When should we learn about sex education?


It is something which has perplexed parents, teachers, governments, organisations, and students for generations: pinpointing the right moment to teach children and students about sex. Achieving this without putting ideas in their brain too early, is challenging. A talk last Thursday organised by Sexpression: Durham aimed to give this question an answer. Experts talked about the right time to teach students and children sex education. They also discussed what form this should take.

It was argued that students require sex education as soon as they arrive at university, for Freshers’ week. The time is famous for drunken adventures and late night liaisons, making it paramount that students are equipped with the appropriate knowledge to look after themselves.

Speaker at the event Emma Dobson, a Durham PhD student researching sex and relationship education, stressed how important it is that this education is provided as soon as students arrive in Durham.

Durham University has recently undertaken reforms to how it teaches students about sex education.

When Emma arrived, she was taught about it on day three of her postgraduate Freshers’ week. They were shown a short video on consent, in-between lengthy talks about the fire alarm and risk of burglary.

This immediately concerned her. For the video to have an effect, she said, students should be encouraged to discuss it after watching.

She was also worried about the timing of this education. Three days in may be too late.

Following criticism, the University is making reforms. It takes sex education very seriously.

Thanks to a policy encouraging students to come forward, the University now has one of the highest rates of reported sexual assault in the UK. It is also one of the first universities to get a full-time member of staff specifically working on sexual violence: a Student Support and Training Officer (Sexual Violence and Misconduct). As a society, we all have to decide when to allow sex education.

This is tricky. Begin too early, and you put potentially dangerous ideas into children’s heads. Start too late, and dangerous situations may have already occurred. The speakers argued that sex education should begin from a young age, but only in a certain form, and subject content should be edited to include sex education examples.

Emma mentioned how education could begin from the age of five, if done in an appropriate manner.

She described how to educate 5 year olds.

A small workshop on consent was undertaken in a primary school. Kids came along with their parents and sat in a circle. The session teacher began by showing a cartoon picture of a naked boy smiling. The children laughed. She then showed a picture of the same boy wiggling his bottom at the camera. The children laughed again before pointing and saying ‘naughty’. The next picture showed the boy taking a picture of himself. The kids laughed again. Then, the teacher took out a cartoon picture showing the boy wiggling his bottom, whilst someone took a picture of him. The teacher then explained that this is naughty. ‘We shouldn’t let people take pictures of our privates’, she said.

She speakers hoped to promote this form of sex education.

Dr Simon Forrester, Head of the School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, and researcher in young people’s sexual health and lifestyles, spoke on how our curriculum should be adapted to include sex education in more regular subjects. For example, in English lessons, he argued, pupils should study a particularly erotic text in relation to sex education.

By integrating sex education with other subjects he hopes it will become more effective and also more long-term.

He also talked about removing the cultural taboo on teachers.

These professionals are under a lot of pressure from parents to educate their child ‘correctly’. This means parents often act out if their child finds out something they aren’t meant to, especially in matters of sexual health. It is this fear of doing something wrong that has stopped teachers engaging with sex education. Many often ignore questions on sex in class, and ignore when students are harassing others.

Dr Simon wants to see this cultural taboo removed to improve the effectiveness of sex education.

The talk was very informative, and a useful insight into sex education.


Photo Credit: Creative Commons

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