Let's Talk About Sex ED
For many people, the thought of sex and relationships education is likely to bring a bit of anxiety to the surface and maybe get them a bit pink in the face. Whether it’s your own memories of a sub-par sex ed lesson during your time at school; you currently work as a secondary school teacher and have been saddled with the task of teaching a room full of hysterical fifteen year olds the birds and the bees; or maybe you’re a parent worried about just what exactly your children are going to be taught during their SRE lessons. Well, we thought we’d take the subject of sex and relationships education, break it down, answer some questions about it and make it a little easier to understand. What exactly is sex and relationships education?
Well, that one basically is what it says on the tin. Sex and relationships education, often taught as part of PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) helps to teach young people about important factors relating to both sex and relationships, as after all, they’re a big part of life for most people, so it’s important that children and young people receive an adequate education about some of the things they may face as they go through life, and are prepared to deal with what comes with sex and relationships. What is covered in sex and relationships education?
This can be different depending on the school and location in the world, however sex and relationships education should help to inform children and young people about the ins and outs (no pun intended) of sex and relationships. But let's break that down into the two different strands. Sex Education: Sex education should help to inform children and young people about not only the biological mechanicals of sex, such as the classic ‘how babies are made,’ but also equip them with the knowledge they need to help navigate the world of puberty and sex, if and when they choose to start having it. This can include educating them about types of contraceptives available, emergency contraception, and sexual and reproductive health such as identifying and getting treatment for STIs, or how to navigate an unplanned pregnancy.
Relationships Education: Relationships education should help teach children and young people about different types of relationships, be it platonic relationships, sexual or romantic relationships, family relationships and professional relationships. Learning about different kinds of relationships and the characteristics and dynamics that define each kind can help children and young people understand and navigate different types of relationships as they grow up and experience more. A hugely important part of relationships education teaches children how to identify when a relationship isn’t right, such as identifying an abusive relationship so that they can get help.
When does sex and relationships education begin?
Sex and relationships education should begin during primary school, however don’t panic, this begins with relationships education only! Often, when parents hear that sex and relationships education begins during primary school, they panic and think that their young children are being taught content about sex, that their children are not yet ready for. This is not the case! From the first year of primary school onwards, children are taught relationships only education. This includes education about the different kinds of age relationships children may have or see when they begin school and onwards.
For example, relationships they have with their classmates, their teachers, their friends and family. This education is designed to teach children about the different kinds of dynamics and boundaries within certain relationships, and can also help adults identify if there is an abusive relationship taking place in a child's life.
As children mature and progress through school, sex education is also phased in. This typically happens around age 11-12 when children learn about the biological mechanics of reproduction. Around this time children start to go through puberty, and begin having questions about themselves and others, so more comprehensive sex education about puberty, sex and relationships is delivered.
Can I stop my child from receiving sex and relationships education? In the UK, relationships education is mandatory for all students throughout every stage of school. It’s important for children to learn about the dynamics of different relationships as they grow up, in order for them to be able to learn what is right and wrong within different relationships. This helps children know how to correctly treat the people they have different relationships with in their lives, and it also helps them to identify when something isn’t right in a relationship, which can help prevent cycles of abuse from developing in the future.
Should they wish, a parent can withdraw their child from sex education in the UK up until 3 terms before their child's 16th birthday. This is because the age of consent in the UK is 16 years old, so a child has the right to make their own choice about the sex education they receive in the terms prior to turning 16, when they can legally have sex.
Will children be learning about the LGBTQ+ community during sex and relationships education? Whilst it is not mandatory within the current requirements for sex and relationships education outlined by the government, it is strongly advised that schools teach LGBTQ+ inclusive sex and relationships education. As part of sex and relationships education, children are to be taught that discrimination against another person for their race, age, gender, or sexual orientation is not okay, so it would make sense that the LGBTQ+ community is included across the board in both sex and relationships education.
Why should children receive sex and relationships education at school? Shouldn’t such subjects be the responsibility of the parents?
Some may think that more intimate subjects should be left to parents to discuss with their children. Whilst some parents do engage in open conversations with their children about sex and relationships which is fantastic, this is not the case for every child. Some children may not have a parent or guardian present to talk to about sex and relationships, and other parents may not want to or may not have the correct knowledge themselves! If you yourself are a parent, and think back to the sex and relationships education you received when you were at school, try comparing it to what you would want your own child to be learning about sex and relationships themselves. If it covers plenty of ground then that’s wonderful, however for many parents, sex and relationships education was non-existent when they were at school, which can make it difficult for them to pass on essential knowledge to their children. Other parents may not want to discuss sex and relationships with their children at all, some may be embarrassed to do so, and children may not even feel comfortable talking to their parents about it! The best way for all children to have access to a fair and equal sex and relationships education is for it to be implemented in school curriculum.