? Ester says Brook still get these kind of questions from students at every school they visit.

A lack of education around HIV / AIDS in particular is a problem negatively affecting huge numbers of young people. Three out of five respondents to the Terrence Higgins Trust survey this year either don't remember learning about HIV, or definitely didn't ever get taught about it. And ignorance about HIV can result in the demonisation and social alienation of large groups of people, a lack of open and honest discussion, fewer people utilising available resources for treatment (like the prophylactic drugs that can halt transmission up to 72 hours after the event) and a rise in people contracting it as a result. All in all: it is a Bad Thing.


In an email, Kat Smithson from the National AIDS Trust pointed out that "the number of young men diagnosed with HIV has doubled in the past ten years, yet the government seems willing to continue to allow a situation where some schools simply don't have to discuss these topics beyond basic information in a science lesson".


(Photo: Julian Morgans)

The push for abstinence in schools means teachers never mention anything about the potential for pleasure, or intimacy, or desire – all the stuff that sex became famous for sometime in the early 18th century, when scribes first began to spread the word about how great it feels when you smash your junk against someone else's junk.

For boys, of course, it's easier to grasp: their dicks are right there and their bodies tend to do most of the teaching for them. I'd imagine you quickly learn what to do with a boner when you wake up with one. But for girls, there's much more need for education. "We see images of penises everywhere," says Ester. "They get drawn on the back of dirty vans and on desks. But we so rarely see images of healthy vulvas, and so rarely learn about them." So vulvas, it turns out, are a mystery to a lot of people in possession of one. In fact, almost half of all British women can't accurately identify the specific parts of theirs.

Because of this reluctance to talk about pleasure, girls are often only able to work it out during their sexual interactions with the opposite sex – and let me tell you, 18-year-old boys are not the best senseis to guide you through your sexual awakening.


"How are you meant to know what bad sex is if you don't know what good sex is?" says Ester. "If you don't know that it isn't supposed to be painful, and you're in a relationship getting told that this is what it should be like, then you might not know that you have alternatives. So it's important that people know what feels good to them before they start negotiating with others."


Currently, teaching kids about consent isn't on the curriculum, and therefore it's at the discretion of the school whether or not to include it in PSHE lessons.

Universities are catching onto the idea that consent is a complicated issue and have started providing workshops where people can work through their misconceptions in a safe and supportive environment – but sexual assault happens way earlier than university age. The Office for National Statistics reported last year that 30 percent of female rape victims were aged under 16, so clearly lessons need to introduced much earlier on.


(Illustration: Dan Evans)

As many as 85 percent of gay and bisexual men have said they received no information about same-sex relationships in school, as reported by the National AIDS Trust. The focus of sex education is still undoubtedly on heterosexual relationships, with little regard for the fact that over half of young British people say they're not 100 percent heterosexual. And this heteronormative slant in education sustains ignorance and prejudice in schools towards LGBTQ pupils, with 66 percent reporting homophobic bullying in classrooms in 2012, and half of this number missing school as a result.

Kat from the National AIDS Trust says "the experience of an LGBT young person in an SRE class can be a very lonely one. Assumptions are often made about the body, gender, who people are attracted to, who people want to have sex with, the types of sex people might want to have. It leaves people feeling marginalised and means that they do not have vital information to support them with moving into relationships."


British schools desperately need same-sex sex education, but the government still hasn't made it compulsory. That clearly needs to change.


Not sure if this should be taught in sex-ed classes or not – just a handy reminder to not send people unsolicited photos of your dick and balls!

More on VICE:

How Do Young People Feel About Sex, Relationships and Love?

Does Having Casual Sex Make You Depressed?

Some Important Questions for 'Sex Box', the TV Show Where People Have Sex in a Box