Zoe Sugg sparks debates about the education of female pleasure
Eirwen Abberley Watton argues that female pleasure should not be a taboo topic
Exam board AQA have received backlash for their decision to remove Youtuber and blogger Zoella (Zoe Sugg) from their GCSE Media Studies Syllabus. According to AQA, Zoella was removed from the syllabus due to “unsuitable” content on her blog website, which it deems inappropriate for students aged 14 and over.
The decision was released shortly after a post on Zoella’s blog about female sex toys, which has been diminished by many media outlets to a review of vibrators. AQA have since released a statement saying that their decision to remove Zoella was based on a change in her content. According to the exam board, it used to be appropriate for 14-year-old students but no longer is. Their issue is with the “adult content” of some of Zoella’s articles, but the updated statement is careful not to refer explicitly to the article about women’s sex toys. In her response, Zoella explained that she was never consulted before her website was added to the syllabus and that her content has always been aimed at women in the age range of 23-35. AQA’s failure to notice this has brought us to this debate; whether or not young teens should be exposed to this kind of content by their school education.
Doubtless, many parents would support the decision that AQA has made, not comfortable with their children learning about sex toys at the age of 14. But the logic seems a little convoluted to me. For a start, just because Zoella is part of the syllabus does not mean that Media Studies teachers have to talk to their students about sex toys. But this is beside the point. AQA’s decision to remove Zoella from the syllabus makes it more about her suitability (or supposed unsuitability) as a role model. It seems that they do not want young people learning about an influencer who speaks openly about female pleasure.
Zoella’s public response has rightfully accused AQA of contributing to the idea that female pleasure is “something that we should feel ashamed of.” Many of you will be able to relate to a secondary-school sex education that was extremely lacking and focused on sex as reproductive or male-oriented. Education on puberty and sex begins at the age of 11 for many, so AQA’s assertion that female sex toys are inappropriate in a classroom of 14-year-olds creates a harmful distinction between sex and female pleasure. The debate is clearly not about the appropriate age to learn sexual content across the curriculum, but the discourse around sex as an experience designed for male pleasure.
This discomfort surrounding pleasure and orgasm for women has old roots – we are still living the legacy of religious rhetoric that limits sex to procreation, and the patriarchal objectification of women that centres their value in chastity and purity. These connections might seem far-fetched, but there are real consequences of failing to teach girls about female pleasure. So much of the time, ‘sex’ between a man and a woman is defined by male satisfaction and penetration, from which only around a quarter of women can actually orgasm.
While women and girls today have the advantage of the internet to learn more about their bodies, the best way to promote pleasure for women would be within schools.
Sex toys are an important part of young women exploring their own bodies, as well as something that can be used in sexual encounters with others.
Maybe if girls were taught about their sexuality, the percentage of women who report that they ‘always orgasm’ from sex would be more than six per cent. And maybe if boys were taught about female sexuality, we could move towards a society in which sexual pleasure is equally accessible for everyone.
And this is only the start. Sex education fails to educate on so many fronts. It is limited to heterosexual, reproductive sex (something that the LGBTQ+ community has spoken about for a long time). It focuses more on prevention and shame than it does on ensuring that young women have the tools and knowledge to have a healthy and rewarding relationship with sex. And Zoe is right: this needs to change.