OK, I’d better try to explain the title: it’s a reference to ‘Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll’, a euphemism that we (PSE teachers) would often use to refer to our curriculum. The initials also lead to STI, the current accepted term to describe a variety of conditions that are mainly transmitted via sexual contact.
Today was the first day back to school for many children in Scotland, and for the third year running I managed to remember not to go in for the initial In Service Training day, yesterday. Today also saw Radio Scotland including the topic of parental involvement in Sex Education for discussion during this morning’s ‘Call Kaye’ show, for another time.
Yet again, it didn’t take long for the familiar points of view to be aired:
- there was the mother who didn’t believe that schools should have any role to play at all as parents should be the only ones to talk to or educate their children about sex;
- there was reference to another mother who had allegedly given her teenage daughter a copy of ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ and told her to “get on with it”;
- and the father who believed passionately that all sex education should be undertaken by schools as there were “too many ill-educated parents ‘breeding like rabbits’ and producing children who simply carried on that tradition”.
Life is all about taking educated risks, and so is sexual awakening – the decision to write this blog is also an educated risk. For many years I believed that I was doing my best to navigate through the minefield of Sex Education – writing this might spur some ex-students on to tell me that I failed big time! Nevertheless I will continue.
Listening to the debate reminded me that Kaye Adams is an excellent host, and can play ‘devil’s advocate’ with grace and ease. It also reminded me of how impossible it is for those in positions of responsibility and power, such as politicians, to make well-judged decisions as long as the tendency to categorise things as black or white, yes or no, persists. We do not all come to these difficult situations from the same starting point. For parents in a steady and loving relationship, who have a settled and secure lifestyle, it may be easy to moralise about what the state should do. On the other hand single parents living a chaotic life will inevitably approach things in an entirely different way and, in many cases, will probably be more than happy to absolve all responsibility to the schools. In between, there are many, many more than forty shades of grey!
Example 1 – I recall an end of term day many years ago; we used to close early at lunchtime on the last day, but this time I spent a while after closing, waiting for paramedic assistance, with a student who had overdosed on paracetamol as the thought of seven weeks at home with abusive parents was simply too much to bear.
Example 2 – I have been following the blog of a girl who relates how her abuse by both parents began at a very early age, before they forced her into child prostitution. In a recent post she was asked what others could do to support her now. Her reply was so wonderfully gracious:
“Thank you so much! There are two major ways you can help:
- Mention it. If someone makes a rape joke, bring up cases like mine. If someone says a girl is “a whore,” tell them how many people may be hurt by them using those words. Be a voice for those who are too afraid/ashamed to be their own voice.
- If you see something, say something. If you’re not sure whether a child is being abused, talk to the child, call someone – do SOMEthing. And don’t stop until that child is safe or you have no more options.
Thank you so much for your support of myself and people like me. By being a voice for the survivors, you are speaking out against the perpetrators.”
Well, after all that, I certainly don’t claim to have any answers – just questions. The principal one being – in an age when young people are bombarded with graphic imagery via a variety of easily accessible media, is the ONLY option for teachers to seek to find time in a crowded curriculum to teach students the biological facts about human reproduction round about the time of the apparent average age of puberty, when a large number of them will already have been encouraged/pressurised to experiment much sooner (regardless of what their parents may feel). One of the main observations that I would like to add is based on a fairly stereotypical view, but one that experience has tended to confirm: I really do believe that some sex education sessions should be conducted in same-sex groups – my reason for suggesting this is my long-held assertion that teenage girls generally mature much sooner than their male counterparts, and consequently when most girls are ready to deal with sensible mature discussions, the majority of males of the same age simply aren’t equipped to handle them.
It is so easy to rationally ‘tick a box’ on a worksheet to indicate that they would routinely use a condom when the moment arrived – when hormones and alcohol kick in, reality bears no relation to informed logic. Peer pressure and media projected expectations are very powerful things to ignore.