Monday, June 04, 2007

Blogging For Sex Education


I thought this sounded interesting.

So here's my take on it.

I've done some reading about this the last few days, and a few issues I haven't considered before were raised. Like the idea that kids get most of their sex education from porn.

This is something that hadn't occurred to me, but it makes sense. The first time I saw a penis was at the age of 15 and it was in a porn magazine of the kind aimed at women, that my friend brought to school. She had an older boyfriend and he bought it for her. We all had a good gawp at it, and I seem to remember being kind of fascinated but also shocked that anyone would want to look at it! It didn't look anything like the diagrams in textbooks (it wasn't in cross-section, for a start! And although I didn't realise at the time, it was circumcised) and the guy was ugly, obviously picked for his one "talent". Of course, I knew about "girlie" magazines like Playboy and I'd seen topless women on Page 3 and although I knew that the boys were probably looking at such material, I didn't realise that women would enjoy it too.

I don't remember talking about sex much with my friends. Kissing, and who we fancied and who was going out with who, yeah. Sex, no. Even though some of my friends must have been having sex, particularly the ones with serious boyfriends. I knew a fair bit because I read a lot. The sex education we got at school consisted of a video for us girls (probably sponsored by Tampax or someone), animated in pencil crayon sketches of kids of varying ages diving into a swimming pool and ovaries and sperm and the like, a sort of "this is what will happen to your body" kind of deal, followed by a discussion about periods where we asked the teacher questions (mostly stuff like "When will I start my periods?" and "I've started, when will I get regular?"). No-one asked about sex. I guess they were embarrassed, not about asking the teacher, but about admitting their ignorance in front of the other kids. I guess the boys had a similar experience, except without the free sanitary towels. We also learned about pregnancy and the menstrual cycle and contraception in science classes, and in RE we learned about views on sex before marriage, and the teacher (a Christian) told us it was wrong and that we should wait until we were married. Your parents had to sign a consent form for you to have any kind of sex education.

I learned more about sex from teen magazines than from either school or friends. I'd scour the problem pages of Just Seventeen and the like, even though I wasn't having any of those problems myself I stored up the advice in case I needed it in the future. Just in case by some miracle a boy wanted to sleep with me and I got pregnant and was too scared to tell my parents, or my boyfriend wanted me to "wank him off" and I wasn't sure I wanted to, or a boy "fingered" me at a party then told everyone at school.

But what I really wanted to know at 14 was, how will it feel? How will I know when I'm ready? Will it hurt? What if I'm no good at it and he laughs at me? What if it's all over in 30 seconds? What if I say no and he doesn't listen? And no-one ever told me any of the answers.

"Losing it" is something that's a big deal for kids. For girls, there's two kinds of pressure. It has to be special, memorable, important, with someone you love (or are at least dating), otherwise you're a slut. But it also has to be gotten rid of ASAP because "virgin" is an insult, and because the consensus is that the first time's the worst and painful and you have to stick with it until it starts getting good. I know this, along with a natural apprehension of the unknown, created some tension in me, and when the opportunity presented itself (so to speak) at 16 I was too scared to take that step even though part of me wanted to. When I finally did it (at 17), I was so drunk I don't even remember starting. I became aware of what was happening part way through - I suppose since I was in no state to give consent it was technically rape, but I don't see it that way, he wasn't exactly rational himself. Afterwards I wished I hadn't (the fact that he was my friend's boyfriend also complicated matters), but I also felt relieved. Now I'd got it over with, I could get on with the rest of my sex life.

As far as I'm concerned, sex education in schools should teach the following:
  • What happens during puberty. Periods (and how to deal with them), changes in the body, wet dreams and the like.
  • How babies are made (and that contraception stops them getting made).
  • People have differing views on sex for pleasure, sex for procreation, contraception, abortion, marriage, etc., possibly linked to religion. Arguments for and against each.
  • Masturbation as a normal and healthy activity, but including views against it.
  • STIs and pregnancy. Dispelling the myths, like you can't get pregnant during your period, the first time, or standing up.
  • Conception/contraception in detail.
  • Where to go for contraception/advice etc.
  • Porn is an unrealistic portrayal of what sex is like.
  • Rape/sexual assault/abuse.
  • Assertiveness training/self-defence for girls, and how it's okay to say no if you mean it (and that you shouldn't say no if you don't mean it).
  • "No means no" training for boys. Respecting that women have a choice.
  • For both sexes, this could tie in with how to stay safe on the streets, keeping your drink safe from being spiked, that kind of thing.
  • Sexual harassment and what is not acceptable (also ties in with racism/homophobia/bullying/intolerance/etc.)
  • Abusive relationships and how to deal with them.
To be honest, I'm against sex ed being taught in isolation. I think it would be better as part of a wider class which you could call Life Skills or something like that. It would promote sensible discussion and critical thinking and acceptance that other people may have different opinions and values to you and that it's okay to think differently, and responsibility for your own actions.

I also wanted to give my view on porn. I don't have a problem with porn per se, as long as it's not non-consenting, like animals, children, rape and so on. I'll admit to owning some "mainstream" porn (not that I "use" it much) and I'll also admit to having starred in a commercially available non-mainstream film (it was girl-gets-covered-in-food porn, and I thought it was funny). Porn is there to arouse and stimulate and to masturbate or have sex to, and that's fine with me.

My problem is that porn isn't representative of sex in general. Okay, some people do live like porn stars, but the majority don't. If your only sex education is porn, it's easy to believe that every guy can expect girls to service him constantly and wants to fuck as many women as possible, and that every girl is always hot for sex with people she barely knows, will do anal and blowjobs and threesomes and is essentially a dirty little bitch. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with anal or blowjobs or threesomes, but not everyone likes to do such things.

Neither am I blaming porn for rape, but I do think that the portrayal of women as sex objects, constantly available and begging for it, can't help but contribute to the all too prevalent view that men can take what they want because all women want it anyway. There's enough gender differences in the world already - from birth we are treated differently, conditioned to fulfil gender stereotypes. Boys don't cry. Girls are allowed to be upset. Boys fight. Girls talk. Boys blame others, girls blame themselves. Boys look out for number one, girls care for others.

These differences are understandable from an evolutionary point of view. It's natural for these differences to manifest, but as a society we shouldn't be merely a product of our evolutionary heritage - we should be able to rise above our genetics and be intelligent, tolerant, thinking, responsible people. Maybe we don't have free will (I don't know if we do or not) but we sure as hell should act as if we do.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Back to the point. Kids will be exposed to porn, and unrealistic expectations of sex. So it's up to society to educate young people and give them a more balanced view of all aspects of sex. We need to promote a culture where people can talk openly and without shame, and get the information that allows them to make their own informed choices.

I'm fully in approval of giving kids free condoms. Before anyone asks, I don't approve of under-age sex but I do think that the age of consent is somewhat arbitrary - some are mentally, emotionally and physically ready at 15, some aren't at 20, but of course a line needs to be drawn for legal reasons. As I see it, kids are gonna have sex anyway, so we may as well make it easy for them to be safer about it. After all, what's worse? Your 15-year-old daughter having protected sex, or your 15-year-old daughter pregnant and infected with HIV?

6 comments:

  1. Anna, I agree with everything you say. On this side of the pond there is a TV program that comes on at around 11pm called "Talk Sex" which is informative and educational and at the same time it's fun to watch. The lady who talks about sex is in her 60's and is very matter-of-fact and she will answer questions about anything having to do with sex. I'm all for sex ed too. Knowledge is a good thing.

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  2. Now you did it!

    Just imagine what's going to come up on google search. ;-)

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  3. I agree with you anna, I had a crap sex ed, they used a video with a robot in, no wonder I have a weird sex life now!!!

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  4. I love the blogsphere. You're all so enlightened, it's great!

    And here's a few recent ones for you Attila...
    Shit Happens During Ana
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    Nic.... a ROBOT? WTF???

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  5. Yes, the school sex education wasn't all it was cracked up to be when I was at school either. And it was even worse from my mother ('cos dad wouldn't have had a clue what to say) - "men are all the same - just after one thing! Don't do it." No wonder I had a bit of a complex.

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  6. Oh yeah Digi, I'd forgotten about that. You can't sleep with a man because that's all he's after and if you give it to him then he'll leave. Hold out for him to marry you. Yeah.

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