Words: Nicci Talbot
I’ve just bought a ticket for Sex Appeal, a one-off charity benefit event at the Bloomsbury Theatre on January 13th. It’s been organised by writer Zoe Margolis to fundraise for Brook and to raise awareness about the state of sex & relationship (SRE) education in schools. Here’s the blurb:
“Join Al Murray and a stellar line-up of guests for this one-off charity benefit event.
Featuring the best in stand-up comedy, Sex Appeal will prove, once and for all, that when it comes to fun, we’d all gladly opt for…
More sex please, we’re British!
All proceeds from the night will go to Brook, the UK’s leading sexual health charity for young people.’
The line-up so far:
- Helen Arney @HelenArney
- David Baddiel @Baddiel
- Mitch Benn @MitchBenn
- Scott Capurro @ScottCapuro
- Richard Herring @Herring1967
- Robin Ince @RobinInce
- Shappi Khorsandi @ShappiKhorsandi
- Matt Parker @StandUpMaths
- Jay Rayner @JayRayner1
- Kate Smurthwaite @Cruella1
- Catie Wilkins @CatieWilkins
I’m a big fan of Brook’s work – it’s vital – given the scanty approach to SRE in schools. It is running a national campaign called Say YES to 21st Century Sex & Relationships Education demanding that young people have access to better, relevant 21st century SRE in school. Current research shows that SRE teaching varies widely across the UK and there are no consistent standards. I can’t recall having any SRE in school, aside from the odd biology lesson on reproduction so my ‘education’ as such was peer-led or from telly and magazine articles. There were no mobile phones or internet porn so no opportunity to upload naughty pics, so I’m grateful for that at least!
I didn’t talk to my parents about sex and any male visitors had to be gone by midnight or else my dad would be banging on the door. I was almost 17 when my periods started and I didn’t really need a bra, which made me feel like a freak. Sex was painful and I couldn’t understand why, as I was turned on and wanted to do it. What I didn’t realise was that my sex hormones weren’t functioning properly hence the erratic menstruation. My vagina wasn’t lubricating so of course sex would be painful. It didn’t occur to me to use lube so I avoided getting too intimate with men because I was embarrassed and couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. At 19/20 this was a huge deal and it set me on a path of exploration to sort the period issues out and kickstart my non-existent libido. It left me feeling low in confidence, isolated and different to other women and I didn’t really know who to talk to about it. Casual sex seemed to be the norm at university and I felt I was missing out. I’m sure I’d have had an easier time of it if there had been someone friendly and informed to talk to.
According to a study of over 2,000 14-18 year olds, commissioned by Brook:
- Almost half (47%) of today’s secondary school pupils say SRE doesn’t cover what they really need to know about sex. Parents don’t fill the information void either – just 5% talk to their mum and 1% their dad, so it’s down to peers, internet porn, partners, and TV programmes.
- Schools aren’t required to teach SRE at all – they are required to have a policy but that policy might be not to bother teaching it! 78% of young people confirm they’ve never been consulted, and 82% said they would like their views taken into account to help make SRE relevant for the 21st century.
The government is currently reviewing its PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) curriculum so it’s a timely campaign and an opportunity to have your say about sex education in schools. Julieta is five and already asking me lots of questions about periods, vaginas and how babies are made. I love to talk about sex and she’s fortunate in that she’s growing up in a sex-positive household but this isn’t the case for all children. I’d still like school to do its bit and teach her some life skills.
The comedy night will be a giggle and it also has a serious message about government policy. Zoe says on her blog ‘as well as supporting Brook, I also hope that this event will raise awareness about the state of sex education in UK schools and how certain members of the government seem set on undermining the quality and content of this. In addition, we’re currently facing a very real threat to women’s access to abortion, and I want to draw attention to this and help prevent it’. She’s referring here to the bill put forward by MP Nadine Dorries, which says that girls should be taught abstinence as a compulsory part of sex education. It’s due a second reading in parliament next year.
Dorries argues that teaching abstinence is a way to stop sexual abuse and high teenage pregnancy rates. In other words, girls need to learn how to say no to sex, which puts the blame on them somewhat. She is looking to the US model of abstinence for guidance but as Zoe points out, this hasn’t worked because teenage pregnancy rates are still high in the US compared to here and countries such as The Netherlands, which has a government subsidised approach to sex education, enabling teens to take responsibility for their own sexual health. It has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world and its teenagers are informed, confident and self-aware. Moralising isn’t the answer – education is.
Let’s hope the government takes our views on board and organises some consistent SRE education to give teenagers the life skills they need to negotiate sex and relationships. We need to find out what they *want* to know and have trained professionals giving the lessons not teachers who are uncomfortable talking about sex. A focus on the emotional side of sex – respect, boundaries, relationships and body confidence – is also vital. Porn isn’t evil – although the Daily Moan would like us to think it is. There’s some quality female-friendly porn out there, which can be used responsibly to educate but teens need to know where to look to find it.