I have been a secondary school teacher for 13 years. It never ceases to amaze me that there is no compulsory sex and relationships education in our schools. With such high teenage pregnancy rates and an increase in STIs this is surely a public health issue. Furthermore the prevalence of rape and sexual assault illustrate the urgent need for education on consent in sexual relationships and respect for women.
As a teacher I frequently witness the lack of guidance young people are getting when it comes to sexual relationships and health. What I see supports the claim that many young people receive much of their sexual education from pornography rather than in a safe, sensible and guided fashion. I see worrying amounts of sexism and sexual harassment and a culture in which girls are objectified and commodified. Recently we had an incident in which a Year 9 boy was making obscene comments to girls in his class, telling them they should give him oral sex. This, sadly, is not uncommon. The proliferation of internet pornography means that young people have access to increasingly hardcore sexual scenes and yet this ‘education’ is not supported by information about sexual health, consent and relationships. I find this extremely worrying. Boys frequently make sexist comments about and to girls as well as often feeling entitled to touch them without their consent. There was a recent trend in my school of year 10 boys grabbing girls’ breasts. We have had many incidents of ‘sexting’ and I feel this reflects the pressure that girls are under to conform to hyper-sexualised stereotypes. Those incidents that have come to our attention have done so because they have been followed by boys sharing naked images of the girl and by bullying of the girl in question. That education on contraception is lacking is borne up by high teen pregnancy rates. A colleague recently had a conversation with some sixth form girls about career paths in which she talked about the role of a pharmacist and the morning after pill was mentioned; the girls had no idea what the morning after pill was. Alongside the sexualisation of childhood in which young people are under immense pressure to be sexual beings there is also enormous ignorance about the aspects of sex that will protect young people and keep them safe; consent, respect and sexual health. I believe that this needs to be addressed urgently.