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Sex education: a necessity, not an option


David Cameron, Nicky Morgan, sex and relationship education, schoolsWhy, in 2016, is sex education still not a mandatory part of the curriculum? 

Earlier this month, the government rejected calls from MPs and four House of Commons committees to make sex and relationship education compulsory in schools.

Most state schools include sex education as part of Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE) classes, but free schools and academies are not obliged to teach it.

The government’s decision was met with widespread disappointment, frustration and anger, and it has been reported that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who announced the decision, was in favour of extending the sex education requirement to all schools but was overruled.

There have also been suggestions of a gender divide in Parliament over the issue.

Many male MPs have joined the campaign to make sex education compulsory, including former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, but it isn’t surprising that women are its biggest advocates.

A lack of sex and relationship education negatively affects women significantly more so than men.

For the most part women are responsible for contraception and have no choice but to deal with the consequences if they fall pregnant. The UK still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe.

Women are also far more likely to be abused in a relationship; Metropolitan Police statistics show that male violence against women makes up 85 per cent of reported domestic violence incidents.

Teaching children about sex and relationships has always been vital, but the rise of the internet and social media has made it more crucial than ever.

From a young age, children have access to all kinds of images, videos, websites and TV shows, and are exposed to harmful pressures and influences online and from their peers.

The impressions of sex and relationships that children and teenagers get from this vast array of mediums are often misconstrued, and the importance of giving them the right help, support and information at the right age cannot be stressed enough.

Worrying statistics show that abusive relationships and behaviours are not confined to adults.

In a 2009 NSPCC survey, a quarter of girls aged 13 – 17 reported experiencing intimate partner violence and almost three quarters said they had experienced emotional abuse.

In September 2015 an investigation conducted by Radio 5 Live revealed that over the last three years, more than 5500 alleged sex offences were reported to police by schools throughout the UK, including 4000 sexual assaults and 600 rapes.

Clearly, schools are not as safe as we think. So why, despite statistics like these and pressure from various people and groups, is the government still refusing to change the rules?

It cannot be denied that the Conservative Party endorses traditional values, and frank, open discussions about sex and relationships would certainly contradict these values.

There are still a lot of taboo subjects that adults are reluctant to talk about and address, which does nothing to help young people and their understanding of sex and relationships.

It seems that David Cameron and many of his fellow MPs still hold the out-dated and unhelpful view that the solution is to ‘protect’ children from having any knowledge of sex for as long as possible, a view which dictates their legislation around sex education.

This is no clearer than in the government’s preoccupation with pornography.

In December 2014 amendments were made to the 2003 Communications Act, banning certain sexual acts such as strangulation and spanking beyond a gentle level being performed in paid-for-video-on-demand online porn and DVD pornography.

Just last week, the Tories launched a consultation on proposals that would ban any porn site that doesn’t have an Age Verification System in place. While this is by no means a bad thing, the government are extremely naïve if they think that this will stop all children under the age of 18 from viewing porn.

The content in and accessibility of porn is certainly a big problem and its influence on young people should not be underestimated, but it is one of many issues which need to be addressed.

Sex education needs to be a lot broader and more thorough than it generally is at the moment; from what I can remember, the sex education I received in secondary school didn’t go much further than a lesson on how to put a condom on and being told ‘if in doubt, keep it out’.

Equally, it shouldn’t focus solely on sex; the need to teach children about all aspects of sex and relationships, including consent, sexuality, and emotional and physical abuse, is regularly raised by charities and high profile figures, including the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, Laura Bates.

Unfortunately, it appears to be falling on deaf ears – at least as far as the government is concerned.

The National Curriculum exists for a reason, and schools are already legally required to teach a number of subjects like English, Science, and Maths. There is no reason why something as key as sex education shouldn’t be added to the list of compulsory subjects – quite frankly, it is bewildering that it hasn’t already.

A lack of proper sex and relationships education is having a damaging effect on the health and wellbeing of young people, so it is vital that we continue to campaign to make it a mandatory part of children’s schooling.

It is high time the government faced the facts and caught up with the times, instead of trying to wrap children in cotton wool and thinking along the lines of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

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