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Rishi’s Plans to Reform Raunchy Sex Education Lessons

ByOlivia Latimer

Mar 26, 2023
Image of Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak plans to launch a review of the British sex education system following reports of ‘inappropriate’ sex education lessons in schools, described by one Conservative MP as: “age inappropriate, extreme, sexualising and inaccurate”. But would this only censor the realities of puberty and sex? It seems that the sex education taught to teenagers in schools needs to be reformed, but perhaps not in the way that Rishi Sunak and other MPs who have spoken on the matter expect. 

For many, sex education lessons at school were always met with awkwardness, giggles and a few blushed faces. Neither the students nor the teacher really wanted to be there, and many teenagers cringed at the thought of their Head of Year even mumbling the word ‘sex’. But it is a vital part of education – especially as something that can be very personal and often deemed unorthodox to discuss openly. 

95% of UK adults have had sex by the age of 25, with many losing their virginities in their teens. Surely it is, therefore, imperative that students are taught how to have safe, consensual and comfortable sex. 

Although it is important to retain children’s innocence for as long as possible, as the realities of the adult world can be scary and often depressing, many teenagers mature quickly and are exposed to sex at a young age.

Sex education classes are tricky, as in an average Year 9 or S2 class, there will be some students who are still wearing training bras and playing tag at break time and other students who started their period years ago who might have already lost their virginity. This disparity is stark but true and can create contrasting arguments on what should or shouldn’t be taught. Moreover, catering for students of different genders and sexual orientations is often disregarded, creating a very heteronormative discourse within sex education classrooms. 

One fourth-year student at the University of Edinburgh stated: “because at school we were only taught about penetrative sex as a lesbian, I thought I couldn’t lose my virginity and then thought none of the information was applicable to me. They didn’t mention any other form of sex except penetrative, which left a lot of people confused I think…” 

Although the reports of a sex education class containing choking and detailed descriptions of oral sex are too vivid for young audiences, sometimes this can be the reality of sex. 

“The acknowledgement of these experiences can help young people create boundaries if they know what is what”, stated a third-year student.  She went on to say:  “I did not know a single thing about sex when I lost my virginity which I feel like led to my being taken advantage of and being made to feel certain things were normal when they weren’t. The recognition of these experiences when I was younger could have been helpful.” 

Although sex education lessons are by no means supposed to teach teenagers every intricate detail of sex, it should make them aware of what might happen to their bodies and how sex can be performed safely. Perhaps censoring the realities of sex is not the safest of ideas, as it can lead to ignorance and misunderstandings, which can be dangerous.

In conversation with a second-year student at the University, they stated: “when I found out I had chlamydia I genuinely thought it was a death sentence and when I found out it can be treated by antibiotics just like any other infection I was shocked. I had not had previous education about the distinguishing factors of STIs/STDs as my school made it seem they were all of the same severity, which is highly problematic!”

This ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach at some schools can be dangerous and lead to young people being misinformed about things such as STIs/STDs which are a reality of being sexually active, as 1 in 4 teens will contract an STI.

Another student expressed: “at school they did not beat it around the bush, they were frank with the realities of sex that it was both great and dangerous. They showed us a slideshow of the symptoms of different STIs/STDs, which although at the age of sixteen, we thought was gross, was useful and real.” Although this form of education is bleak and can be awkward, it is more educational – which is surely the whole point of sex education.

In recent years, there has been a lot of discourse on social media, notably YouTube and Tik Tok, about sexual health and education, especially for women. Many influencers open up about their own personal experiences and understandings as a way to educate young women on the female body and the realities of sex.

Speaking to a third-year student who believes her school’s teaching of sex education was very inadequate, she said:

“I matured quite late and had found Sex Ed at school pretty useless, and during lockdown, I came across girls on Tik Tok who were talking about the actuality of sex and the female body. Everything I essentially know about female pleasure and how the female body works is through these influencers”.

It seems that, especially for women, there are a lot of gaps in sex education where female anatomy or what sex is like for women. 

Although the older generation wants to protect their children from the harsh realities of the adult world, perhaps the censoring of sex education is not the safest direction to go. People mature at different rates, and it can be hard to construct a cohesive curriculum that is relevant for teenagers of different maturity levels, genders, sexuality and personal experiences. Yet it is important that vital information is not missed – or else they will have to discover these realities the hard way. It seems that students do not think that the government should be seeking to censor sex education, which they already view as too sanitised.  Should we as a nation continue the ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach to sexual education for our teenagers, leaving them to figure the reality out themselves?

Image: “Rishi Sunak MP – hi-res” by Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.