It was both relieving and pleasantly surprising when earlier this week the new Education Secretary confirmed that they would be continuing with their plans to require LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education to be taught in schools. The scheme put forward earlier in the year was left in jeopardy when Justine Greening was sacked from her role and replaced by Tory MP Damien Hinds. While the alternative would be considerably worse, it is hard to see this as a great victory in 2018.
The ‘British’ stereotype is well established and something that some of us revel in, the stiff upper lip, the inescapable need to apologise at every opportunity, our ability to queue! Yet there are grave repercussions to our cultural attitude towards sex. It is embarrassing that as a society this is the first time we have considered discussing LGBT sex education in schools.
Arguably due to the horrifying past of HIV contraction and the resultant fear and stigma surrounding it, education on sex between men is considerably more important than the heterosexual focused banal videos of live births and anatomical penis diagrams which we receive currently. Lesbian sex, however, introduces a whole other issue within the sex education system.
Sex between women does not include many of the issues covered within hetero-normative sex education, which primarily focuses on reproduction and the spread of STDs which solely exist heterosexual relationships. This is obviously not unimportant, but what is consistently ignored is consensual sexual pleasure, and more specifically female sexual pleasure. Our prudishness prevents us from covering these areas due to their erotic and therefore supposedly inappropriate connotations, but the gaping hole of ignorance left as a result is the cause of a wide range of pertinent issues ranging from orgasm inequality to abuse and rape.
This is made exponentially worse by the fact that this gap is often filled for young boys with online porn, which presents sex entirely through the male gaze often not only degrading the women involved, but promoting violent acts as sexually fulfilling for them. This creates a disparity between the expectations of girls and boys, with girls’ education often coming from the equally flawed source of romantic comedies, which romanticises the sexual experience, presenting mutual orgasm as standard and completely disregarding the existence of foreplay.
Sex is often bad, awkward embarrassing or at least funny, and this is not represented by either source. Quite understandably this can often result in a catastrophic meeting of the two minds during many young people’s first experiences. Talking about sex is embarrassing; not least with someone you have just had it with, so these issues often go unaddressed through no fault of either party.
At best this is disappointing, but at worst leads to a toxic spiralling of escalating anxiety and miscommunication. The argument against education on these more explicit areas of the subject is that detailed sex education from a young age promotes underage sex and teen pregnancy. However one of the only countries which has actually put this into practice, Holland, has the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe, which is coincidentally six times lower than Britain’s statistics who rest at the opposite end of the league table.
In fact, Holland should be seen as a quite extraordinary inspiration in this area, with classes including discussions on consent, expectations surrounding pubic hair, and girls being sent home with mirrors and mini vibrators to encourage sexual and anatomical exploration.
While this step forward should be celebrated, we also need to acknowledge that as a culture we are desperately lagging behind in all areas of sex and relationship education.
We feel the horrible repercussions of both men and women’s sexual ignorance in bad sex, awkward conversations and genuine trauma throughout our adult lives.