Are Scaremongering and Prudishness causing misinformation?
Are we doing it right? We live in a world where technology is advancing at break-neck speeds and we strive to better the world and ourselves at every turn. So why, in many parts of the globe, are the methods employed to educate our young on sex so outdated? And why do we have to question if fear plays a role in how they’re taught?
There are several types of sex education methods used around the world today, with the two main programs being abstinence-only and comprehensive. The latter is a little misleading, because it may be comprehensive in name, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s comprehensive by nature.
Sadly, in many countries, the level of knowledge imparted in comprehensive sex education classes is severely lacking, with only the bare minimum of facts being given.
Although this practice may be better than adopting an abstinence-only approach, where literally all you’re taught is to abstain, it still has the potential to be very damaging.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my own sex education in British schools was largely focused on instilling fear. Basic personal biology was all that was offered in junior school.
So as a female I understood that my body was capable of growing and delivering young, but I had no real grasp of the process involved to get it there. That didn’t come until later when I was in high school.
Looking back, the complete lack of education was awful. I’m lucky, my family had ensured I was well informed, and it really is a good job. You see at the age of ten, whilst still in primary school, I began to bleed.
Imagine starting to get your periods when you have zero understanding of what this means for your body. Sure, I knew about reproducing, but our classes had been so vague and we’d never really looked into the changes females face before their bodies become able to carry children.
So by 1993, I was in a comprehensive secondary school. The jump from barely any sex education to having a regular lesson on all things life was quite extreme. They called it ‘Design for Living’, because they were probably too prudish to call a spade a spade.
Why is that? The human form and what it’s capable of is nothing to be ashamed of, and yet we didn’t really use the word sex. Not unless it was unavoidable.
We learned how to put condoms on bananas (useful, no?), about femidoms, diaphragms, and caps. We never really touched on the contraceptive pill, which confused me because my doctor had already put me on the pill at this point, for medical reasons.
We spent time learning about how ineffective these types of contraception could be, having percentages drummed into us … abstinence is the only way to not fall pregnant.
STD’s were next at the scare-fest. Today, most would opt for using the term STI, but that wasn’t ever used when I was young. Disease sounds so much more frightening than infection, don’t you think? We focused more heavily on this than pregnancy and the actual act of sex – and largely on the consequences suffered by contracting STD’s in the first place.
From the more obvious pain, discharge, bumps, and swellings, through to infertility, cancer and heart disease. Whoa, easy there, I’ve not even had sex yet, and you’re putting me off! That’s the point though, isn’t it?
Of course, the facts are undeniable. But when you’re young and impressionable, instilling fear is counterproductive. Was I ready for my first sexual experience? Not at all. Don’t get me wrong, I suspect there would always have been a feeling of being unprepared surrounding the event, but I was totally petrified.
I didn’t feel like I had grasped the basics well enough to know if I had been safe enough. I was surprised to not find myself pushing a pram, and hugely relieved when my legs didn’t fall off.
Failing Sex Education
The education system in Britain failed me. The Internet was still in its infancy, so I had no other outlets, besides asking my family, to research and learn about all things sex. And there was no way I was going to get library books on the subject – the embarrassment would’ve killed me. Stupid I know, but I was a hormonal teenager.
In America, a worrying amount of states adopt the abstinence-only teaching method. This scares me beyond belief. There are kids wandering around out there with literally no clue what would happen if they went against the lessons they’d been taught. No clue about sex, contraception, consent, or sexual health. Never mind the emotional side of things. It’s just not right.
Was my own education any better though? I may have known the nuts and bolts of it, but sex was shrouded heavily in fear. I wasn’t taught how to emotionally prepare, or how to deal with my feelings afterward. I was taught, inadvertently, that it was something to fear. Pleasure never came into it. Ever.
I understand the theory behind that; we don’t want our hormonal teenagers jumping into bed at the earliest opportunity because they heard it could feel awesome.
But research has been done, in countries where pleasure is part of the syllabus, which suggests that really isn’t the case. Children are not more likely to begin sexual relationships earlier. In fact, some research has shown they’re more likely to wait. They value its magnitude and meaning far more.
We should take a leaf out of the Netherlands’ book. Comprehensive sex education starts at the age of four. Obviously nothing explicit, but by the time they’re eleven, self-image, gender stereotypes, love and relationships, sexual diversity and consent issues have all been covered.
They’re prepared for what comes next, and they’re taught that it’s ok to just be you, without fear. Imagine that? A gradual learning process that leads to a well-rounded understanding, and children who don’t feel ashamed of their own feelings. They call it sexuality education.
Fear has no place in education of any kind, but especially not in sex education. We need our young to be able to move forward and grow, and we need to arm them with the right tools and knowledge so that they feel confident in making the right decisions.
It doesn’t have to just be down to the education system though. Learning like this can, and absolutely should, begin at home. We may not be able to change the attitudes of schools or governments quickly, but we do have a choice. Show them the right way, and give them what you probably didn’t have yourself.