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The Importance of Sex Education in Schools

PM Rishi Sunak has announced an overhaul of sex education in schools, deeming the content currently taught ‘graphic and inaccurate’.

Sex education is not just about teaching young people how to have sex; it is much more than that. It is a vital part of preparing young people for adulthood, helping them understand their bodies, relationships, and the implications of their choices.

It is also about promoting healthy relationships, mutual respect, and consent.

Unfortunately, not all young people receive adequate sex education, which can have severe consequences. Lack of education can lead to a range of issues, such as unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and sexual exploitation.

Also, STIs continue to be a significant concern in the UK, with over 300,000 STIs diagnosed in England in 2021.

Providing sex education in schools can help young people understand the risks and consequences of sexual activity and provide them with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed choices.

It can also help young people understand the importance of consent and how to recognize and report abuse and exploitation.

Sex education can also help promote gender equality and tackle discrimination. It can help young people understand the diversity of sexual orientation, gender identity, and relationships, promoting respect and understanding for all.

It can also help tackle harmful gender stereotypes and promote healthy relationships based on mutual respect, communication, and consent.

Sex education in schools should be comprehensive, accurate, and age-appropriate. It should cover a range of topics, such as anatomy, puberty, contraception, STIs, consent, and healthy relationships.

It should also be inclusive, recognizing and respecting the diversity of young people's experiences, identities, and cultures.

Sex education in schools in England is mandatory, following the introduction of the Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education curriculum.

The new curriculum aims to provide a comprehensive education that meets the needs of young people in the 21st century.

It includes teaching on healthy relationships, mental health, and online safety.

The curriculum has been widely welcomed by experts and campaigners, who see it as a vital step forward in improving young people's sexual health and well-being.

It has been praised for its inclusive approach, which recognizes the diversity of young people's experiences and identities.

However, the implementation of RSE and Health Education has not been without its challenges. Some parents and religious groups have expressed concerns about the content of the curriculum, particularly around teaching on LGBTQ+ issues.

There have also been concerns about the adequacy of the training and resources provided to teachers to deliver the curriculum effectively.

MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge Miriam Cates has told the House of Commons that sex education lessons currently include ‘graphic lessons on oral sex, how to choke your partner safely, and 72 genders’.

This plays to fears that some parents may have that the RSE curriculum encourages children to identify as transgender or LGBTQ+.

Sunak responded to these claims by assuring Cates that he had asked the Department of Education to ensure that content being taught was appropriate for the ages, and would be made clear to parents what was being taught.

The last review of sex education in schools was in 2020, and is due to be reassessed every three years, so this review prompted by Sunak is nothing atypical.

I remember studying sex education in Year 7, about 7 years ago. Although that might have been quite a while ago, I can contest to the fact that we almost certainly weren’t given ‘graphic depictions of oral sex’, or taught about ‘72 genders’, or otherwise had any gender or sexuality pushed on us in any way.

We were told what sex was, and taught about the menstrual cycle, contraception and the process of puberty - nothing at all ‘graphic’.

We were allowed to write anonymous questions on post-it notes for the teacher to answer if they were appropriate and genuine. The way that sex and relationships were taught to us changed according to our ages as we progressed through school.

When I started sixth form, it was then that we began to have realistic conversations about the dangers of STDs, and consent, delivered to us by experts from Cumbria Sexual Health Clinic.

And although I can’t speak for Year 7s now, I do have three younger siblings, two of which are in secondary school, and both have told me that they were not taught anything along the lines of what Cates claims.

It seems that for the majority of these MPs speaking up about sex education, the true motive is to combat inclusivity and diversity within sex education.

While it is easy to argue that this falls under the right to free speech, no matter your beliefs it is an undeniable fact that denying sex education to teenagers and young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender, is a recipe for disaster.

LGBTQ+ young people have just as much of a right to learn about their bodies and sexual relationships as cisgender/heterosexual teens.

The importance of inclusive sex education is only highlighted by the fact that data published by the government, funnily enough, demonstrates that ‘there were 434,456 sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reported in England in 2015. 54,275 of which were among gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men, a 10% increase since 2014’.

Denying young people the right to inclusive sex education denies them the right to safe, and healthy sexual relationships.

Despite these controversies, it is essential to recognise the importance of sex education in schools and its potential to improve young people's lives.

Providing comprehensive and inclusive sex education can help young people make informed choices, promote healthy relationships, and prevent a range of sexual health issues.

It is vital that we continue to invest in sex education and ensure that it is delivered effectively to all young people in the UK.

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