The Tories need a lesson in Sex Ed

Tory MPs blocked an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill this week that would have made lessons on LGBTQ+- inclusive SRE mandatory in all schools. Annette Pryce discusses the ramifications.

It has only been a few years since those ‘aggressive homosexuals’ managed to get a same-sex marriage law that allowed them to get married. The debates in the House of Commons during that time were outrageous, as shown by red-faced Tory MPs  discussing the definition of sex between two people of the same sex in fairly graphic terms; admittedly, they’ve never really been that comfortable with it anyway.

It has been nearly 30 years since Section 28 was passed, even less since it was repealed, and the Conservatives have managed to do it again. They’ve balked at the chance to make young people more aware, more informed and more responsible adults in the future. Do they really not understand that the lack of compulsory sex education in schools has a financial impact on the health services, and the health of the nation later on?

Do they really not understand that if people grew up having all the information they needed, they could save money on health promotion? There would be fewer instances of unwanted pregnancy and STIs, and a generation of young people would be happier. Their discomfort around and obsession with what same-sex couples do is once again getting in the way.

Successive governments have made it nearly impossible for teachers to do the jobs we came here to do – to educate students on how to be better, more rounded and emotionally stable adults. They want us to ignore this issue long enough to get the students to meet a target that validates their MPs’ continued existence. In doing so, they are leaving a legacy of pain and suffering to young people if they don’t fight like hell to get this onto the statute books as a compulsory subject as quickly as possible.

Do they really not understand that if people grew up having all the information they needed, they could save money on health promotion?

It will also help develop self-esteem and self-confidence in young people and create a foundation for responsible and caring relationships. Additionally, it will help young people be positive and confident about the physical, emotional, and moral aspects of their own sexual identity.

We can’t as individuals solve all of the world’s problems, but we can give young people the confidence to protect themselves, say no, get help, and be safe and happy. How can we stand by while politicians allow this to drag on? I don’t doubt that other things are just as important, but young people need our voice now.

Successive governments had an opportunity to right this wrong and they fluffed it. You only have to compare us to other countries to see the repercussions of politicians’ weakness. Back in 1999, the teen pregnancy rate in the UK was fourth highest in the world. There is a direct correlation between the quality of SRE and the level of teen pregnancy. The nations with the most liberal and constructive policies have fewer teen pregnancies and fewer HIV infections.

Making Sex and Relationship Education compulsory, as well as getting teachers trained to teach it effectively, will help to enable individuals to make informed and responsible decisions about sex in the context of personal relationships.

Here’s an anecdote: at a school’s anti-bullying conference recently, a workshop leader from Stonewall asked if the staff knew what Section 28 was. The member of staff called on could recall what Section 28 was, but she was remarkably misinformed about the details of that act. She thought it meant that teachers couldn’t mention the word gay until the act was repealed.

If we think for a second that the legacy of Section 28 didn’t affect all children, we are sadly mistaken. This often led to hysteria around the concept of SRE in primary schools, but we’re not idiots; of course it’s going to be appropriate to the students’ age.

And while we’re on the topic of appropriate, do we really think that young LGBTQ+ students should be excluded from a rounded education in sex and relationships? The answer is no.

Now this is where the staffrooms go quiet, and people glance at each other and ask “do we have to teach them about strap-ons?” Cue the rolling of the eyes. Because the myths surrounding same-sex relationships are still so pronounced in our society, despite other factors such as equality legislation, it’s difficult to get people to see past the technical issues and understand that consent is needed in same-sex relationships. Domestic and sexual violence happens in same-sex relationships, and knowledge about protecting yourself from infection isn’t going to come from within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Straight people don’t educate each other about using condoms; they are taught it at school apparently, but it’s not compulsory.

Consent is needed in same sex relationships, domestic and sexual violence happens in same sex relationships, and knowledge about protecting yourself from infection isn’t going to come from within the LGBTQ+ community itself..

And while Section 28 was a travesty of the time, this new recurring theme is quickly becoming their next failure.

A group of MPs this week tabled an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill to make lessons on ‘sex and relationships education, same-sex relationships, sexual consent, sexual violence, and domestic violence’ mandatory in all schools. The Conservatives at committee level blocked this, and there is now only one more opportunity to get this through.

Reasons given were mostly to do with faith schools’ discomfort about teaching issues that are in contradiction to their religious views, and MPs, some of whom are religious, are in agreement with this, as shown by their views on same-sex relationships. I have to say this relationship our government has with the church has really gone on for far too long. So, do we now blame the church for an uninformed youth? Maybe, although there are also plenty of voices within the church who are on our side. Open minded people of faith do actually exist.

Let’s not allow them to leave this legacy for our young people. Let’s make the government grow a spine and realise that they and their predecessors are responsible for a generational failure to protect young people, and they now have a duty to fix it.

Follow Annette on Twitter (@LGBTEXEC)

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