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Exploring the spectrum: Why sex ed needs to be more inclusive

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There are a lot of downfalls when it comes to modern sex education. Even though we live in what is certainly supposed to be a diverse and inclusive society, when it comes to teaching children about sex, the curriculum is anything but that.

Indeed, as school children, we only learn about the bare minimum regarding sexuality and gender; namely puberty (so that our young selves aren’t entirely traumatised by the strange adolescent metamorphosis our bodies undergo), heterosexual intercourse and the potential dangers that come from having it – should you forget the logistics of that ‘practical’ lesson with the condoms and phallic-shaped vegetables.

Of course, in actuality, there’s a lot more to sex than that. Sure, those are the basics, but it seems damaging to limit sex education to such predominantly heterosexual themes. Adolescence is a confusing stage of life; a time when everyone is still trying to figure themselves out, what they want to do with their lives, what they want to achieve and who they want to do all these things with eventually (if anyone). Just as the world isn’t wholly black or white, sexuality doesn’t begin and end with heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality. It just isn’t that simple. And young people shouldn’t be reduced to thinking that they have to fit all their feelings and thoughts regarding their identities into one of those three categories.

The spectrum of sexual orientation is complex, diverse and completely individualistic. It is therefore important to make young people aware of all the orientations and what they mean, in order for those who do not so clearly identify in any category to seek a better understanding of their own feelings and attractions. The spectrum includes, but is not limited to, the following orientations:

  • Asexual/Aromantic - When someone does not experience any sexual and/or romantic attraction towards anyone of any gender.
  • Graysexual/Grayromantic - When someone rarely experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction towards anyone of any gender.
  • Demisexual/Demiromantic - When someone experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction only towards someone with which they share an emotional bond.
  • Heterosexual/Heterromantic - When someone experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction towards someone of a different gender.
  • Homosexual/Homoromantic - When someone experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction towards someone of the same gender.
  • Bisexual/Biromantic - When someone experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction towards someone of either the same gender or a different gender.
  • Pansexual/Panromantic - When someone experiences sexual/and or romantic attraction towards someone regardless of their gender.
  • Polysexual/Polyromantic - When someone experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction towards multiple, but not necessary all, genders.

Currently, if you want to learn more about the full spectrum of sexuality – from asexuality to demisexuality, pansexuality and so on – you’re better off searching for it on Tumblr or Google than finding it in the teaching plans of any PSHE lessons. But of course, just as we teach children the traditions, values and beliefs of an entire array of different religions and faiths in our culture, we should also be teaching them the definitions of all these sexual orientations, as well as encouraging tolerance and respect towards those who identify in any way that isn’t heteronormative.

There is a vital necessity towards giving every orientation on the spectrum the validity that comes with formal education. Statistics show that young people who identify as LGBTQ+ are twice as likely to develop depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than those who identify as straight. If sex education was expanded and developed to encourage awareness and consideration to all the different sexual preferences, perhaps we could create a learning environment in which such harrowing statistics aren’t as commonplace.

Of course, lack of exposure to the sexual spectrum isn’t the only thing that desperately needs improving in modern sex education. For starters, in order to really start a dialogue on the complex differences between the sexual orientations, people also need to be aware of the fluidity of gender and how gender identity (the gender a person instinctively feels and thinks themselves to be) and gender expression (the gender that a person chooses to portray aesthetically) can form a person’s identity.

Discovering your sexual identity – and also how to seek pleasure for yourself and your partner – is a hugely important part of living a full and happy life, but it is also imperative that young people learn how to respect whoever it is they may wish to sexually engage with, too. In a world where rape, sexual assault and victim-blaming is an all too common occurrence, we should also strive to teach young people the necessity of consent and actively combat attitudes that seek to excuse sexual offenders.

We shouldn’t be arguing over the appropriate age to teach children and young people about sex, as the government were debating not too long ago. Instead, we should be focusing on how and what we teach them; making sure to give the younger generations the invaluable insight (both personally and societally speaking) that comes from being aware of the sexual spectrum and the act of consent.

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