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Sex education is failing, says teen book author

9th October 2013
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PSHE teacher turned author James Dawson has spent time talking to teenagers about sex, as part of the research for his newly released non-fiction book Being A Boy. Here he discusses his findings, and why current sex education is failing, with TNS.

The question I’m most asked about Being A Boy is “Why did you decide to write it now?” The reason is very simple: The current young adults are the first to have always had the internet – meaning their parents are the last to not understand the unique challenges and pressures that go hand-in-hand with that.

I carried out a survey of young people aged 14-24, capturing the generation that grew up online and the results were disappointingly predictable. Although nearly all of the sample had received SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) at school, 91% reported getting most of their information about sex from elsewhere, with the vast majority stating they learned the most from pornography, the internet and television. More than half rated their school-based Sex Ed as ‘unsatisfactory’.

As a former PSHE teacher, I think it’s vital to examine why the curriculum isn’t doing enough. Is it the traditional stiff-upper-lip and innate ‘Britishness’ preventing teachers from delivering full and frank lessons on sex or is it that pornography can go to the dark recesses of the mind where no teacher would dare step? Only 4% of the sample even discussed the effects of porn at school.

I don’t think it’s either. Three-quarters of the sample agreed that their school-based Sex Ed did prepare them for how babies were made and born and instilled knowledge about safe sex and STIs, 92% felt that they weren’t emotionally prepared for sexual relationships and I think this is where the problems stem from. We simply give you facts with none of the emotional literacy. It’s no good telling you what gonorrhoea is unless we also tell you how to tackle the awkwardness of when a partner tries to convince you it’s OK to not use a condom because one of you is on the pill.

I feel, especially with older young adults that we need to go beyond facts and figures and into the emotional and social elements of sexual relationships. Overall schools are too focused on exam results, especially in Maths and English, and aren’t doing enough to get you ready for life in higher education. If it were up to me, I’d want life lessons such as ‘How To Dump Someone’ and ‘How To Keep A Partner Keen’ on the agenda, but I fear that’s never going to happen.

There were other grim findings in the survey. Only 3% of the sample said they were taught about same-sex relationships at school, totally failing the estimated 5% of the population likely to be lesbian, gay or bisexual, with the same percentage saying they were taught about rape and domestic violence. Clearly these are topics which effect young adults, yet are being ignored in the name of good taste.

It seems obvious to me that, in its current format, SRE isn’t going nearly enough to prepare young adults for life beyond school.

James Dawson is a former PSHE teacher and YA author. His first non-fiction book, Being A Boy, is out now.




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