I’m quite old, so it won’t come as a shock when I tell you that any sex education I received was worse than useless. We learned how mammals made babies, and that’s it. I distinctly recall being told about penises becoming engorged with blood which, to a nine-year-old, sounded like something out of a slasher movie. I don’t think I really knew what engorged meant, but it didn’t sound nice. It still doesn’t sound great. Engorged. Yuck.
My increasingly horrified classmates (all boys) and I became even more traumatised when told that, once the penis was fully engorged, it was then inserted into a hole at the “top of the woman’s legs”. I did not picture what I now know a vagina to look like. Why would I? Instead, I visualised an opening located on the thigh – quite close to the groin – covered in a sort of pink membrane. If you imagine placing an unrolled, flesh-coloured condom on your upper thigh, that’s sort of it.
As if this horror weren’t enough, we were then subjected to a (thankfully) black and white TV broadcast of a woman giving birth. Black and white! I told you I was old. It was a bloodbath, literally. I remember the screams, the bloodcurdling, agonising screams as a real-life human infant was squeezed out of an unfeasibly small aperture. Our teacher fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat. My classmates’ faces went white. I think one or two of them did a wee in their pants. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of them weren’t suffering from PTSD to this day, and this was 1973. Surely, this can’t be what actually happens. I tried to imagine my mother doing it. Impossible. What about the Queen? Definitely not the Queen. The Queen doesn’t even poo, for goodness’ sake. This must be some sort of elaborate hoax.
Let’s spin forward a generation or two, and the internet has changed everything. The average age of a child in Britain first seeing online porn is… wait for it… 11 years old. This is Not A Good Thing, especially when you consider that most internet porn can hardly be considered vanilla. This means that most British kids’ early exposure to the world of sex may involve bondage, fisting, women with absolutely no body hair, sexual humiliation, forced anal, rape fantasies, extreme violence and more. Goodness only knows what this is teaching our young people. It is very worrying.
All of which leads me to the British Government’s proposals for sex and relationships education (SRE) in England, which are set to kick in during 2020. In my view, the proposals are pretty good – they’re not limited to the biology of reproduction and encompass non-heterosexual relationships. They also start in primary school. Good.
So, what’s the problem?
Well… I’m glad you asked, because there’s a BLOODY HUMUNGOUS PROBLEM that needs to be addressed by Parliament and it concerns faith schools, which will be permitted to “teach within the tenets of their faith”. I don’t like this idea. Effectively, it’s an opt-out. Most religions are not especially keen on sex before marriage, some don’t approve of sex for any reason other than procreation (BORING), and none of them are that keen on non-hetero relationships. To be fair, the Church of England and Reform Judaism (among others) have managed, more or less, to move with the times, but why should the wellbeing of our children – and I do believe that decent SRE has a direct bearing on a child’s wellbeing – be dictated by what was written in books thousands of years ago by old men?
People – usually men – with a warped view of sex are more likely to rape and abuse. Of course, sex criminals come from all backgrounds and a small number are women, but it cannot be a coincidence that two of the biggest sexual abuse scandals of our age have their roots in religions with regressive attitudes to sex, the Catholic Church and, in the case of grooming gangs in the north of England, Islam.
We cannot – must not – allow antiquated ideas about sex and relationships to trump the law of the land in our schools. Yes, religion should be respected, but schools should never be exempt from teaching the National Curriculum. If teachers don’t like it, they can get another job. If faith schools don’t like it, they can lose their faith school status and become a secular institution.
Let us be clear. Healthy, progressive sex education is essential for the wellbeing of future generations. Leaving children to learn about sex and relationships from priests, rabbis and imams or – worse – the likes of Pornhub, is a betrayal which without doubt will result in increased levels of serious sex crime, hate crime and suicide.
The public consultation on SRE has now closed, but if you feel as strongly as I do, you can still write to your MP and express any concerns.