sex & relationships

Sexual relationship lessons: How young is too young?

Naomi Duffree, sexual consent, sex education, PSHEA, Kettle Mag
Written by Naomi

The Personal Social Health and Economic Education Association (PSHEA) has stated that the new government plans for consensual sexual relationship lessons for children as young as eleven, do not go far enough. 

Sexual relationship lessons

Amongst the eight lessons that form part of the course to be taught by trained teachers, pupils will understand what sexual consent is and the importance of a healthy relationship. It will be emphasised that consent is “on going” and if it is later withdrawn then this must be respected. Pupils will also be asked to “challenge rape myths” that seek to justify sexual assault, such as the way a person is dressed or the amount of alcohol consumption.

A report leaked to The Sunday Times regarding the government’s plans, suggested that the lessons would not be mandatory. The Education secretary Nicky Morgan said the optional proposed lessons will better prepare pupils and suggested that they would give teachers more confidence to tackle difficult subjects. However, the PSHEA stated that it “needed to be added to the national curriculum to help tackle issues such as exploitation” and they accused the government of “saying nice things, but not making any meaningful change. It needs to be taught in every school and by trained teachers.”

Sex education

Sex education, especially consent, should be taught rather like numeracy is, that would be my argument. We teach pupils from an early age that 2+2 = 4. When they go out in the world no one can tell them that 2+2=6, since they have been informed otherwise. Vulnerable children who have been threatened by adults – or others – suggesting that they have no say over their own bodies need to be made aware that yes, they can say “no” and more importantly that it means no. According to the recent Jay report, many of the victims from the child exploitation cases in Rotherham and Oxford have been “scathing” of the sexual education that they had received.

There is an argument that to discuss sexual activity before children are 16 will encourage under age sex. To me this is a blinkered view. To inform children of both sexes about healthy sexual relationships is to empower them and put them in control. It also can take the mystique out of it and as a result children may be less likely to experiment. They certainly will know they have a choice. It makes one wonder if children from previous decades had been spoken to about consent, then maybe they too would have stood a chance to stand up to the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes that have recently been flooding the courts.  

Having spoken to parents about these plans, I found there was a mixed response. Robyn, a mother of three boys, aged 12, 10 and 7 years said that she felt her children may well be embarrassed about the discussions. However she added, “I do want my boys to know that if a girl says “no” then she means “no”. And if she had girls? “Absolutely, I would want them to attend these lessons. I want them to be aware.” Others argue that it should be parents educating their children about these facts. But what, (and I appreciate it isn’t a pleasant thought, but unfortunately this happens) if it is the parents who are exploiting their children? There needs to be lessons taught at school. Knowledge is power.

This is modern Britain

And I think that is the obvious answer to the sometimes tricky question of when and what children should know.  We may not like the fact that children are becoming sexually aware and active at a younger age, but this is modern Britain today. Let us prepare them and put them back in control of their bodies. No one is suggesting that the schools and parents can’t work together. The type of discussions that could arise from these lessons can only help young children be more aware that everyone has the right to say no.  An important lesson for both sexes. It should not be pushed out of the curriculum; education is not just about numeracy and literacy. It is about ensuring our children are aware of all the lessons to be learnt in life.

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