Let’s Talk About ‘Sex… Education’: Filling The Hole Of Knowledge In Secondary Schools

Hannah Pegram

Navigating through your teen years can be challenging; hormones raging, an awkward transition from child to young adult, the pressures of school, work and home life and alongside this, the topic of S-E-X. With Netflix’s hit television show ‘Sex Education’ returning for a third season, I explore why teens are watching a show to get sex information and whether the current UK sex education curriculum is doing enough to prepare teens for sexual relationships.

Sex Education finds the perfect balance of teaching teens about sex without becoming ‘preach like’; it surrounds helpful sex information with comedy, making it one of the most popular shows for the younger generations. However, Sex Education also highlights the inadequate advice schools are giving out. I spoke to Kate*, who believes that “whilst scientifically schools are giving out the right biological information, the real-life consequences of sex are dramatised, especially for women.” The show highlights this in Episode 4, where only the female students are given lectures on the dangers of sex, which Kate* told me was “something the show got very right. At my school, we were made to learn about male anatomy in far greater depth than the men were made to learn about women.” 

But why is it essential for men to learn about both male and female anatomy? Kate* believes that “this lack of information negatively impacts women the older they get.”, we know statistically that women on average gain less satisfaction during their sexual encounters with men, if female anatomy was taught more comprehensively within schools to teenage boys, upon adulthood, women may have safer and more enjoyable sexual experiences.

So, what did we learn in sex education? 

By the time Year 11 came around, I’d hazard a guess that a large proportion of girls in my year had had sex, but apparently, this was the time for sex education classes. I went to an all-girls school, and our sex education consisted of two women continuously avoiding the word ‘vagina’. “Lady garden”, “Secret Palace”, and “Goddess Temple” were the words they chose, and I remember them telling us to keep them protected from men who were not worthy of our secret lady palace/garden/temple. Let’s be clear: I don’t have a lady garden – I have a vagina. 

Avoiding the words ‘penis’, ‘vagina’ and ‘sex’ weaponize sex, and enforce narratives that sex or your own anatomy is shameful

Here we find problem one with sex education in schools: the preaching of abstinence, many of the women I spoke to when writing this article, were explicitly told to refrain from sex, an unrealistic and dangerous narrative. 

Furthermore, avoiding the words ‘penis’, ‘vagina’ and ‘sex’ weaponize sex, and enforce narratives that sex or your own anatomy is shameful. These are not dirty words, but they are treated as such in schools and raises the question, why do adults have such a hard time talking about sex openly to teenagers? Some would say, “it’s inappropriate, I don’t want to expose my child to the dirtiness of sex’ – well, guess what, they are already exposed. In the world of technology, porn is a click away; teens are already surrounded by sex. So, is it more dangerous to not teach about sex properly? 

James* thinks it is, Schools don’t teach about sex because they are naïve to how many teens are having sex, they believe that if sex is avoided in discussions, it is not happening. In actual fact, school is the only time to teach about it – as adults, we’re having sex, we’ve gone past the point of learning – but as teens, that is the perfect time to teach. If not, then when? Teens will find out, and sometimes they will find poor information.”

The over-consumption of porn for young teens, especially teen boys, creates unrealistic and sometimes harmful perceptions of sex which impacts us all as adults. I asked Liam*, ‘Do you think a lack of Sex Education is dangerous for young men, leaving their knowledge of sex coming mostly from porn and friends?’ 

      Liam: “I definitely think the internet age of porn is warping perceptions on sex and what the outcomes should be; in porn, sex is portrayed most of the time aggressively, if teens only learn about sex through porn, they have an unrealistic representation of what sex is and what it should be.”

Statistics show that an over-indulgence of porn often leads to an increase in sexual violence. If teens are solely exposed to this without adequate knowledge of sexual relationships and consent, are they more likely to contribute to rising levels of sexual violence as adults, and is it not the responsibility of schools to teach a safer narrative?

So why do we need a show like Sex Education? What is Sex Education showing us that schools aren’t? 

           The relationship between Eric and Adam and Ola and Lily gives us an essential insight into LGBTQIA+ relationships, which Erica* told me was missing in school curriculums. 

Q: As someone who identifies as Queer, how did you feel your sex education was at school? Was it inclusive of your sexual orientation? 

“The sex education at school was completely insufficient and tailored entirely to heteronormative relationships. Not even once was I taught about safe sex for Queer communities or even acknowledged as a valid sexual identity. I was taught how to place a condom on a penis – this was the full extent of education I received.” 

I believe that the stigma for Queer students within the sex education syllabus continues to impact my ability to accept and embrace my sexual identity

One of the storylines in Sex Education this season was the concern Anwar had about catching AIDS as a gay man; this fear came from a lack of readily available information within the school system and ignorant narratives. I asked Erica* if she believed that ignoring other sexual identities was dangerous and why it was happening: 

Erica: “Being ignored by the sex education curriculum invalidated me; I believe that the stigma for Queer students within the sex education syllabus continues to impact my ability to accept and embrace my sexual identity. Furthermore, there is an inordinate amount of stigma attached to Queer relationships and sexual health, and it felt as though teachers actively avoided discussing the wide spectrum of sexualities. This fear surrounding Queer sexual education contributes to the disproportionate vulnerability of young Queer people to poor mental health, self-harm and suicide.” 

Though Sex Education is a good watch, it should not replace schools’ role when teaching teens about sex and relationships. Better sex education in schools does not mean play-by-plays on how to give oral sex; it means creating environments where teens can ask questions about consent, protection, relationships, porn and sexual orientation. The ‘fear’ surrounding teaching teens about sex is ridiculous; teens are having or at least thinking about sex; it is better to teach them about sex in a safe environment rather than leave it to porn sites and your best mates’ friends’ older brother. If schools don’t improve, well, I hope Sex Education is around for twenty more seasons to teach teens what school curriculums are too frightened to say. 

*For this article, I have interviewed people from different demographic backgrounds to hear what their sex education was like and how they think sex education in schools could be improved. All names have been changed for privacy. 

 Hannah Pegram

Featured image courtesy of Charles Deluvio via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In article images courtesy of @sexeducation via instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.

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