Sex Education – The Best Type of Protection
Ask anyone about their school experience with sex and relationship education and most people would be able to regale embarrassing stories of maths teachers awkwardly trying to manoeuvre noncompliant condoms over bananas to the amusement of many giggling school children. While most sex education covered the basics of what goes where in heterosexual couples, many equally important topics remained unbreeched – topics of consent or sex and relationships in the LGBT+ community.
Sex and relationship education may be an embarrassing topic, but it is also hugely important and has been infamous in the past for being massively under-taught.
Miss Eddie, a primary teacher whose full name and school will remain redacted, agrees that there’s still a long way to go with including diversity in sex and relationship education classes: “There’s a lot of focus on the basics of puberty and the action of sex to make a baby, however very little on the emotional aspects and how non-heterosexual relationships are natural and being asexual and never having sexual feelings is totally okay.”
Recent guidance changes in curriculum are now trying to include more diversity in lessons, especially in regard to LGBT+ topics. However, Miss Eddie explains that “there are very few resources in schools to support this, so it seems like it’s still very much down to individual teachers to ensure they are incorporating this, which means there are probably still huge gaps in the amount of exposure children have to this learning.”
Sexpression Glasgow is a charitable organisation that aims to help fill these gaps. A student-led organisation, Sexpression Glasgow trains students to attend organisations and talk to young people about sex and relationship education.
‘Sex and relationship education can no longer be underestimated, or its importance ignored. Education shouldn’t be simply about how to avoid unwanted pregnancy, or even how to avoid sex altogether.’
Rachel Gillett, social media officer at Sexpression Glasgow said: “We cover stuff from contraception to consent and healthy relationships. We try to make sure we’re giving as much information as we can and signposting when we can’t.”
Gillett added: “I think that there is more training that can be done for teachers with sex education because it is such a complicated topic.[Also] I think having someone you don’t know come in means you can ask uncomfortable questions and be safe knowing you’re probably never going to see them again.”
“When asked how sex education could become more inclusive, Gillett explains: “at the Scottish conference this year at Sexpression, we had a speaker in talking about disability education with sex education – they were saying that this is an area [of education] that is failing, and we can’t really have inclusive education without including disability with sex education.”
Listen to a podcast with Rachel Gillett about the top 10 sex myth not to believe
The Republic of Ireland have recently addressed their 20-year-old sexual education plan and updated the curriculum to include far more relevant lessons, including consent training. Recent #MeToo campaigns have made it abundantly clear this area of knowledge is flawed in many and only highlights the importance of combatting rape culture in schools.
Miss Eddie explains that many schools in Scotland already take consent training very seriously: “We do a lot in ensuring children know that nobody has the right to touch them unless they say so, whether it’s a hug or a high five, and anything underneath the underwear is for them only. If someone were to ask to see or touch them in a way they are uncomfortable with, they should tell a trusted adult.”
Sexpression Glasgow also works a lot with teaching consent. Gillett describes their programme for consent, which endeavours to teach that “it should be easy enough to withdraw consent if you need to.” However, they do more than simply teach people how to say no. They are also preoccupied with teaching people how to recognise scenarios where consent can’t be given or when non-verbal signals suggest consent is not present. After allegations involving self-proclaimed feminist, Aziz Ansari, surfaced earlier this year, it became clear that even people who claim to understand consent can miss or ignore more subtle signals that someone is uncomfortable with developing proceedings.
For people who missed out on a decent sex and relationship education at school, there is plenty of information online. Gillett suggests Scarleteen, Bedsider, Planned Parenthood and a YouTube series called Sexplanation, which “has everything you could ever want to know about sex.”
“It’s sad that the internet is where we have to get our information because it’s not taught well enough at school but at least you have the sources there.
“On the flip side, there are loads of misconceptions that can be perpetuated through the internet.
“I think as educators we need to work with the internet,” explains Gillett, “like, here are all the tools now you can investigate yourself.
“If I’ve taught you well enough to go out on the internet, see odd things and think “hmm that doesn’t sound exactly right” then that’s good.”
Sex and relationship education can no longer be underestimated, or its importance ignored. Education shouldn’t be simply about how to avoid unwanted pregnancy, or even how to avoid sex altogether. Times are changing, and educators need to accept that young people deserve as much inclusive information as possible. Failing their students isn’t an option.