Sex Ed in Schools

The introduction of LGBTI+ sex education in Scottish state schools has sparked a conversation across Scotland. Stonewall Scotland have worked with the Scottish government to have LGBTI+ inclusive sex education introduced into the national curriculum. Some conservatives see it as a step too far, stripping children of their innocence, and being far too explicit about issues such as gender reassignment. Modernisers tend to see the issue as a welcome change, bringing education up to date with modern society, which in recent years has begun to more diversely reflect its make-up in terms of sexuality and gender.

The conversation around sex education is a welcome one in my opinion. There is a desperate need for comprehensive sex education in schools, at least in Scotland. It’s simply not good enough for teenagers – most of whom know all the gory details already – to be left in the dark as to serious aspects of sex. Personally, I was completely in the dark when my then-girlfriend had a pregnancy scare as to what to actually do in the immediate aftermath. It was only after some comprehensive panicking, panicked phone calls and a relatively sleepless night that things were sorted out.

Part of the problem is the poor sex education teenagers receive. At my school, we had an external body come in to teach sex ed, rather than having a teacher we actually knew teach it. Of course there was the usual stuff in biology about penises and reproduction, but that’s not really proper sex education. Alas it was probably more helpful in the long term than the actual sex education we received at school.  

Simone de Beauvoir in ‘The Second Sex’ noted how the “mystery” of women was an important part of patriarchal society which enabled men to talk as if women weren’t people – rather, ethereal, mysterious beings that the “rational male” cannot understand. If only, 55 odd years after this was written, de Beauvoir could see our sex education at school. The separation of boys and girls, each receiving their own different education, would horrify her. In hindsight, it almost appals me that, for the sake of squemishness alone, boys didn’t learn properly about sex education from a female perspective. Such education would have been invaluable, and could be invaluable, in the long run, in helping to bring about an end to misogyny, much of which is centred around lack of education about women and girls – the veil is maintained out of false modesty, and thus boys have very little actual clue about sex from a woman’s perspective. Certainly I had to find out myself for the most part about periods and pregnancy.

The actual sex education I received, which I assume was partly due to the Christian focus of the school, was very limited. It was your usual “there is no 100% safe sex” coupled with rather horrible descriptions of sexually transmitted diseases. Nothing on consent, at all. The best consent lesson I have ever received was on an internship in a PR office when the now-famous video comparing sexual consent to a cup of tea was shown around the office – completely out of school and something I only saw by chance because I got a good internship. I don’t remember my school teaching us anything at all about consensual sex, which is worrying given we were meant to be being educated about sex, the most important part of which is obviously consent. There was, however, some detailing of contraception, and wasn’t just limited to condoms, which is something that sex education does too often. Did it dissuade people from having sex? No – and it probably wasn’t aiming to. Did it dissuade people from unprotected sex? Probably not. I didn’t even know the “proper” way to put on a condom until I came to uni, mostly because my school was just too squeamish to actually get the condoms and bananas out and do demonstrations of what to actually do. Of course, there was the unspoken, tacit covenant that everyone knew already roughly what to do with a condom, which was true. I knew through common knowledge the very basic aspects of sex and sexual health- but anything beyond that was completely shrouded in mist. In school, sex was covered by a veil, a series of may-be-true-may-be-false stories told by older/more experienced lads, the unspoken assumptions unaddressed by teachers, which would only be totally dispelled upon the actual act of having sex.

This is not an uncommon thing, sadly. It seems that when you ask people about sex education, most will say that they didn’t really receive any kind of comprehensive sex ed at school, that schools shied away from the really important details. Worse still are the tales of religious schools either refusing to provide sexual education at all, or simply teaching abstinence-based sex ed, which is completely unsupported by evidence and is ineffective in delaying sexual activity and preventing teenage pregnancy – the latter should be the main aim of sex ed. There is simply no point in sexual education if it doesn’t do what it says on the tin, and provide a comprehensive education in sexual health. That includes teaching children about gay people, transgender people, non-binary people, condoms, consent, periods, pregnancy, the whole lot – and everyone should be taught universally as one group.


[Image credit: Aike Jansen]


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