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The constant bombardment of sexual advice has led to many people being completely confused about sex.
The younger generation have the most sexual advice and information on offer, far more than even ten years ago, and yet they seem to be the least sexually informed group within society. This confusion leads to more poorly sourced articles being written, as the same questions about sex are being asked but never answered properly, and instead are met with regurgitated nonsense.
Nine out of 10 (93%) daughters said their parents never discussed gynaecological health issues with them when they were younger and 84% said their parents never discussed the female sexual anatomy.
Even more worrying, 1 in 7 mothers said they do not feel it is their role or duty to educate their daughter about gynaecological health, with the youngest generation of mums being the most reticent – just over a quarter (27%) agreed it was not their role to educate their daughters.
Is this because their own sexual knowledge about their body is poor or that they are just too embarrassed? Many parents often struggle to talk about sexual issues with their partner so are even more unlikely to open up to their children.
So if they do not think they should educate their children about sexual health issues, who should?
It’s no good telling young women about having amazing orgasms if they don’t even know their own body. Men need instructions too, so why not start in the classroom? Starting at a young age normalises talking about your body, using the correct terminology and allowing children to ask questions about topics they are curious about or find confusing.
Finally, following 30 years of campaigning the new RSE curriculum is now mandatory in schools in England from 1st September 2020 after years of previous governments refusing to make Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory in the classroom which has led to this complete confusion by children about sexual issues, their bodies and sexual orientation and identity.
The new compulsory lessons will be introduced in Scotland in 2021 and Wales in 2022.
However we still cannot breathe a sigh of relief as this may not lead to inclusive RSE being taught. The original guidelines carefully created with Justine Greening in 2017 ( former education secretary) were fully inclusive and comprehensive however, the new guidelines drawn up in collaboration with the former Education Secretary Damien Hind say that schools have the option to pick and choose what they want to teach and parents the option to opt their children out of the lessons until they are 15.
From experience as a parent it is these children who often need educating because they are not being informed at home and are opted out of RSE lessons.
Due to the COVID19 pandemic the new curriculum will not have to be implemented until summer 2021 to allow teachers to be trained and for schools to have the correct resources in place.
Sex Education Forum states:
“Education, not ignorance is the only way that children will be able to recognise abusive behaviour and know how to seek help.1 in 20 children are sexually abused and 1 in 3 did not tell an adult (Radford, 2011). Sexual abuse can happen to any child, so the only way to safeguard children is to ensure Relationships Education has no opt out.”
“It is a requirement of the Equality Act 2010 that the curriculum is taught in an inclusive way that does not discriminate. An increasing number of schools are teaching about LGBT issues (Stonewall, 2017). However, the poor mental health of LGBT people remains alarmingly high. LGBT inclusion inRSE helps tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. It does not encourage any particular lifestyle”
The new curriculum could be a huge step in ensuring all our children are educated about sex, relationships, consent, bullying, preventing and identifying sexual abuse so they can lead happy, healthy consentual relationships into adulthood if it is inclusive, comprehensive and taught well.
Sex education in schools needs to be updated to include sexual pleasure, intimacy, consent and LGBTQ+. As it stands, most biology books are the main source of information for many students, and these don’t even label the clitoris. A new report on Sex and Relationships Education, entitled Shh… No Talking launched by Terrence Higgins Trust (2016) found that this generation of young people have been taught poor SRE that is infrequent, low quality and almost never LGBT inclusive.
They found that from over 900 young people aged 16-24, 75% had not been taught about consent, 95% had not learned about LGBT sex and relationships, 89% were not taught about sex and pleasure and 97% missed out on any discussion around gender identity.
Where SRE is being taught, it is often outdated and not relevant for today’s young people who turn to the internet for their information. If people are learning everything they know about sex from porn, they may never enjoy good sex, especially if they watch hardcore porn. Recent research has shown porn addiction leads to erectile dysfunction in younger men as they cannot function without the visual imagery of porn.
Often the sex acts portrayed can be violent, dgrading or rough, from slapping, choking, biting, deep throating, spitting and anal sex seems to be the norm, creating unrealistic expectations of what real sex is and leading many people believe this is what sex is like. Some people enjoy rough sex but not all and you never see the preparation that porn actors do before anal sex by wearing an anal sex toy several hours prior to filming.
If this is the only sex you have ever seen, you may think this is how to do it and you have to submit to these sex acts even if you do not enjoy them or find them painful.
Porn also creates unrealistic expectation of body image with the bare vulva resmbling that of a barbie doll, enormous penis, melon like breasts that don’t move, which in turn, leads to body dysmorphia and the pressure to be hair free, and seek cosmetic surgery to enlarge your breasts, penis, trim your labia and tighten your vagina!
It also portrays every women having an orgasm through penetrative sex which simply isn’t realistic. 70% of women orgasm clitorally. Many of the actors fake their orgasms which leads men and women to believe it is easy to orgasm and it happens every time during penetrative sex!
This form of porn doesn’t portray how sex is played out in the bedroom across the UK or wherever you have sex and encourages young people to believe that this is what real sex is meant to be like as they are not being taught good SRE in schools.
Many adults enjoy watching pornography, enhancing their sexual pleasure in a healthy way.
According to Sex educator, Cindy Gallop there’s an entire generation growing up that believes that what you see in hardcore pornography is the way you have sex. MakeLoveNotPorn shows couples enjoying real life sex, the way in which the majority of people enjoy sex, noisy, messy, funny, intimate and pleasurable.
They never show the bottle of sexual lubricant, box of tissues, post coital waddle to the toilet with a wad of tissues between your legs and the post coital pee to prevent urinary tract infections!
Recent results from the latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) study of sexual health in Britain, show that young people are experiencing sexual issues such as erectile dysfunction, painful sex and premature ejaculation almost as much as older people. Sex education needs to include sexual pleasure in addition to sexual health to help younger people overcome these sexual problems.
We should move on from condoms on bananas- I’ve never seen a penis shaped like a banana and I saw many during my nursing career! A man with a penis like this may have Peyronie’s Disease and should seek medical advice.
Teaching about sexual health and pleasure in the classroom in schools, colleges and universities will lead to younger men and women knowing how their body works, what feels normal and is normal and when something feels abnormal. Sex-positive lessons will encourage students to take control of their own sexual health and sexuality.
Worrying results from a recent survey carried out by PHE and YouGov (2017) revealed almost half of 16-24-year-olds have never used a condom with a new partner.
One in 10 of them had never even used one.
Yet there were more than 141,000 chlamydia and gonorrhoea diagnoses in people aged between 15 and 24 in England in 2016. Sexually transmitted diseases (STI) can cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease, both of which often remain undetected until a woman tries to get pregnant. They can cause pain, swelling of the testicles, discharge and burning pain when urinating.
Many STIs remain symptomless so people continue to practice unsafe sex, unaware they are passing the diseases onto their next sexual partner. The STI message doe not seem to be getting through to younger people which is why sex education needs to be updated to ensure the need to practice safer sex is conveyed.
Getting young men to find condoms that fit properly and feel good will encourage them to use them during sex- one size doesn’t fit all.
A recent survey by The Eve Appeal (2016) found that half of young women (aged 16-25) couldn’t locate the vagina on a medical diagram. Sadly 65% of the women found it difficult to use the word vagina, demonstrating a dangerous lack of knowledge amongst UK women.
Interestingly, a recent YouGov survey for Cosmopolitan Magazine found we’re happy to expose our vulvas to our beauty therapist as 98% of women groom their bikini line and 1 in 2 women under 30 have all their pubic hair removed.
So should we trained beauty therapists to give advice about gynae issues if women feel more comfortable exposing their genitals in this environment?
Knowing how to do a breast examination correctly, testicular examinations and knowing how their genitals should look and feel will make talking to their doctor about sexual issues using words like vagina, womb, penis and anus easier in the future.
Not all breast lumps are cancerous, many are completely benign but young women still need to be aware of other signs and symptoms of breast cancer such as dimpling and changes to your nipples.
We also need to remember that men get breast cancer too.
Recognising symptoms of gynaecological cancers such as abnormal bleeding or discharge, lumps and bumps or skin discolouration on the vulva and inside the vagina, bloated abdomen and painful sex. Often such symptoms have a completely benign cause but you should seek medical advice.
Encouraging women to have a smear test every three years from the age of 25- it’s quick, simple and feels a little uncomfortable but could save your life. Even if you have had the HVP vaccination, you still need to have a cervical smear test from the age of 25.
Learning about consent will hopefully lead a change in attitude towards sexual violence and what is consensual sex. Teaching respect for other people and their bodies can help reduce the body shaming, and sexual harrassment many children experience in schools, colleges and universities and going to and from these places too.
Many parents demand that porn sites should be blocked, yet they need to talk to their children about porn, putting filters in place and monitoring what their children are viewing on their smartphones. Some parents buy smart phones for their very young children but don’t think about what their children have access to, including porn but also many videos portraying extreme violence and killing, both real or fictional.
Children often find a way around these filters in our tech savvy world so parents need to be more involved in their childrens’ viewing habits.
The new government age verification for watching porn won’t just affect porn site but excellent websites and blogs that offer good sex education and sexual advice to younger people.
I was invited to speak at the Family Planning Association (FPA) Launch event for Sexual Health Week (2017). The campaign for 2017 was Let’s Talk about Porn. As a parent of three teenagers I spoke about why it is important for parents to talk about porn with our children to ensure they understand sex should be happy, healthy, pleasurable and concensual and that porn is just “acted sex”, not “real sex”. The FPA were campaigning for inclusive, comprehensive sex education in the UK and were included in parliamentary discussions.
The Channel 4 programme Sex in the Classroom was excellent and demonstrated what children want to know as well as just how confused they are. One boy commented that what he had learnt would stay with him for life and help him, rather than a lesson on algebra!
Sex education should be taught by specially trained teachers in school who feel comfortable about talking about sex, and by external professionals who can give expert advice and opinion.
Too many schools shy away from teaching the basics or just float around the edge of the subject without giving any good information that will benefit their pupils throughout their lives.
Many teachers worry about the small group of parents who may complain about this subject matter, rather than listening to the majority of parents who would like sex education to be better.
Some parents and teachers feel that by educating our children about sex they are more likely to go and have it, but research shows that by equipping children with the appropriate knowledge enables them to make suitable choices. You will always have those children who have underage sex, with or without good advice. So, if they do decide to have sex. let it be protected sex.
Parents should be having these talks with their children but many feel uncomfortable so being able to offer well structured talks about sex in a safe environment at school can fill in the gaps parents may not feel they can talk about.
It’s not just the younger generation who are confused- older people are too. Often their sex education was completely non existent, which is why there has been an increase in sexually transmitted infections (STI) reported in the over 50’s who are not practicing safe sex.
Condom brands need to include older models in their advertising and we need a sexual health campaign aimed at the over 50’s because they seem to be missing sexual health messaging and campaigns.
With some couples divorcing, entering new relationships and using dating apps to find love and sex, the rise in STIs is scary in this age group, esepcially when they don’t think they have to use a condom becasue they can’t get pregnant anymore, they fail to understand the condoms protect against STIs too.
Many older people still believe that HIV can only be transmitted by blood transfusion and homosexual activity. The lack of HIV knowledge and the belief that safer sex is only for younger women who want to avoid pregnancy is leading older people to practice unsafe sex.
Most educational sexual health campaigns target younger people because it is commonly believed that they are the generation having the most sex and are more likely to practice unsafe sex. However, older generations are being ignored when it comes to safe sexual practices as there is an assumption that older people aren’t sexually active.
Healthcare professionals need to ensure they are asking about older people’s sex lives when appropriate and not assume they aren’t having sex, are sexually informed or already have knowledge about their sexual health.
When seeking sexual health advice, often the LGBT community, older people and people who have disabilities face stigma and prejudice from healthcare professionals, making it even harder for them to get the right treatment. This is due to lack of understanding, training and their own personal views. Attitudes are slowly changing in the NHS but we still have a way to go to ensure everyone receives appropriate advice and treatment.
I’m very cautious about research and surveys as often sweeping generalisations are made about women and men related to sex through these sex surveys. Often these “surveys” have small subject groups with narrow age group or social demographic, so are not representative of the population.
This can be damagingly misleading for people who simply read the headlines and spend time worrying that their sex life or sexual prowess isn’t up to standard.
Often they are sponsored by the company promoting its own products, therefore cannot be objective.
People often worry if they don’t fit into the set criteria of these surveys, making them feel abnormal.
There are so many articles telling us how we’d have better sex if only we did it this way or whilst up a tree, standing on our head or trying all of these 1000 sex positions tonight. It’s far too generalised, and what is pleasurable for some might not deliver that “mind blowing orgasm” for others.
What is “normal sex” for one person may be considered abnormal for another. Offering basic advice about sex would be more useful and if someone then wants to swing from the ceiling light, they can!
Some people are unable to have penetrative sex so sex without intercourse is what works for them.
There are many reasons why women struggle to orgasm, including having never explored their own bodies, cultural or religious beliefs and not realising they have a clitoris.
Using sexual lubricant isn’t abnormal and doesn’t signify you have a problem, there are many reasons why you may not feel wet.
There is an obsession with penis-in-vagina sex as being normal sex, yet there is no “normal sex”. Sex should be consensual and whatever feels pleasurable to you, and can include all forms of sexual intimacy.
We’re often told that sex would be better if our vaginas all looked a certain way, and while I don’t tend to compare my vagina to others, I have explored it thoroughly and know how to pleasure myself too. I also know that all our vaginas are different and there is no ”normal”.
Some cosmetic surgery for vaginas can transform women’s sex lives but seeking surgery just because your vagina doesn’t look like the latest porn star or your partner thinks it looks ugly is bonkers!
One look at the Great Wall of Vagina created by Jamie McCartney will make you realise that we are all different!
Men obsess about their penises, especially when they compare them to those of porn actors who often appear much larger on film as a result of clever filming and lighting!
Most women are content with what a man can do with his penis, not how big it is, and prefer the girth to be bigger rather than the length! However, some women like bigger ones and some like smaller ones!
Recent research shows that people are literally dying of embarrassment because they can’t talk to their doctors about their bodies and are using the internet as a health resource, often finding incorrect information which leads to them not seeking medical advice or spending time worrying about something which is completely normal.
Saying the word vagina is very hard for some women, yet if we made such terminology commonplace in society rather than showing disgust or shock when people use these words, we would all be more comfortable speaking to our doctor.
So, instead of bombarding people with confusing and often contradictory advice about sex, offer good basic information that will help them to understand their bodies, explore different ways to enjoy sexual pleasure, be able to talk about their sexual problems and seek medical advice when necessary, leading to better sexual health and increased sexual pleasure and satisfaction.
We are really proud of the part our daughter ( now 20) has played in helping to get these new guidelines enforced. She joined the FPA Youth Council when she was 16 and was a Stonewall Youth Campaigner in 2018. As a Youth RSE campaigner she has spoken at several RSE events and conferences including YSAFE in Brussels and Istanbul and also at the RCOG Congress 2019 about the right to contraception for young women. She joined the FPA when the new RSE guidance was being discussed in 2017 in parliament with other RSE campaigners and groups. She continues to campaign for inclusive RSE.
She and myself filmed a video for UNESCO about inclusive comprehensive sex education in 2018.
Terrence Higgins Trust : www.tht.org.uk
BASHH : www.bashh.org
Sex Education Forum : www.sexeducationforum.org.uk
Bish : www.bishuk.com sex education for over 14’s
Alice Hoyle : www.sexedukation.wordpress.com- excellent sex education from early years to teens
PSHE Solutions : www.pshesolutions.co.uk – run by John Rees, an experienced teacher, trainer and consultant with more than 25 years educational leadership
Everyday Sexism : www.everydaysexism.com
Eve Appeal : www.eveappeal.org.uk
Ask Eve : www.eveappeal.org.uk-supporting-you ask-eve
Jo’s Trust : www.jostrust.org.uk
Family Planning Association : www.fpa.org.uk
CoppaFeel : coppafeel.org
Enjoy Sex (How, when and if you want to): A Practical and Inclusive Guide- Dr Meg Barker, Justin Hancock
Recommended reading from my 17 year old daughter
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
Girl Up by Laura Bates