school

Welcome To The Sex Bus

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have a positive experience of sex education in school. Either from it lacking any real information or because it ignores key issues such as consent, and LGBT+ issues. This is largely due to sex education not being part of the national curriculum and schools being left to decide how much they want to teach, if anything at all. Sex is still a taboo subject and our desire to keep young ears and minds protected is harming young people as they enter into adult life unprepared.

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However, not all sex education has to be like this. It can be a positive and inclusive experience, as we have seen this week, which actually does what it says it’s going to do – I was very fortunate that this was my experience.

My sex education lessons started aged 9 and continued throughout my time in school until the age of 16, getting more in-depth as we got older. We covered a wide range of topics; from the usual how to put condoms on, to the signs of an unhealthy (and healthy) relationship. Whilst these lessons did largely take place in the classroom, I don’t think I’ll ever forget walking into physics to instead be greeted by a room full of penises – we also had some more unorthodox locations…welcome to the Sex Bus.

The Sex Bus is a bright purple double-decker bus adorned with condoms, various leaflets on STIs, pregnancy, birth control, and relationships. Alongside this are sat the professionals; school nurses, family planning experts, health visitors and district nurses. Together this was the Sex Bus, and it travelled around schools across Somerset. The aim of the Sex Bus was to engage pupils with sex education and as a result increase their knowledge of sexual health issues, raise the profile of health services in the local area so that young people would know where to turn should they ever need to, to enable young people to make more positive choices concerning their sexual health and to explore gender roles, myths and expectations in relationships. All of which I think are imperative to learn at a young age, and also why I think I found it so informative and engaging.

The Sex Bus was about teaching everyone good habits and behaviour, not about shaming people who do have sex at a young age, or at any other time in their life. As mentioned, there was also information available on, and people to discuss gender roles and myths with, such as whether women can orgasm/will orgasm like you see in the movies. I think education such as this is important because it helps to demystify sex and relationships for both men and women and also demonstrates that women can enjoy sex, and not just be a participant.

However, I’m not saying my sex education was perfect, I think it still had further to go. There should have and could have been more information on LGBT+ relationships – yes there were leaflets available and it was discussed, but it was more a passing comment rather than a real discussion. Additionally, the issue of consent; again whilst talked about and discussed it was never in-depth and the real bare bones facts were never laid out clearly (although we do now have the tea video). Overall though, it was largely a comprehensive and informative education and one I believe sets an example to other schools/counties with what they can do. It shows that it is possible, and all without scarring children for life.

Words: Eleanor Manley
Image/Videos: 20th Century Fox/The Simpsons, BBC Two/Miranda, Paramount Pictures/Mean Girls.

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TV, Film & Sex Education

TV & Film have always been part of our sex education, and now in 2018 some writers are realising their responsibility and the power they have to change the narrative.

On the rare occasion that society discusses sex education, and the papers are full of opinion pieces, the word that always gets thrown around is ‘pornography’; specifically the dangers of its accessibility. The government, teachers and parents are so terrified of what their children are seeing online, that a debate on sex education in parliament will usually turn into a debate on pornography. While this is an important debate to be had, and we are in a unique time when people are using the internet for everything from banking to dating, in all these debates and articles I can’t help but think that society is missing a big part of the puzzle.

To access porn, you have to know where to look, you have to google and browse and be an active user, you are alone in a room. On the other hand, media within the entertainment industry will always be a communal event. You sit down with family to watch the new Sunday night drama or go with friends to see the latest film release. What always follows is conversation between family, friends, and the wider audience, which thanks to social media is more expansive and immediate.

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Porn is not where people go to find great plot devices, the end goal is very simple, and sex is viewed in the abstract. Whereas TV and film in its nature use sex as a plot device and even when a sex scene is clearly put in for titillation (take Game of Thrones for example), the writers will still argue its relevance. In the last seven years or so I have seen a shift in the stories being told; from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, there is a need for the narrative around sex to change and for women to control the story.

Pheobe Waller-Bridge has said in many interviews that she wrote the original play Fleabag because she wanted to talk about sex. In 2012 when Lena Dunham’s new show Girls aired in the US and the UK, all people could talk about was the awkward sex scenes. Many journalists described them as explicit and awkward, however, there had been more explicit scenes depicted on TV before Girls appeared on our screens. Game of Thrones was being commissioned for its third season, a show in which it was normal to see at least four sex scenes in one episode and seemingly, an actress couldn’t get through an episode without at least once walking into a room of men, having forgotten to have got dressed. The sex scenes in Girls were new and interesting because Lena Dunham was showing her own experiences of sex and many women responded to this with glee because it allowed them to have the conversations that society deemed taboo.

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Caitlin Moran says in her book How To Be a Woman, “the sexual imagery of teenage years is the most potent you’ll ever have. It dictates desires for the rest of your life. One flash of a belly being kissed now is worth a thousand hard-core fisting scenes in your thirties”. Up to a certain age, and I am aware that age is getting younger, parents can control what their children see on the internet and to a certain extent what they see on their TV screens thanks to the 9pm watershed, however, we can’t control everything.

Remember the time when you were younger, on the brink of adolescence, and woke up past your bed to go to the toilet? On your way back to bed you heard the noise of the TV and the chatter of adults, and intrigue led you down the stairs. You poked your head over the bannister and saw your parents and their friends glued to the telly, then you looked up to the screen to see an image that you knew not to be looking at. Laying in bed, your mind boggles and so many questions arise, but you don’t know who to ask. It feels like being on the last word of a crossword puzzle and knowing on seeing the answer it will make sense, but at that moment you feel lost. Instead of talking to your parents and friends out of embarrassment, you seek out the same image in books and films. It takes you years to finally have those conversations with friends and eventually partners when sex has become a reality. Only then do you start to question the scenes you watched and the depictions of sex in your favourite films.

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Now, in 2018, we are having those conversations, whether that be the writers of The Affair making sure every sex scene pushes the narrative along, or Rachel Weisz discussing the importance of the sex between the two female protagonists in her new film Disobedience. I truly think that one of the many reasons famous actresses who have the money and the platform are turning to producing is so they can control the narratives they are telling about female sexuality. Sex is still a taboo subject, and we still cut off conversations with the excuse of being British, but we can’t shut down conversation and then worry about the lack of sex education children are receiving, or what they are seeing when they turn on the TV.

In the wake of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, the industry is trying to be more inclusive and give everyone a voice. People are asking for the narrative to change and the choice of stories to grow. The conversations about sex in the last year have revolved around power and abuse and what we want the next generation of women to know and experience. If we want to carry on making change for the better, and the film and TV industry wants to take responsibility, it needs to take sex seriously.

Just as we need diversity in the stories we tell, we need diversity in sex scenes and the relationships we see. Teenage girls and boys should see LGBTQ+ stories more than just once a year, and be shown different relationships and the multiple reasons people choose to have sex with each other. Our government, parents, teachers and most importantly our storytellers can’t be scared of answering questions and giving children the power of information and choice.  

 

Words: Lara Scott
Images: BBC/Two Brothers Ltd, Jessica Miglio/HBO, Sky Atlantic

 

How YouTubers Are Helping LGBT+ Sex Education

LGBT+ sex education in schools is limited at best, and most times non-existent. Despite the growing argument for more equal sex ed to be taught in schools, there is still a gap in the quality of information provided and the resources available for LGBT+ students.

I remember a PSHE lesson in high school, where we were handed out leaflets on safe sex. The first half of the page concerned sex between a man and a woman, whilst the other half was about safe sex between two men. I flipped over the page for the final section about lesbian sex only to find there wasn’t one. I stared blankly for a moment. Teenage me was angry at the fact that sexual relations between two women weren’t even acknowledged. Teenage me also had a mild panic because wHaT dO LeSbIAnS DO? I had so many questions at this age and I’d hoped to find out at least a little bit of info. Frequent googling and reading stuff about scissoring didn’t prove too helpful.

Fast forward ten years and luckily I’m a long way from high school. As a society, we’re now even more submerged in the digital revolution, and the YouTube era is well underway. Just a quick search brings up so much content on sex ed and, finally, content on sex ed that’s not heteronormative. Personally, I can be quite critical of social media, usually arguing it can cause more harm than good, and with the rapid development of social influencers and advertising through YouTube and other socials, I’m still wary of it. However, a lot of creators are posting really helpful content on the subject of sexual health, education and identity, and I find myself wishing I had some of these resources available as a kid. For Sex Ed September, I’ve made a quick rundown of a few of the users and their videos that give really helpful sex ed tips for the Lesbian/Bi community:

Stevie Boebi

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Stevie uses her own experiences to give advice and share personal stories, creating an open discussion surrounding sexual education/health. She’s also collaborated with health professionals. Some of the videos I found myself wishing I could have seen as a teenager include the Lesbian Sex 101 series, which talks about both pleasure and enjoyment of sex. She also does some myth-busting videos about sexual anatomy and ‘facts’ about lesbian sex. On her channel, Stevie also reflects on issues surrounding mental health, including a video about sex after trauma. Content such as this goes miles in taking away the stigma of talking about difficult issues. she also does Q&As answering viewers’ questions, therefore setting up a platform for people to learn from as well as the opportunity to ask things viewers otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to.

Sexplanations

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Dr Doe of Sexplanations offers great sexual health advice no matter what your sexual/gender identity. There is all sorts of medical info on this channel. The videos cover subjects from painful sex and sexual definitions, to genital piercings and dealing with shame. Sexplanations has a dedicated LGBT playlist section including videos on vulva confidence, sexual identities and trans sex.

Melanie Murphy

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Murphy boasts a whole variety of videos on her channel ranging from lifestyle to pms to mental health. Whilst not exclusively a sex educator, this Youtuber’s sexuality playlist contains a whole bunch of information relating to bisexuality: answering questions and chats, as well as discussions on bi-erasure that I myself learnt A LOT from in 10 minutes. You can also, very importantly, find information on this channel about contraception and safe sex, alongside masturbation, orgasms, vibrators, and relationship advice too.

Ash Hardell

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I am including Ash here because even though they don’t discuss sex ed directly, the nature of the topics you can find here are extremely helpful to the overall discussion of sexual health, identity and gender identity. Ash is AFAB (assigned female at birth), and genderqueer/trans non-binary. As they say in their July Video Why I’m Not A Boy, “Looks don’t equal gender”. As someone who has been frequently misgendered since I cut my hair – and apparently when I wear jeans – I now find myself relating to this a lot more than I thought I ever would!

Their videos chronicling their relationship with their body and their life in general go along way in expanding the conversation, allowing our awareness and knowledge of both ourselves and others to grow. I found this particularly useful as a reminder that there are so many alternative ways of being yourself, and so much more than we get told about in mainstream education.

Ash has a video (and book!) called the ABC’s of LGBT on their other channel with lots more LGBT content made with their wife Grace.

There are many many more people I could have included here. As well as these examples, a quick search for LGBT+ Youtubers that talk about sex/relationships brings up some hundreds of users, most notably nowthisisliving,  Rose and Rosie, Ingrid Nilsen, Ari Fitz, Amber’s Closet, MyHarto, Rowan Ellis, As/Is and UnsolicitedProject. Many users share coming out stories as well as relationship advice, providing relatable and informative media for the wider community.

Whilst some of these content creators mentioned are not specifically aimed at sex ed, I’d argue that sexual identity is a big part of sexual health education. Especially when we are young and growing up, trying to make sense of the world. We all have questions we might be embarrassed about asking and some of us might not have anyone to turn to. But with all the video content in social media literally at our fingertips, that situation is in some ways becoming a thing of the past. YouTubers have suddenly created a new form of celebrity and those who have younger teenage fan bases are fast becoming role models to a wider digital community, with the most-watched users garnering hundreds of thousands of subscribers and Instagram followers.

So even when LGBT+ content isn’t specifically created as sexual education, general visibility of the queer community is greatly helped by Youtubers. There is a conversation that has been given more voices because of this platform, and it is a necessary and worthwhile one.

Having video content so readily available on topics that are equal parts important and sensitive means that information on protection, health (both physical and mental) and education is accessible to pretty much anyone who can use the internet, regardless of how conservative or restrictive your home or school life is. It is especially important for people who are not out but can equally be utilised by people who are just interested in getting more information. 

Hopefully, with the increasing conversation around sexual education, young people will grow up equipped with the info they need and will be much more clued up than the confused gay girl in a rather crap 2008 PSHE lesson.

 

Words: Lauren Barnard
Images: YouTube, Stevie Boebi, Sexplanations, Melanie Murphy and Ash Hardell.
For September Sex Education Week on Anthem Online

September Sex Education Week 2018: Welcome Back

For some reason, a proper sex education is something I’ve become very passionate about in past years. I did a short speech about it while at university, and ever since researching it and learning all the terrible statistics, I’ve become fixed on the subject.

It seems to be that the more you think about your own sex education and you talk to others about theirs, you realise you’ve learned almost everything the hard way – or haven’t even learned it yet! To be quite frank, that’s a load of rubbish.

I appreciate that it’s 2018; there’s a lot we’d like to be on the curriculum that currently isn’t, from issues of race and gender to politics and how to get a mortgage. A proper sex education deserves a spot on this list because, as I said last year when I began this project, a proper education allows people to make their own informed choices and to be safe and healthy and (god forbid!) to even have fun.

The project came to Anthem because we are all equally angry about the lack of knowledge we left school with about our own bodies, and I’m so excited to be introducing September Sex Education Week 2018. This is our second year, and as always, we want you to be involved and to feedback what you want to learn about and hear about. What do you wish you had learned?

With that thought in your mind, let’s begin. The first article will be going up tomorrow all about body image and we’ll have a series of fantastic articles coming up this week from the team here at Anthem. Make sure you’re following us on social here, here and here so you don’t miss an article! We can’t wait to share this years project with you.

Thank you for reading! We’ll be seeing you tomorrow…

Love, Briony!

 

Words: Briony Brake
For September Sex Education Week on Anthem Online

365 Days in London

Friday 23rd June 2017. I graduated from Oxford Brookes University at 3pm in the afternoon. I took photos, stole a bunch of mini scones and headed into town with my family. I then boarded a coach to London in my nice graduation dress, switching my new heels for my favourite beat-up trainers. 

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Hooray for me!

A lot of people move to bigger cities after uni – some by accident, some with sincere intent to live a big city life. I didn’t plan on it and wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do. Five or six months prior, I had gone for an interview for an internship that was successful and so I was heading to London for at least two months to try that out. I arrived in London on a Friday night and got straight to work on Monday. Even as I moved into London, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay forever but knew that now was the time to try. 

It’s been a year since I moved to London – yes I’m still here – and I have a full-time job working on a different team at the company I started interning for last June. I live in a flat share, I have a cinema loyalty card that I don’t use as much as I should (the sign of a true grown up), and I’m staying here. I’m staying in London and I’m staying at my job. I have a set of great friends that also happen to be my colleagues, and have access to so many cool events and things going on in London.

I wanted to write this piece for two reasons – firstly to celebrate my first year in London, and secondly to share some of the things I’ve learned since being here. So let’s get to it!

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I live (near) here now.

Being a grownup is exhausting.  

The thing about London is that this all sounds really glorious, partly because I’ve written it that way and partly because I’ve totally omitted the countless times I’ve wanted to go home and all the stressed-out evenings and weekends spent fretting over work or social events. London is hella tiring. Very few people live close to where they work and if they do they don’t live near their friends and if they do they don’t live near their family or favourite market or museum etc. London is praised for having everything but if you thought about it logically, you’d realise how much space you’d need to have everything you loved. Everything is spread out and not everything is accessible when you want or need it. It’s very easy to glamourise London and say ‘well it has the best doughnuts and pizza’ which it probably does but you have to actually have the energy to go and get those doughnuts and pizza.

I moved to London and thought to pretty much everything I faced ‘it will get easier’, but I don’t know if it does. It’s not that you’re not used to it, it’s that it’s freaking hard. Travelling with hundreds of other sweaty bodies for hours a day, lugging bags around, working, exercising, enjoying a social life. It’s ridiculous. I had resigned myself to long periods of coming home, showering, cooking and watching a film before going to bed until my laptop broke. Now I watch TV on my Kindle.

The thing is that everyone is the same. I thought my London friends were London people and let me tell you, I think that’s a myth. London isn’t a fictional place where everyone is either a businessman or really super unbelievably cool. First of all, my London friends are all equally shattered and tell me how hard London is, and secondly, it’s a city goddamn it, not a club. Anyone is welcome. 

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I won an award for always having biscuits at my desk. #Winner

There’s room for everybody.

Everyone is welcome in the Big Gherkin (is that right?). It’s a funny double-edged sword because nobody gives a shit what you do or wear (drags old merch clothing out the wardrobe) but also nobody gives a shit what you do or wear (sits in pile of Gryffindor t-shirts with a sad, hopeless face). I work in an office that deals with a lot of film and television. As expected, my office is filled with merch; we probably keep Funko in business and that’s cool. I had been to an all-girls school which although relatively progressive still separated out the nerds from the rest, and then a university where I didn’t make many friends. I didn’t proudly support things I loved in my possessions and clothing anymore, but I hadn’t realised until I started this job.

My desk has only just started gathering stuff but it’s great. My birthday presents were all cat or feminist related and what more could you want? I frequently wear a Bart Simpson printed shirt to work or jumpers printed with slogans about equality and quotes from Pride and Prejudice. It doesn’t matter what you’re a ‘nerd’ about, it’s all good. Nobody gives a fudge. It’s grand.

I went to a Comic-con for the first time in May and was taken aback at how little people cared that anime girls and Jon Snows were boarding the DLR. Princess Belle in a giant yellow dress? Didn’t notice. It was so nice that I actually got a bit emotional. These people were doing what they wanted and nobody was making fun or questioning them for it. I actually cried when I went to Pride last year too. I’d only been in London for a short while at this point, but here were all these people celebrating and mourning simultaneously with thousands of allies just happy to be around. Everyone was friendly and talking to one another and there was music and glitter and colour and people were allowed to be themselves. What a dream. 

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I did not win this cat, and I am low-key furious.

I can be myself, whoever that is.

For the first time in years, I haven’t even considered dieting or getting fit to lose weight. Why you ask? Because I don’t care. Because nobody else cares. I had to stop wearing makeup earlier this year because my skin went to pot and although I started my internship wearing a full face of makeup every day, I have not worn makeup to work in at least a month or two. Nobody cares. It’s a great thing to embrace. Share what you love, talk about your passions. 

*I know I should’ve started this article with the disclaimer that I know I’ve been pretty lucky getting a job where I work and very occasionally being able to afford some of the fun things London has to offer (like DOUGHNUTS) but it’s too late now, the disclaimer is going here.*

I actually got to help on a friend of a friend’s short film as a runner this summer which was amazing. Suddenly I felt like filmmaking wasn’t off the table again (although realistically I don’t have time so it’s back off the table but still!). I’ve made friends who would gladly support or help my writing if I wanted feedback because they write too. Most of the time I can find someone to take advantage of cheap theatre tickets with me, and most excitingly I’ve discovered karaoke. Karaoke is fun damn it.

Then you have the fact that I can discuss feminism with my boss or Wonder Woman or Pusheen the cat or some obscure animation on Netflix with someone at work. It is no longer a secret that I’ve watched pretty much every Christmas movie available on Netflix, and not necessarily in December either. I like stuff and people know, and nobody thinks any different for knowing. Maybe it’s a growing up thing and not a London thing, but I feel like I belong at my current job. 

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Get it, girl.

Difference will help you grow.

This last one is less something I have learned and more something I’ve always believed that’s confirmed on a daily basis. I know a lot of people that are quite old fashioned and think it would be better if we could just get rid of or stop dealing with certain people. The thing is, we cannot get rid of people we disagree with. I’m a proud feminist and if I got rid of people who disagreed with me, then there probably wouldn’t be a population crisis anymore. You will never ever learn or grow or change if you only spend time with people like you. I genuinely believe that you will learn way more from people you dislike and disagree with than you will from similar people.

Learning to get on with people you don’t like is one of the most valuable social skills you can learn. Learning and changing to not be like people you dislike or learning how to defend yourself and your argument against people who disagree with your beliefs is equally valuable. The thing about everyone in London being different is that you learn to be friendly with dozens of people for different reasons. Being able to talk to people and discover something in common is brilliant, and learning to deal with people you don’t like is only going to help you. Living somewhere where every single person you pass is different is an amazing confirmation of how much you’re going to learn and grow and become accepting of so many different people. So remember that. 

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Treat yo’self to a good doughnut.

That’s it really. I just can’t get over how solid that message of acceptance has been since I’ve been here. I know it’s not the same for everyone but this is my personal account of London. People are either going to like you or they’re not, and there’s actually not so much you can do about that. You can be the most pleasant person in the world and someone’s still going to think you’re too pleasant. London is so busy and there’s so much happening all the time that it kind of forces you to just get on with it.

People who are very different end up being friends and that is so good for you. It is so unbelievably good for you to make friends with people who have different interests and backgrounds and lives. If you can support your friends and their super niche hobbies and interests then they will support you in yours. It’s a win-win. 

It’s been a tough year but an interesting one. I’m confident in my job and my personality in a way I haven’t been before. I’ve learned to take the bad with the good. If nothing else, I’ve learned to say “it’s swings and roundabouts” at least once a day. Welcome to London, I guess.

 

Words and Images by Briony Brake for Anthem Online.

Shame, Catholicism, and Sex Education

If I am being honest, my sex education never came from school but from books, film and television – like most teenagers. When the time came for me and my year nine form to have our allotted hour of PHSE sex ed, it felt a bit pointless; this was sex education from a Catholic perspective. This, of course, meant no talk of contraception or the range of contraceptives available, no talk of the lgbtq+ community, and ultimately being taught that sex was purely for procreation. The only privilege of my non-Catholic school friends was being able to put a condom on a banana, but as I look back I realise that in the confines of a Catholic school when discussing sex, it’s what isn’t talked about that creates the most damage.

When writing on Catholicism and its teachings on sex, a quote from the actor Rupert Everett – of all people – comes to mind. Upon being asked about his Catholic upbringing and how it affected his life as a gay man, he didn’t speak of the Catholic belief around homosexuality, but rather the damaging effect Catholic teachings can have on women. I sadly can’t find the exact quote so forgive me for paraphrasing: “When it comes to the Catholic church, women can’t win. The only two female roles models are Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the Virgin Mary, who conceived through immaculate conception. Women are being compared to the one woman in history who could give birth without committing a sexual act, no wonder the church attach sin and shame to sex.” On reading this, all my questions on why and how the church view sex, in particular female sexuality, were answered.

After reading Everett’s thoughts on Catholicism, it shocked me that this one way of looking at the world can be perpetuated through schools to teach such an important part of life. It rang true with my own problems surrounding sex and religion, for example, I have never understood why the strict teachings on sex are taught solely by men who have chosen to take a vow of celibacy. In life, the general rule of thumb is that when looking for advice you go to an expert, or a least a person with some knowledge and experience of your problem. However, when I look back on my sex education taught through this narrow prism, the residue that is left is shame.

For most of my teenage years, actually until I discovered feminism and feminist literature, I always felt a degree of shame about sex. As a young girl, the lack of information, and the age-old story of sex for reproduction left me with so many unanswered questions. I felt ashamed of having sexual feelings, of wanting to find out more through books and films. I was scared of the internet for the same reason I was scared of talking to adults; the embarrassment of googling, of asking, being expected to know more. It’s the catch twenty-two of being too naive in front of school friends and growing up too fast for your parent’s liking.

The mix of teenagers, sex and rumours cause misery and years of problems. Teenagers battle enough questions about their future without having to fight off the invasive questions: have you done it yet? Who with? Why are you waiting? Then again the shame that comes with both a yes and no answer. Slut shaming can come in all shapes and forms, from people you would least expect. Teaching sex using Catholicism seems to give people permission to judge a woman’s sexual behaviour, because as Rupert Everett pointed out, the church has the perfect spectrum on which to judge.  

The age-old tale of secrecy being more exciting is never truer than when sex comes into the equation. The Catholic veil of guilt and mystery does nothing to educate teenagers or even take away the fear and shame from the shy and anxious like myself. Most importantly, by not teaching teenagers about contraception, STDs, and how to practice safe sex, you are doing them a disservice. The more people know, the more power they have over their own lives and their choices. If a school must bring in the Catholic church’s teachings, then perhaps it should be one part of a much broader education. Sex education can’t be a cross between a biology lesson and a confessional. It must be taught with the same importance as the three core subjects and with the same enthusiasm and improvisational skills as a drama class.

Teachers, I implore to use every teaching tool in the box. Be brave, be honest, talk about the gory details, the joyous details. Point kids in the right direction and talk about sex’s place in culture. Even take inspiration from Channel 4’s recent documentary on sex education, and give teenagers a sex quiz. Make it competitive, make girls want to know what contraception is right for them, the importance of knowing their rights to their own body. Make boys want to know about a woman’s pleasure as well as their own, talk about the clitoris and masturbation as an important and healthy part of men and women’s lives. Hell, give UCAS points to everyone who acknowledges that NO means NO!

Give them an education void of other people’s shame and uncertainty. Take away the fear and replace it with the knowledge they will need to go out into the world. Give them knowledge they can use.

 

Words by Lara Scott
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

The Absence of LGBTQ+ Sex Education

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At the start of 2017, our government blocked compulsory LGBTQ+ sex and relationship education. On reading about this decision, and being asked to write on sex education for Anthem, I realised how lacking my own sex education was in the mid-noughties. It is a crying shame that my friends and I were so ill informed back then, let alone as teenagers are now in 2017.

We were taught about biology, not pleasure, and definitely not consent. It was very male centric, with the attitude that ‘boys will be boys’. Girls were taught to allow boys to experience these new feelings and to be kind to them if they get an unwelcome erection in your presence. Female masturbation, however, was an afterthought; described to us using a video of a woman on an exercise bike (which made exercise bikes very confusing for a time). 

Being taught sex education in a Catholic school meant that the word ‘contraception’ was mentioned once in reference to the use of a condom, but no instructions on how to use one. Again sex was seen as a means to an end, that end being babies. We were not taught about consent, what it is to be in a healthy relationship, porn, sexting, mental and physical abuse, and I never once heard the word clitoris.  

I was taught that sex was all about the sperm fertilising the egg, and a woman’s main role was as a mother. This left no room for discovery or intimacy, certainly not if you identified as anything other than heterosexual. We were taught sex education with the same attitude that my great grandmother had about LGBTQ people. When my grandma informed her that there were lesbians in the WRENS (Women of the Royal Naval Service), her mother replied: ‘”Don’t be silly, women don’t do that”. She didn’t even think it was possible. When I had my sex education, sex seemed a far off thing as the boys at my school either annoyed me or scared me. At this point, an attraction to women didn’t seem to be an option. It was not until I was twenty, and watching The L Word that this part of life would make sense to me. Coming out as bisexual in 2016 put a lot of things into perspective, especially how society views sex, and how culture comments on it. I was looking for representations of myself and found them to be few and far between.

When I had my sex education, sex seemed a far off thing as the boys at my school either annoyed me or scared me. At this point, an attraction to women didn’t seem to be an option. It was not until I was twenty, and watching The L Word that this part of life would make sense to me. Coming out as bisexual in 2016 put a lot of things into perspective, especially how society views sex, and how culture comments on it. I was looking for representations of myself and found them to be few and far between.

Image result for the l word

On researching the reasons behind this absence in sex education, the common train of thought behind not teaching LGBTQ inclusive sex ed was the worry behind promoting the lifestyle. This thought process is wrong on many levels, the worst being that like all prejudices, it puts one person’s life above another; it teaches that heterosexuality is the norm. I mean, when was the last time someone came out as straight? I have read many articles and watched many videos on heteronormativity, and can see that this is where the absence stems from. From the government right down to schools and parents, people assume people’s sexual orientation, therefore assuming LGBTQ+ are in the minority. This leads to exclusion, and people feeling devalued. I have never understood why when teaching teenagers about sex and education, you wouldn’t teach them about every colour of the rainbow, no pun intended; it is of invaluable importance to their education. If I was an MP, a teacher, or a parent I would want thought-out, informative, joyful lessons on the subject that required more than just an hour before lunch. I would want young adults to learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, pleasurable sex, safe sex, attraction, affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, dating, online dating, and the myth of virginity.

I have never understood why when teaching teenagers about sex and education, you wouldn’t teach them about every colour of the rainbow, no pun intended; it is of invaluable importance to their education. If I was an MP, a teacher, or a parent I would want thought-out, informative, joyful lessons on the subject that required more than just an hour before lunch. I would want young adults to learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, pleasurable sex, safe sex, attraction, affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, dating, online dating, and the myth of virginity.

As a graduate of English and drama, I would also discuss how our culture views sex; the difference between a sex scene and sex, the difference between pornography and sex. I would teach people where to find LGBTQ+ representation, where to find feminist representation, and what it means to be a feminist, especially when it comes to sex. When it comes to sex we don’t give teenagers (especially teenage girls) the credit they deserve. Your teenage years can be the hardest as a period of constant pressure, questions and uncertainties about all that life can offer. The least adults can do is give them some certainty, and show them that they understand. School is meant to be a place where we learn about the world, about ourselves, and what we can become. I came out at the age of 24 – a whole decade after I learnt about how a sperm fertilises an egg. I had ten years to read all the sexy books and watch all the sexy films, and I had The L Word to confirm my bisexuality. I still think of the joy I missed out on, the stupid things I could have avoided, the days spent questioning and not acting. I think of that anxious lonely girl or boy who doesn’t have the strength to wait ten years. What if one person telling them their feelings are valid, or hearing that ‘love is love’ gives them the permission to start finding joy?

School is meant to be a place where we learn about the world, about ourselves, and what we can become. I came out at the age of 24 – a whole decade after I learnt about how a sperm fertilises an egg. I had ten years to read all the sexy books and watch all the sexy films, and I had The L Word to confirm my bisexuality. I still think of the joy I missed out on, the stupid things I could have avoided, the days spent questioning and not acting. I think of that anxious lonely girl or boy who doesn’t have the strength to wait ten years. What if one person telling them their feelings are valid, or hearing that ‘love is love’ gives them the permission to start finding joy?

 

Words by Lara Scott
Image courtesy of Showtime
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.