14 November 2016

I received sex education for the first time during the last few months of primary school, which for me was the year 2000. My middle aged teacher gave out diagrams of genitalia for us to label and we handed it in to be corrected like it was a spelling test. In high school, my guidance teacher told us about her elderly husband’s high libido. As a result, my only lasting memory of that class is a room of squealing teenagers with their fingers in their ears.

Do you remember having Sex-Ed in school?
In the time since, scratchy dial-up internet and the Nokia 3310 have come and gone. A boy saw me naked for the first time and asked me to remove all of my pubic hair before he would touch me. I lost my virginity to a skinny boy who loved porn featuring extremely petite Asian women. When he was on top of me, I’d think about how very not petite I was.

I entered my 20s and saw my little cousins own mobile phones at an age where I’d been impersonating Power Rangers in the playground. I was sexually assaulted for the first time when staying at a friend’s house. A friend was raped by her boyfriend and didn’t tell anyone because how can it be rape if it’s your boyfriend? The Everyday Sexism campaign was launched by Laura Bates and she wrote a book that made me cry in the bath. I watched a talk on YouTube by Cindy Gallop about the porn industry that finally began to build up my self esteem that had been ground into nothing when I was a teenage girl seeing naked bodies online for the first time, and realising they looked nothing like mine.

How has sex education changed since I clumsily labelled a drawing of a scrotum? How is it addressing the ongoing discussions around consent and the increased availability of internet porn? How is it communicating both the personal and legal implications of sexting? 
It isn’t. Other than a revision to include the introduction of same sex marriage in Scotland, sex education guidelines, which schools are under no obligation to adhere to, remain unchanged since I was 11 years old. I turn 28 in a few months.

In preparation for a recent four hour bus journey, I downloaded the blogger Emma Gannon’s podcast in which she interviewed Laura Bates about the Everyday Sexism project and its new role as a sex education tool. Laura Bates now gives talks in schools and some of her anecdotes left me, a relatively un-shockable person, with my mouth hanging open. Teenage boys who, due to the narrow genre of porn they consume, think it’s normal for the girl to be crying or in pain during sex. One class had been shown a very old video that explained “rape is how lesbians are made”. Consent is not discussed and according to the Terence Higgins Trust, 95% of pupils receive no LGBT information at all.

Another alternative educator in sex is Cindy Gallop, an advertising mogul who packed in her career a few years ago to establish ‘Make Love Not Porn’, a website designed to counteract the pornography industry that has essentially become teenagers’ sex education. The average age at which children see porn for the first time is now eight, due to a mix of natural curiosity (hearing the word “penis” for the first time) and having internet access through which to satisfy that curiosity (googling “penis” for the first time...) An avid watcher of hardcore porn herself, she believes in this hyper-digital world that the answer is not to repress people but to open up a dialogue about sex. At the moment, porn exists in a strange kind of parallel universe, since everyone watches it but doesn’t talk about it. Gallop believes everyone is fucked up about sex and it’s down to two facts nobody seems to realise: Women enjoy sex just as much as men and men are just as romantic as women.

Those are facts I’m still coming to terms with, even in my late 20s. When sex is taught as a purely mechanical process or something that happens “When mums and dads love each other and want to have a baby”, there is no requirement for a woman’s sexual needs to be met. Sex is over when the male has ejaculated. This also completely erases LGBT people; they simply don’t exist in this equation.

There is no “giving them ideas”. Teenagers always have been, and will always be, having sex. They need to be prepared to do it and the only way is through conversation. Conversations about the coil and the Pill and STDs. Conversations about consent and that “no” doesn’t mean “convince her”. Conversations that let people know their value has nothing to do with how many people they have sex with. We need to do better for the teachers, with specialised training or external companies with the ideologies of Laura Bates and Cindy Gallop.

We'd love to know...
Do you agree we need to do better than diagrams of ovaries and a banana with a condom on it?
[Leave a comment]

Written by Lauren Aitchison
for Daily Focal


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