For: James Alston
Last month, a number of MPs wrote to the Health Secretary Nicky Morgan asking for Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education to become mandatory, specifically calling for compulsory sex education. Unfortunately – shamefully even – Morgan has brushed off the concerns and instead said that the government will keep compulsory sexual education ‘under review’, which I take to means that she’s not bothered.
Her argument is that the quality of PSHE teaching is low – Ofsted found that 40 per cent was ‘less than good’ – and that this needs to be improved before it is made mandatory. But Suzi Price of the Huffington Post refuted this beautifully: “Imagine if that was another subject… ‘We don’t teach science very well, so let’s not bother.’ It doesn’t make a lot of sense.” She’s right. It doesn’t make sense. On the contrary, compulsory sexual education makes inarguable sense.
We need to take the Dutch model. Their sexual education begins as early as four and doesn’t only cover the actual sex itself, but also sexuality, contraceptives, STIs and emotional honesty. There is a requirement to teach about sexual diversity and primary schools are required by law to offer some form of sex education. Sexual coercion and abuse are also covered. The statistics are astounding. On average, Dutch teens have sex no earlier than other European teens and the majority of the Dutch said their first experience was ‘wanted and fun’. Nine out of ten teens used contraceptives their first time and the teen pregnancy rate is one of the lowest in the world. STD and HIV rates are also low and the studies suggest that honest and comprehensive sexual education is integral to maintaining sexually healthy people in society.
There is no reason not to adopt this model. Sexual education should cover everything – and that means everything. The practical side (infections, contraception, virginity, physical changes etc.) and the visceral side (homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality and everything in between, gender, sexual violence, relationships etc.) All the evidence suggests this kind of sexual education works to maintain healthy sex, and it is ever more important in a society which smears sex over our televisions and laptop screens.
Not only must sex education be synoptic, it must be mandatory. Currently independent schools, academies and free schools are not required to provide a program of sex and relationships education (though it is encouraged). This must change. We must learn to talk openly about sex and sexuality. Moreover, parents should not be allowed to remove their children from sexual education (which they can if a lesson is on something which isn’t on the curriculum, if they are nineteen years old or below), because it is essential that young people are as intelligent sexually as they are academically. How are they expected to live joyful, healthy sexual lives if they are never taught about sex?
Let’s have a conversation. And let it include everything, and everyone – because only then can we really start fixing these issues.
Against: Tom Morris
In Wales, sex education comes as one of the last things you learn in Personal and Social Education, a subject mainly taught in secondary school that gets precious little attention. This is bizarre, as it is probably the most important subject, but is sidelined, as it was in my school, in favour of extra Physical Education, Religious Education, and Welsh. It is taught by embarrassed teachers who often will be teaching the students in other subjects later. To avoid this situation, the teachers might just put on a few old VHS tapes for the pupils to watch.
The memory of the hilarious video on hygiene we watched in year seven or eight comes to mind- though it wasn’t technically sex ed. It was a badly animated cartoon where a boy and a girl attempt to seduce each other at a school disco but keep having to stop because one of them, usually the girl, yells out shrilly “Some of your bits ain’t nice!” The boy would then quickly run home and wash his hands/teeth/balls before coming back to resume the interaction as if nothing had happened.
The sex education is also just that- sex- but not sexy, and not loving. There is no such thing as relationship education, and that s the thing that should be explored. Furthermore, there is nothing about sexual pleasure- just cold, hard, and rather scary facts. In fact, depending on what age the proposed new sex ed curriculum is aimed at, it could be quite scarring, with those children exposed to it left confused and terrified about the whole subject.
Perhaps if the emphasis was on relationships rather than just sex, the very groups who are at present opposed to the idea of letting their children do sex ed would be more inclined to allow it. If there was more discussion about the kind of processes that lead to a happy sexual relationship such as dating, courtship, and even “going out on the pull,” the whole subject would seem less embarrassing and more natural for all involved.
Whilst I do believe that sex education should be compulsory for all teenagers, it’s focusing on all the wrong parts. The biology isn’t what needs the most attention, it is all of the other parts. Major reform of the sex education curriculum is needed before it can be considered an essential requirement for all of Britain’s young people.
In conclusion, the whole subject lacks investment. It seems ridiculous to consider making it compulsory when what it so desperately needs is a complete overhaul. As it is, it is far too centred on sex and not relationships, with very little thought given to alternative viewpoints such as those of differing religions, cultures or sexualities. The curriculum as it is only highlights why you should only have sex in one way –safely, but not happily, with no mention of what positive benefits you might get, only the negatives. No wonder that we live in such a sexually confused society if that is the way we are educated around it.