Sex Educate me!

// 17 March 2008

The Scarleteen book and website are excellent sex education resources: a big feminist thumbs up!

When Daily Mail-ites accuse government ministers of “brainwashing”, you know said ministers are probably onto a good thing. Secondary school teachers are being encouraged to “canvass young people’s opinions on what ‘they’ think they should learn at various ages”, and have been provided with a booklet full of what appears to me to be eminently sensible advice, including this questionnaire for pupils, complete with suggested “correct” answers:

Cue panic at the Mail:

Critics have already warned that the review is an underhand attempt to bring in compulsory sex education for primary pupils.


Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern, accused the forum of trying to manipulate impressionable youngsters.

“It’s verging on brainwashing,” he said. “The forum is committed to promoting the view that there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to sexual relationships.

“The authors of this toolkit are clearly aiming to steer children away from a belief in moral absolutes and encouraging them to think everything is relative.

“The only truly safe and healthy choice is to follow a clear moral code that keeps sexual intimacy within the context of a faithful and lifelong marriage.”

Mr Wells said it was a “serious abdication of adult responsibility” to allow the curriculum to be shaped by the views of impressionable children.

It is, however, clearly moral and right that we allow the likes of Mr Wells to force his views upon these children. With the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe and 1 in 3 women needing an abortion in their lifetime, teaching abstinence until marriage and reinforcing the feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt that are part and parcel of this approach is clearly the best way forward. *head/desk*

Luckily, it looks like most teachers are in favour of compulsory sex education:

These fears were compounded by a Times Educational Supplement survey yesterday, which revealed that two thirds of primary teachers support compulsory sex education. Many want it for seven-year-olds.

About time too. Because now we get to the edumacate me section of the post. I am 23 years old and have been sexually active since I was 15. I am now about to list all the things that I either do not know, or was forced to research independently, because I was not taught them at school. I am quite embarrassed about some of this, but I think it needs to be put out there: this, along with the high teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the UK, is the reason we need compulsory sex education in this country.

  • I never practiced putting on a condom during sex education. As a result, I have always been – and still am – embarrassed and awkward about using condoms, leaving the man to deal with it. My first boyfriend was similarly ill equipped to use condoms correctly, and as a result I had to take emergency contraception when I was 17 after a condom split. (As an aside, this was on a Sunday when the local family planning clinic was closed – I had to get it from Tesco’s pharmacy at a cost of £20 – some young women would not have been able to afford this – FREE contraception now, please).
  • I did not realise until very recently that you could get an STD from giving fellatio. I am still not 100% clear as to whether you can get STDs from cunnilingus – I assume you can, but is this preventable? This links into another issue…
  • I was never told anything about female orgasm, ejaculation or cum. This resulted in all kinds of worries as to whether I was normal and healthy, while the general refusal to recognise female ejaculation (take it from me, it exists by the bucket load, hehehe…) prevents discussion of the potential for STD transferral through this fluid.
  • I have always been aware of my right to say no to sex and to resist pressure. This is a good thing, though easier said than done. However, the idea of gaining active consent was never touched upon in my education, and is something I only became aware of when I discovered feminism.
  • Similarly, there was no discussion of the importance of NOT pressuring others, the implication being that no one in this school would do such a thing. Quite who these mysterious pressuring individuals were I don’t know… Schools should have a responsibility to recognise and try and counteract the messages that many pupils, boys in particular, will have absorbed from pornography, and focusing on active mutual consent and pleasure could go a long way towards doing this. Better still, get these values instilled early, and maybe young people will start rejecting the misogynist porn that saturates the internet.
  • Homosexual relationships were mentioned in the context of families, but not sex itself. While pupils may have had some awareness about the risks and issues involved in heterosexual sex, they would have hd no idea about homosexual sex, and my ignorance with regards to cunnilingus is a case in point (though this of course also applies to men going down on women).
  • I didn’t know what cystitis was until I suffered from it. Since the doctor told me to go to the toilet immediately after having sex I’ve never had it again, and if they’d just bloody tell us about it at school so many women wouldn’t have to go through the pissing burning hot razors hell. I also didn’t know what thrush was or how to prevent and treat it.

Well, I think that’s enough for now, but it’d be great to hear about other people’s experiences of sex education at school (or lack thereof). I think it’s crystal clear that we need to introduce compulsory sex education classes in all schools. These should be taught be a properly trained and qualified teachers, and I actually think there should be some kind of informal assessment involved in the course to give young people the incentive to learn, and ensure that they at least know how to put a condom on properly, if nothing else. Making the course more formal and ensuring that everyone gets involved will take away some of the embarrassment factor, or at least make it a shared, collective embarrassment, rather than having individual kids fear ridicule if they want to practice putting on a condom or asking a question.

Finally, and to pre-empt the inevitable ‘we shouldn’t encourage kids to have sex’ arguments: sex is natural, it feels good and kids and young people are going to want to experiment. Personally, I have had sexual feelings from the age of seven, and I know I’m not the only one. Nothing that has been done to shame, guilt trip or punish people for having sex has stopped them doing so. We need to accept that kids and young people will have sex and enable them to do so in the safest, most positive and well-informed way. This is particularly important in the current climate, where very stereotypical and often misogynistic portrayals of sex and sexual imagery are absolutely everywhere.

We are currently failing our children and young people by refusing to properly educate them on sexual matters. Not only that, we put their lives, health and well being in danger. So enough of the Daily Mail and their conservative Christian morals: compulsory sex education NOW!

Hat-tip to Rhetorically Speaking for the Mail article.

Comments From You

Jennifer // Posted 17 March 2008 at 12:11 pm

You absolutely can contract an STI from cunnilingus – either the giver or receiver can pass an infection along or be infected. And dental dams are one safer sex practice that can help reduce the chance of infection. Wikipedia has a very small section on dental dams for sex at the very bottom of this page:

Betsy // Posted 17 March 2008 at 1:18 pm

I didn’t have a single sex ed class between the ages of 12 and 18. At 12 it was full of embarrassed giggling, perpetuated by the BIOLOGY teacher who wanted to talk only about the science and cover nowt on the emotions. The (one, half hour) lesson at 18 was essentially a waste as the teacher went on about contraceptive sponges, didn’t talk about homosexuality at all, didn’t talk about sex without marriage, never talked about ENJOYING sex, and she assured my 18 year-old self that I would change my mind about having children “when I was older”. Oh, and I remember her saying that we should remember (within the context of sex) men were losing their place in society, and that (as independent, educated females) we should rein ourselves in on behalf of the poor men.

In seven years, at the same secondary school, I only had two sex education lessons. Do I feel let down? Pretty much.

sian // Posted 17 March 2008 at 1:23 pm

Ha this made me laugh and think about a lot of crap i was taught at school and what i wasn’t taught. im 23 too, and it scares me how little we were actively taught about, which didn’t use terror tactics.

First up – and this isn’t a joke – we learnt about STDs with a booklet illustrated by…hedgehogs. the little hedgehogs were married and happy, but mr hedgehog had a complaint…it was unbelievable! i left school with little knowledge of the symptoms of STDS and a disturbed impression of hedgehogs.

i was told that you could only get a coil once you had had a family and not when you were young and childless, something which my doctor assures me isn’t true.

my PSE teacher told us categorically that abortion was wrong, after explaining how she wasn’t allowed to give her own opinion.

again, homosexuality was secretly touched upon, after the same teacher teling us it was illegal to teach about it due to section 28 (another lie) and yes, only in context of an “issue” and not in context of sex ed.

the whole system was made ridiculous in the constant reiteration of marriage and waiting being best, even in a secular, comprehensive school.

i think the idea to allow students a say in their sex ed is vital. the teaching about gay sex is important as most classes will have a gay pupil, im bisexual and found the whole of sex ed pretty irrelevant to me at the time, as none of it addressed my concerns. at 15, i defintely didn’t plan on marriage! the daily mail has somehow made a link between sex ed and the sexualisation of children. i think by encouraging the former, the latter willl be tempered.

anyway, that’s my story!

Li // Posted 17 March 2008 at 1:33 pm

I actually researched and wrote an (unpublished) article about the dire state of sex education for a journalism course at university. Until I did this, I had no idea that sex education wasn’t compulsory for everyone. I thought that I’d covered every issue, then a while after finishing my article, I realised that I hadn’t even thought about the heteronormism of the sex education that children do receive at school!

Argh. This issue makes me so angry!

Kirsten // Posted 17 March 2008 at 2:12 pm

My sex education at school was decent. But my most useful source of information has been

Lube was something entirely ignored in my school sex education. And it is very important for using condoms properly.

Kate // Posted 17 March 2008 at 2:30 pm

On the point of compulsion/ participation, I agree that sex education should be compulsory. However this means that the teachers and curriculum must be able to deal with children for whom elements of it may be strange, frightening, or inappropriate for their particular level of maturity. Of course some of this is about making sex education a safe space and making sure that the girl who puts a condom on a banana isn’t then subject to sexual bullying for the next term, and this can be managed. However there may be some children for whom e.g. putting a condom on a banana is a level of sexual engagement with which they are not comfortable, which is a different type of discomfort from “will I be made fun of for asking a question?” of even “will boys expect me to have sex if they know I know how to use a condom?” So whilst I agree that children should have much, much better sex education, and that it’s reasonable to expect that they should all e.g. see a demonstration of condom use and be able to answer factual questions about STDs, it’s important that personal engagement is not demanded beyond an individual child’s ability to cope with it.

Christina // Posted 17 March 2008 at 2:42 pm

I left this comment on the website:

“Personally I would’ve been glad to have received the kind of sex education the government is proposing. In my school the only type of sex eduction we got was one awkward lecture on biological processes. Education on contraception wasn’t given until most pupils were 17, by which point many were already having sex (and some had children of their own!) I hardly think giving young people education on how to prevent pregancies and STD’s, while promoting a respectful attitude towards sex could be considered ‘brainwashing’. With the highest teenage pregancy rate and Europe and evidence from America that abstinence only education has little effect, a new approach is obviously sorely needed.”

Though, (having tried to comment on Daily Mail articles before) I have slim hopes it’ll actually be published.

Nicola // Posted 17 March 2008 at 2:47 pm

I had two lessons in sex ed in primary school, and maybe one in secondary school. Although, thinking about it, it’s unfair to even call it “sex ed” – it focused on the biology involved, showed us a woman contorted in agony whilst giving birth, and that was about it.

My school ran a program through which it gave out free condoms, and I suppose given that my school had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Leeds, it was a good idea. On the other hand, I don’t remember them ever teaching anyone anything to do with STDs or the emotional side of sex. It was more just “come after school and get your free condoms”. Luckily I pursued my own learning in the matter, but I’m sure plenty of people didn’t.

At the age of 20, after being sexually active for four years, I only just feel completely comfortable with sex. I’m without a doubt that it would have been completely different if my school had had proper sex ed.

Anne Onne // Posted 17 March 2008 at 3:29 pm

Christina, I know! The Daily Male have such a sneaky site. I always thought that comment moderation was to pick out the most reasoned comments from either side, but in their case, they only normally leave the most obtuse comments, particularly if they are paranoid and slut-shaming.

I remember this article, particularly because I thought giving kids advice that sex outside of marriage is OK is sane advice. I always find it baffling that the vast majority of people (even Daily Mail readers!) have sex long before marriage (if they even get married!), yes somehow we’re supposed to shame these kids into not having sex? Despite the media telling them how amazing it is? Despite everyone else doing it like rabbits?

I think it’s important teenagers get useful, thoughtful advice, whether they’re just curious or feel ready for sex. I think it’s also important that they are told it’s OK for them not to want sex, or to like members of their sex. There’s just so much pressure ot fall into an actively sexual heterosexual relationship that I think a lot of children who feel that they don’t fit in that way feel left out.

I also think a lot more education and responsibility had to be focused on boys. Impressing on them the importance of consent, and of not pressign the issue or whining. The importance of using contraception, even if you won’t get pregnant anf probably won’t be left infertile (I know there are risks, but people always downplay the risks men face through unprotected sex). I hate how people just shrug and say ‘boys just won’t care about all that, so no point trying’ and give up. They have to care. But how can they possibly do so if nobody sets them an example?

Personally, I got OK sex education in secondary school. Taught how to put on a condom, did talk about STIs and methods of contraception. We were given booklets at 16 which included sexual health advice (It was a booklet about teenagers’ rights and was full of lots of useful stuff!). We also had a workshop thing with sixth formers, which made it a lot easier to talk about sex and how to use contraception. Of course, this was in addition to biology lessons, so we ended up fairly well prepared in terms of knowing basic contraception types, that you should use more than one, knowing the myths aren’t true. It also helped that our PSHE teacher was gay and Jewish, so after an unforgettable talk by a Rabbi who compared homosexuality to bestiality and incest, he gave us a quiet talk on things, which I think really helped humanise LGBT people in the eyes of some of my classmates.

I would say it could have been better, but considering how awful sex education is in a lot of schools, we were well off! Then again, being a girls’ school, there was no problem of having sex education lessons with boys.

I just wish there would have been more of an emphasis on how abortion is not wrong, and how pupils can access contraception if needed.

in primary school I remember we had a sex education lesson separately, which was good for dealing with awkwardness. Our ‘periods and contraception’ talk was pretty basic, but there were a lot of mythbusters, which are always useful.

I think that a lot of the proposals are good, provided that the staff doing the teaching is sensitive to the needs of their pupils, and act appropriately.

Virago // Posted 17 March 2008 at 3:37 pm

My sex ed classes were confined to a chat about tampons in Yr 6 at Primary, and Biology lessons (I got 100% in the test! XD)

I didn’t actually know *how* people had sex until I furtively watched softcore porn on late night cable at the age of 14. I was so ignorant the whole idea terrified me, but my desire for sex was very strong. It was only through masturbation and the internet that I learned to explore myself more and learn about sex.

Scarleteen is excellent, as is ‘Our Bodies Our Selves’, especially this page.

Young people will have sex, and in this climate as children are sexualised earlier and earlier they’ll be having sex younger and younger. Why condemn these young people to ignorance, fear, STIs and unwanted pregancy simply because the Middle England nutjobs at the Daily Mail can’t abide the thought of childen being taught about sex?

Holland (incidentally the country with the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe) is much more open about sex and their sex ed. curriculum is excellent, occuring at Primary and Secondary levels.

And I’m still not confident with putting a condom on.

Cecilia // Posted 17 March 2008 at 3:42 pm

I’m Swedish and had my first sex ed class when I was 7. It was great – our teacher told us the polite way to initiate sex: ask ‘would you like to have intercourse with me’ and then we got to hold a condom, although there was no explanation what it was for.

Oxymoron // Posted 17 March 2008 at 3:44 pm

I’m 17 and currently in my last year of 6th Form. I go to a very good school and I’m sure have had a much better standard of sex eduction that many other schools in my area, yet still I completely identify with the issues raised in this article and comments.

At Primary school at the age of 11 we had ‘Sex Education’, which basically involved handing out free towels-the boys were very jealous, yet about 4 girls were removed from this lesson by their parents. Two girls in my class had already started their periods at this point, and there was no mention made of sex. This would be fine if it was built upon in secondary school, but it most certainly was not.

In ‘PHSE’ we had six weeks focusing on Drugs/sex/health education, yet the focus was certainly on the drugs side. We watched a video on giving birth, with much screaming, watched a video on contraception whihc was at least ten years old and america-which made it more amusing than come already thought it was.

In year 11 (age15-16) we touched on STD’s, but mainly in a biological sense.

This year I researched and led an assembly on HIV/AIDS prevention for the whole 6th form, and realised I knew nothing about it! Not only did I discover that you can catch it from oral sex, but discovered that 1/3 young people think it can be caught by kissing or sharing a toilet seat!

I’m shocked that such a devastating disease was left out of out education pretty much altogether!

I also still would have no idea how to put a condom on a man, and my mum had to tell me about lubricant and the pill.

Erin // Posted 17 March 2008 at 5:16 pm

I’m almost sixteen and so far the sex education I’ve received has been pretty terrible. We had a period in a ‘Social Education’ class which was meant to be a bit of a refresher – you would not believe some of the things people were asking: ‘Can you get an STI through anal sex?’, ‘What’s an orgasm?’ and ‘Can you get pregnant if… [insert blatantly obvious method of getting pregnant here]’

Also – I know so many people who think the condom is 100% effective; the word ‘orgasm’ has never been discussed by any teacher, despite questions being asked; ask anyone in my year what STIs they’re aware of and you’ll be lucky to find anyone who knows of any others apart from ‘chlamydia’ and possibly ‘gonorrhea’; ask them what chlamydia and gonorrhea ARE and I’d bet anything they wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Proper, good sex education will do wonders and it really annoys me that these people like Norman Wells are failing to realise that the majority have modern views and sex education needs to keep up with the times, regardless of how ideal or not it is to Wells.

Jennifer // Posted 17 March 2008 at 5:17 pm

(different Jennifer from the one above!)

The sex education in my school was pretty much confined to watching a video of a woman give birth (kinda terrifying when I was 11 – I am 25 now) and then a talk about tampons in girls P.E. So, yeah, pretty much nothing. However, I *did* find away to get educated. And that was by way of Just17.

I think Just17 is defunct now, which makes me sad. Yeah, I know perpetrated a lot of gender sterotypes, but it was also about telling young girls that they could be whatever they wanted to be. It wasn’t for 17 year olds – it was 13/14 year olds who all desperately wanted to be like those 6th form girls.

Just17 taught me about sex. It taught me about STD’s, about blow jobs, about cunniligus, about how to say no, about how to say yes, about contraception (I remember being about 11 and seeing a condom in its pages and in my innocence having *no* idea how it would work), it taught me about Brook Advisory. It gave me snappy one-liners to say if a guy didn’t want to wear a condom! It told me that sex was natural and that I should never feel pressured to do it. It told me that if I did want to do it, then that was okay, but here was the information to protect myself.

Where have the magazines like Just17 gone?! (I have flicked through other magazines such as Bliss and Sugar but they barely even touch on the subject of sex education). Just17, our country needs you!

Eleanor T // Posted 17 March 2008 at 5:46 pm

I completely agree that the school environment has a responsibility to inform pupils about life changes, including sex and relationships. However, we shouldn’t isolate it to just school. Surely parents have far more of a responsibility to ensure their children not only know the biology behind sexual intercourse, but also the emotional and physical consequences? If parents want to take their children out of sex ed. then they have the complete responsibility for their child’s sexual health.

Perhaps we need to start educating parents too? After all, judging by the comments posted here, even we as young adults don’t know everything. What use will we be when our own little darlings start asking where babies come from?

Feminist Avatar // Posted 17 March 2008 at 6:13 pm

I missed our single sex ed class (taught in biology aged 14) and when I asked what I missed, my teacher told me there was nothing I didn’t already know. This was a bit presumptous, but I think it was only on biological processes, so she was probably right. I think I am quite well-informed, but only because I am interested in this topic so read quite widely in books and the net.

Tazia // Posted 17 March 2008 at 9:17 pm

A lie directed towards self-deception is the greatest sin, it is the difference between being deliberately stupid and merely accidently wrong.

Why compulsion when no compulsion is needed? It is not the job of feminism to be the political commissars of the teaching unions.

Ofsted records report that only about 0.04 per cent of pupils – four in every 10,000 – are withdrawn from non-statutory sex education lessons. (The statutory elements, which are in the national science curriculum, cover anatomy, puberty and the biological aspects of sexual reproduction.). The 0.04 per cent problem constituency (which is not getting pregnant) is patently so tiny as to be entirely meaningless.

Exterior models?

There is a price attached to things, Holland, Germany, Denmark, they’ve their own secrets and problems.

The UN thought the old EOC’s plans for copying Denmark were psychiatricly disordered. Danish parents had to appeal to the UN to protect their kids.

Why the compulsion? It is about Paranoia, it is linked to the school uniform codes, the skirt bans, the hot-cross bun bans, the pig petting expeditions, the cell-phone in class hysteria, it is about absolute power.

The teaching unions want absolute control of the work environment, for example, British schools have openly and shamelessly developed ways to eschew Polish and Sikh pupils.

Hate crime by teachers?

What do the police say? They say this, the BNP are not the real problem. There is more than enough ordinary prejudice going around to keep them busy and the teaching profession is a big prob.

I also don’t think we need Maoist programs to drag parents into sex-ed, life is kafkaesque enough in Britain without becoming more orwellian than it already is.

if I refer back to the OFSTED stats, it is about the death of truth. So the best way to have a zero-Sikh content in a school is to ban the kara, not only does it work, but the authorities go along with it.

One hasn’t seen this side of Britain since the 1960s.

Tazia // Posted 17 March 2008 at 9:33 pm

Most schools of any size will have quite a number of gay students.

Most classes however, won’t have a gay student. One of the issues we had in Holland was that we were so few.

That is also why organization is key, how to have a million strong gay parade in the GTA Canada closely tagged to gay marriage, when the demand for gay marriage is virtually zero.

The British Empire was operated on similar lines, if one doesn’t have a division to throw at a problem, sent a regimental band.

Foreigners take lead in Toronto same-sex weddings

Fri Jun 22, 2007 6:21 PM EDT148

TORONTO (Reuters) – In the city that was home to Canada’s first legalized gay wedding — and the host of the country’s biggest and brashest Pride Week celebrations — so far this year only one marriage license has been issued to a Canadian same-sex couple

One goes with what one has, it was a huge parade, the market for gay marriage didn’t really exist, however that wasn’t the point was it? We could always import them.

It iwas about winning. When we lie to each other we lose.

Laura // Posted 17 March 2008 at 10:16 pm

Thanks for sharing, everyone! A few things I forgot to mention there, particularly the importance of telling kids and teenagers that it’s OK not to want to have sex. I agree that parents also need to be educated and encouraged to speak to their children about sex – embarrassment just isn’t a good enough excuse.

I’ve added a link to Scarleteen at the top of the post, it is indeed a great resource.

Laura // Posted 17 March 2008 at 10:35 pm

Tazia, I think you’re missing the point. Yes, I reinforced the idea of compulsory sex ed because that’s what the Mail was up in arms about, but the main issue here – as you can see from my experiences and those of the 16 people above – is that sex education in this country is letting us down. If we are to cut teen pregnancy rates, levels of STD infection and reduce the number of abortions, it needs to be drastically improved. This has nothing whatsoever to do with PC concerns about hot cross buns or racism against SIkh schoolchildren.

As for the assertion that they are very few gay kids in school classes – how do we know? With heterosexuality so dominant many of us are moulded into this mode of sexual being. How about kids who are bisexual or have leanings that they would explore but are discourged from doign due to heterosexism? And even if there are only a handful of gay kids, that’s no reason not to talk about homosexual relationships.

Tazia // Posted 18 March 2008 at 12:42 am

The average classroom in the UK doesn’t usually have a gay pupil in it. I am definitely saying that.

The Sikh thing?

So, do we sit back and allow the Sikhs to be targeted? Our rights portfolio is just a little self-centered.

Adele // Posted 18 March 2008 at 1:03 am

I’m Australian, and I have to say this is fairly sobering reading. I had my first sex education lesson in about year 5 of primary school – about what was appropriate/inappropriate touching and how to say no in various circumstances. Obviously we were also taught names for bits and how they would change with puberty.

I had sex ed all through high school up until year 11. We were taught sexually transmitted infections, contraception and all the rest. Homosexuality wasn’t dealt with a great deal, I don’t think. We also didn’t get to put condoms on a banana (something which most of us a deeply bitter about).

The New South Wales system isn’t perfect, but it sounds pretty much like what keeps getting proposed in England – age appropriate and comprehensive sex education. And that is undoubtedly a good thing.

Laura // Posted 18 March 2008 at 9:55 am

And I’m definitely saying that you have no way of knowing. My point with the Sikh thing is that my post was about sex education, not racism, and I’d appreciate it if you could keep comments on topic.

Lynne Miles // Posted 18 March 2008 at 10:05 am


I don’t think you’re right about the average classroom not having a gay pupil in it. Although there is no hard data on this, the government and Stonewall accepted estimate is that between 5% and 7% of the population are gay ( see here).

I see no reason why 5 to 7% of any classroom shouldn’t be comprised of children who will be of alternative sexuality. Of course some of them will and some of them won’t realise it at the time, as sexualities develop at different rates.

You haven’t answered Laura’s point, which is valid – even if there are no gay (/potentially gay) children in a given class, why should they not learn about all different constructions of relationships and families in sex/relationships education (obviously in an age-appropriate way) if 5-7% of the people they encounter in the world (where, remember, they will live) will be? It’s not only the gay kids who need to learn about the existence of gay people – although obviously it’s vital that they know about sex risks specific to them, and how to avoid them.

On another note – can you please try to keep comments relevant and coherent? Much of the time you seem to be flying off on a tangent unrelated to the conversational thread – your comment about Sikhs being a case in point (NB – if you want to talk about Sikhs, I was taught about all of the major world religions in RE at school, but not a breath about homosexuality).

chem_fem // Posted 18 March 2008 at 10:07 am

I’m another person who got the majority of my sex education from Just17.

Judy Bloom novels was another place.

Laura // Posted 18 March 2008 at 10:26 am

Yes! Judy Blume taught me so many things. I first learnt about periods from reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It scared the crap out of me, though, because she had to wear some kind of towel and belt contraption which sounded like a huge nappy. Thank god for tampons and mooncups…

Hannah C // Posted 18 March 2008 at 12:15 pm

I only had three sex education lessons in my whole schoool life.

Firstly the biology one where you just looked at drawings of genitalia.

Then the “if you have sex you WILL catch an STI” lesson, where we were told about the many diseases but astonishingly not taught how to put a condom on or where to find a sexual health clinic if we needed it.

And finally a lesson consisting of our teacher putting on a video of ‘how to have sex’ – this was when we were 16 and half the class had probably already done it and i’d be surprised if the rest didn’t know how it worked by that age. Its just appaling! I really thought that sex eduacation would have improved in the time since i’ve left school but obviously not.

The Daily Mail’s moralising drives me mad – they complain about the high teenage pregnancy rate but then attack any school that dares to offer a decent sex education or hands out condoms.

And I agree with Jennifer about how great Just17 was, I had to get most of my education from it too.

Genevieve // Posted 18 March 2008 at 1:00 pm

I had something of a sex education class in 8th grade (13-14). It mostly focused on biology, but we were encouraged to ask anonymous questions on slips of paper which our teacher would then answer. Mine was, “what is oral sex” because I kept hearing about it but had no clue what it was. Her answer? “Think about it: oral…sex.” Ja, vielen dank…make me feel even more awkward and confused. I still had no idea whether oral sex was what it actually is or whether it was explicit talking about sex.

Another person asked if you could get pregnant if you were wearing clothes. Her response: “Well, you definitely can if you’re wearing socks.” Uh…pretty sure they were talking about pants there, ma’am. Everybody knows there’s no semen coming out of your toes.

People need explicit information. There’s misleading facts about sex everywhere in the media, people need to know that their teachers are telling them complete and unbiased facts.

Amy // Posted 19 March 2008 at 7:14 pm

The sex education at my school left much to be desired, but one omission that particularly stands out is that in all our sex ed lessons and lists of STDs we could catch there was not even one mention of the HPV (human papilloma virus) that is carried by men and causes cervical cancer in women. I had no idea it even existed. Then the first man that I slept with without a condom (he was my long term boyfriend, neither of us had STDs, I was on the pill, thought I was being responsible) gave me the HPV and I have had borderline/abnormal smear tests many times since. I have to go back for a smear every six months to make sure there are no pre-cancerous cells and it has caused me not insignificant amounts of stress. I’m pretty angry at my school for leaving me and my fellow classmates ignorant of HPV and its risks. A female schoolmate less conscientious about smears than me could have cervical cancer by now – it’s that serious. And some moralising idiots have the gall to say young girls shouldn’t be vaccinated against this virus. It beggars belief.

monique // Posted 26 March 2008 at 8:45 am

i wanted to add a mention of a site i get a lot of great sex ed material from:

Sarah // Posted 26 March 2008 at 12:27 pm

Some of the sex ed at my school was pretty good (including everyone writing down all the words they could think of for men/womens genitalia, which was pretty fun!) but I definitly felt that the teachers were uncomfortable with the content and everyone felt quite awkward discussing things with them. Later in school we had some sex educators come in especially and do workshops with us, which was a LOT better as they really knew what they were talking about, although it would have been better if it was earlier (this was around 16, when a lot of people had started having sex). I definitly think that having non-teachers come in and discuss sex would make things better, if only because they have the specialist knowledge and confidence that often are lacking in parents/teachers and which leads to the pupils getting an incomplete picture.

Li // Posted 26 March 2008 at 11:09 pm

Jennifer – J17 got cancelled a couple of months after an editorial change that turned the magazine to absolute crap.

They were my sex education! They even did an article about masturbation for girls. Awesome.

Amy – You’re right abot HPV. That was never mentioned, not even in magazines. I only learnt about it when the vaccine was in the news.

Jacob (19) // Posted 1 June 2008 at 3:37 pm

Heya super blog! I’m signing up!

Supprisingly the first mention of sex at school was about homosexuality; in year 3 i think, all the boys started calling eachother gay… I had no idea what it meant, my friend jonny said it was a man who slept with another man and I got worried because me and my brother had bunk beds. My teacher suddenly realised what was going on and sat everyone down on the mat, and told us that “gay” is not a bad thing to call people, there’s nothing wrong with it, that it’s mean to pretend that gay people are something bad, and that even some of her friends were gay and were lovely people, but she wouldn’t tell us what it meant. Even so, none of that was part of her teaching “plan” – nor even something the school would necessarily have had her say, but it’s that sort of humanistic approach that I missed in the established sex ed through the rest of school.

I found out over time what gay meant from my friends who weren’t the most neutral bunch, and my midwife mum who was great. She made me recite to her what sex was and why i should use a condom, long after I was telling her i was old enough to know already! After a while we had a video at school which was pretty weird, and all about puberty. It seems really ironic that video, the medium they used to try and show us how to feel comfortable, was specifically chosen because the adults who should have been doing this would have been too uncomfortable with telling us, or not trusted. This was not cool when I realised that it’s the people around us that have the biggest effect on how we behave, not some outdated detached anonymous voice over some cartoon about bunny rabbits. I felt that I had learnt things but really wanted to know more. The question & answer with my teacher was great, i now know that screaming during fictional sex does not depict excruciating pain.

We had the biology side of things later which was just science as far as I could see. In PHSE or RE the moral issues of sex were simply thrown up for discussion and we got the grade if something regarding sexual ethics was well written. Whereas I think that elsewhere in the curriculum they should really TEACH prochoice, just as they teach equal rights, after all the laws here reflect prochoice. Similarly, I don’t think gender stereotypes were ever discredited. If anything the assumptions used by teachers when talking to boys or girls about sex enforced them. Boys were always assumed bad, so sort of filled the roll also.

In year 11, we had sex ed taught by (hot) sixthformers, which was really fun, though there wasn’t much sincerity, since they were pretty much one of us, they just told us all the info with tongue in cheek. They forgot to buy bananas, so we put condoms on our fingers, told how to do it quite well (which stood me in relatively good sted). There wasn’t much about sex in relationships, setting boundaries, acknowledging uncomfortable sex (as often cured by lube), what was a g-spot?, how big was my penis supposed to be? etc etc… and on the topic of safe sex, one of the biggest causes of failure is misuse including under lubrication ah! And listing all those diseases like a memory test didn’t really sink in.

All in all i think reading materials should be available in class rooms and a culture should be encouraged of talking about sex all any time with the easily accessible staff.

And just because someone IDs as straight it doesn’t mean they may not later need to know about gay sex. We do learn loads from the people around us. Queer students could do with friends and parents who are comfortable with talking about gay sex from having learnt about it at school.

What really gets me is how much I enjoyed sex ed, everyone used to talk about it from weeks before until weeks after, I genuinely looked forward to finding more and more about this “adults only” thing, I was so so ready to learn. And yet it was so lacking. So many other subject teachers would moan about how unenthusiastic their pupils were, where on this one subject, everyone just wanted more, but it wasn’t there.

(It’s so cool that you’ve linked to scarleteen, I love it, have been volunteering there for a while)

Danielle Kemm // Posted 1 June 2008 at 11:36 pm

I got absolutely no sex education from school, having gone to a Catholic primary and secondary school. Luckily I had sensible parents who gave me and my brothers all the sex education we needed, mostly through books and videos. This is probably because my mum got pregant accidentally before she was married (shock! horror!) and ironically, it was probably because her and my dad never got a decent sex education, and didn’t use condoms (I don’t know the details…)

Anyway, we got given age-appropriate books/ videos from the age of about three, when I apparently embarrassed most of my extended family by asking them very frank questions. I think maybe my mother got some hassle from her (mostly Catholic) family about that.

But at least I managed to get to the age of 21 without having an unplanned pregnancy or STD.

Shea // Posted 2 June 2008 at 9:28 am

As much as I loathe it now, most of my sex ed came from sneaked copies of Cosmopolitan. I remember reading “Anal sex– the last taboo?” and being totally aghast.

No mention of oral sex, anal sex, genital warts or HPV during secondary school sex ed, although our school nurse was fantastic. She took the girls of our class off separately and answered alot of our questions—the best piece of advice was undress with the lights ON, so that you can see if there is something suspicious, like genital warts etc. Similarly no acknowledgment or discussion of homosexuality outside the HIV context (absolutely nothing about lesbians or bisexuality).

Lastly (and this makes me really angry) nothing about orgasms, (the different types, intensity, multiple ;-) g-spot etc). That it is actually as important that the woman reaches orgasm as the man, that her pleasure counts as much as his (the same goes for same sex relationships).

I wish as well that there could have been some talk that said, DON’T be pressured into losing your virginity until you are ready; sexual availability has nothing to do with desirability, you are beautiful, desirable, gorgeous and you do not need sex to validate yourself. I wish someone had hammered that into me, I could have avoided alot of unpleasant experiences.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds