Compare and contrast: UK sex education edition

The Guardian:

Teach primary school pupils about sex, say MPs
• Put sex in its proper context, says letter signed by charities
• Call to start teaching social and emotional aspects early

Primary school children should have compulsory sex education lessons, MPs said today.

A cross-party group of MPs is calling on the government to make advice on sexual health and relationships mandatory in all schools.

The Daily Mail:

Four-year-olds could be taught sex education under plans to cut teenage pregnancy rate

Children could be taught sex education from the age of four, under plans by MPs.

They are calling on the Government to ensure that advice on relationships, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases is compulsory in all primary and secondary schools.

Cue the criticisms that such sex education is inappropriately sexualising children. Apparently the only mandated sex education requirement in British schools currently is just the biological basics of sexual reproduction, usually taught in science classes. Many schools do offer a more rounded sex education curriculum, but parents can and do often withdraw their children from those classes.

A report from two UK sexual health charities recommended that the mandatory sex education classes should include more information on sex and relationships rather than simply how reproduction occurs.

Julie Bentley, the Family Planning Association chief executive, said: “This is not about teaching four-year-olds how to have sex … it’s like maths – at primary school children learn the basics so that they can understand more and more complex concepts at a later stage.”

She added: “Parents are concerned that if they are told about sex they will go straight out and have it but the research shows the complete opposite. They have sex later and when they do, they have safer sex.”

At present all children have to learn about the biology of reproduction but parents can opt to remove children from personal, social, health and economic education lessons, where they learn about the emotional and relationships side of sex.

In my experience, kids start asking about where babies come from around about age 3 or 4, so why is it considered so wrong that this should be the time that they start getting straightforward answers, and especially answers that are put into the context of relationships instead of being presented as some sort of separate biological phenomenon?

For a start, it might do something about this UK statistic:

Almost half of women have had unprotected sex or had their usual contraception fail in the last year, according to a survey.

Categories: education, relationships

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13 replies

  1. Obviously, tigtog, if we don’t tell them about it, they’ll never try it for themselves. Logical, that.

  2. Does that statistic take into account women who aren’t using contraception because they’re *trying* to get pregant? I didn’t see that it did in the article.
    The 4-year-old thing was hilarious, though. Honestly, at that level I’m sure it’s almost all “this is your penis, this is your vagina, they’re not for others to touch” with a very basic explanation of how babies come from sex.

  3. When I was at primary school, one of the year three teachers (teaching nine-year-olds) became pregnant. When her “bump” was visible, a number of her students asked her what it was and how it happened. She decided to show the “Where Did I Come From?” animated video to the class. This resulted in outrage from a number of parents who “wanted to tell their children themselves”. Yet they hadn’t done so and their children were almost ten!
    It would, of course, be much easier if parents took it upon themselves to teach their children about sex as early as possible. I don’t know exactly when I was told about the “birds and bees”, but I’m sure it was before primary school.

  4. Channel 4 is running a debate on 11th September to discuss sex education, when and how we teach it in schools – website is

  5. Hell, just remind them they’ll be making more English people. That would dissuade me. Or put stickers up for the Midwest Teen Sex Show in bus stops.

  6. AF: yeah – not having even *begun* to raise this with your kid by ten?
    My approach (given the history of abuse of several close friends/family members, and my annoyance at people’s *issues* over sexuality) was to call a spade a spade (and a penis a penis) and to teach my son about his body, and that it is *his* from a young age.
    I have not shied away from his questions – any of them. He has asked and recieved answers over the years to anatomy questions, pregnancy and childbirth, sex (of various kinds) and indeed “Mum, what’s a vibrator?”.
    Him knowing the answers to these questions as he asked them, indeed knowing that I have sex(apparently just *knowing* it’s not like I made an announcement, he just made a *knowing remark* about knowing what *time alone* meant) has certainly not *sexualised* him.
    He shows no interest in others romantically or sexually at eleven, still rolls his eyes over kissing scenes (wihtout being discomforted) and seems just kinda *perplexed* that anyone would bother having or thinking about sex…it’s just not his bag right now.
    So he has all this knowledge – and was given it early – so that he’s alert and aware to what conversations around this topic mean, so he doesn’t come off ignorant and naive in the playground, so he knows full well how to assert his rights (as he did loudly at the doctor who legitimately needed to inspect his penis once at age four) but this has not turned influenced the extent to which he is *sexualised* (except inasmuch as sex has never been mysterious or considered ‘dirty’).
    That’s not a “w00t go me” thing – I just don’t actually understand this other approach at all, it seems to be setting up problems not avoiding them.

  7. You can’t just teach them sex education just because they inquire about it. There has to be an even balance between sexuality and spirituality or young impressionable minds become imbalanced.
    At the tender age of 4? The only way a 4 year old could bring it up if they were first exposed to it! In the school system, I would want to know who’s teaching it, in what context in relation to any other education in humanities, and exactly how they’re teaching it.

  8. At the tender age of 4? The only way a 4 year old could bring it up if they were first exposed to it!

    Wow – 4 year olds noticing that boys and girls are different! 4 year olds wondering where babies come from! The shock and horror!
    Of course they’re exposed to “it” when you bring it down to those basics. Why shouldn’t they get a simple explanation of the different body parts, that men and women come together to make babies, and that private parts are special and that nobody else should touch them until they’re grown up and choose a special partner for themselves?
    Presumably there will be an official curriculum. There is for every other subject, and they are all analysed and specified to the nth degree. Panicking over the very concept of sex education, education about how our bodies work and how to protect our bodies and our own sexual health, strikes me as bizarre.

  9. You can’t just teach them sex education just because they inquire about it.

    Why not? Seems like a good time to start to me.

    At the tender age of 4? The only way a 4 year old could bring it up if they were first exposed to it!

    What like having genitals? Or Mummy having a big tummy? Or Mum and Dad talking about the new baby? Children are naturally curious. The best way to make them think something is shameful or forbidden is to refuse to talk about it.

  10. My son has known about his penis from a young age – believe me this was not because he was *introduced* to it. He found it himself early on. I needed to explain that it was called a penis, and as a part of his body it was his, so there was nothing wrong with him playing with it, but that he just needed to go to his room.
    He then began to ask me “Mummy, where is your penis” which led into ‘women have vaginas, not penises’.
    I had known several people who had been abused as children, and had read that frank discussions, and using the proper names for things was one of the best things parents could do to prevent their child being too confused to seek help – to help them *access* help if they needed it.
    My son is certainly not showing any lack of balance because of this lack of mortification over bodies and sex.

  11. 4 year olds are the perfect age – they are constantly surrounded by friends suddenly having little brothers and sisters, and “Mummies with Big Tummies”. Why shouldn’t they be told factually what is going on? Even if it is phrased as “when a Mummy and Daddy love each other VERY MUCH…”

  12. OK, Mindy, FP and MsLaurie seem to be very much of my mind. I don’t want this to seem like a pile-on, HealingMindN, but I would be very curious as to whether you would object to any of what we describe above.
    If not, then what exactly were you imagining that the sex education for 4 year olds would be? And where did that impression arise?

  13. HealingMindN: Your post in moderation is direct personal abuse, and it’s not ok here.

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