Why sex ed should be sex-positive
Print Lifestyle Editor Danni Darrah discusses whether sex education should place a greater emphasis on pleasure when teaching safe sex.
TW: mentions of “rape“
The sex ed nurse that taught my Year Six class of ten and eleven-year-olds handled the snickers and nervous giggles with obvious unease. Unequipped and cold, she told us the importance of contraception while snapping a small-sized condom onto an equally small cucumber (a cucumber, of all things?!).
Approaches to sex education are notorious for being methodical and detached from the messy, unfiltered and pretty special realities of sexual experiences. This is something that poses more issues than ever today. In a society that makes accessing pornographic content incredibly easy and consumption of media content of a sexual nature even easier, an update on sex education is well overdue. We need to shift the previously empty, objective angle to a more pleasurable and sex-positive narrative.
The World Health Organisation recently reported that there is better reception of sexual education when the emphasis is on enjoyment of consensual sex rather than creating fear of the dangers surrounding unprotected sex, and rape. Children are so often taught what to do in the case that sex is not enjoyable that they are left in the dark when it is.
Researchers of this study found 33 projects promoting the teaching of sexual education in a positive light. One of these campaigns is The Pleasure Project, which has sought to change the fearful narrative with which sex is taught today. They offer sexual health interventions that see an increase in pleasurable sex and condom use.
Children are so often taught what to do in the case that sex is not enjoyable that they are left in the dark when it is
Media texts, influential individuals and organisations also highlight this issue. For example, teenage role model, Zoe Sugg, commented that a focus on sexual pleasure “facilitates communication and provides people with the lexicon to talk about sex without fear”. The embarrassment and stigma that attaches itself to sex is a reproduction of these same dated approaches to this topic. Speaking in hushed tones, at limited times, they use a scaremongering lens: teenagers *must* be careful, or else they’ll screw up their lives.
It seems that the media industry has cottoned on to the importance of shifting the way we learn about sexual education with the award-winning Netflix show, Sex Education. It perfectly encapsulates the positive aspects of communicating openly about this ‘taboo’. Presenting a realistic portrayal of high-school teenagers seeking advice from the son of a sex expert, Sex Education invites audiences to realise how uneducated sex ed actually leaves us feeling. However, the other end of this spectrum sees 365 Days, a Netflix film deemed ‘soft porn’ and likened to Fifty Shades of Grey, glamorising sexual abuse and unprotected sex. The accessibility of these erotic films makes education on the safety of sex of utmost importance.
There is a fine line to be walked when teaching a delicate issue like sex, but just like maths and science lessons, it should be delivered with tenderness and expertise. Children and teenagers are taught sex education at a vulnerable age, when their safety and awareness is paramount and, therefore, should take priority. It is naïve and counterproductive to assume that bringing attention to rape and sexual violence is not important. However, lessons on love and an intimate act that will stay with them forever should not come second to this. Sexual intimacy should be framed in a positive light and spoken about for the fun and enjoyable act that it is. Otherwise, like me, these teenagers will be left to stumble through this joyride on their own with nothing but the guidance of an article they read online.