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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Mental and sexual health: taking preventative measures

In (about) 250 words, Outspoken Sex Ed responded to two questions in the government’s Prevention Green Paper. “So, I hear you ask, what is a Green Paper and why does it matter?” asks the British Geriatrics Society, which helpfully goes on to explain: “It’s the first tentative step towards legislation – a consultation document in which the government outlines its proposals about an issue and stakeholders have the opportunity to feed back.”

So when the government asked: What are the top 3 things you’d like to see covered in a future strategy on sexual and reproductive health? we replied:

  1. Parental engagement Parents are the missing link in their children’s sex education. The Department for Education’s relationships and sex education (RSE) guidance called parents their children’s “primary sex educators” in 2000 and “prime” educators in 2019. Parental engagement supports sex-ed lessons, the school-home partnership and implementing a whole-school approach. Our Outspoken Sex Ed work concludes that talking openly at home is preventative – it reinforces safeguarding, improves mental health and strengthens the parent-child relationship

  2. Impact of pornography and pleasure Given that children see porn and young people watch it, they need space to process it. Proactively discussing porn can combat the rise of child-on-child sexual abuse, everyday sexism and sexual harassment. Porn presents unrealistic expectations about sex and bodies, normalises the degradation of women and has detrimental effects on body image, self-esteem, attitudes and behaviour. The antidotes: resilience, critical thinking and a sex-positive approach. Raising awareness around the interrelatedness of pleasure and consent can future-proof young people – and help encourage respect, self-knowledge, good decision-making and delayed, safer, positive sexual experiences. Pleasure and porn literacy should feature in the RSE guidance

  3. Peer-group interaction It’s emboldening for parents to come together with peers, compare notes, road-test saying awkward words and acquire the language, skills and confidence to talk openly about sex and relationships. It empowers parents to empower their children. Because lessons are often “too little too late”, it’s vital to consult young people – the digital natives – about their sex-education needs. Intergenerational engagement – with near-peers and among parents – is a promising way forward

And when the government asked: How can we support the things that are good for mental health and prevent the things that are bad? we replied:

  • By talking openly at home, parents – as the missing link in their children’s relationships and sex education (RSE) learning – can improve their children’s mental health. Parental engagement also reinforces safeguarding and strengthens the parent-child connection. These are the three core principles that drive the social enterprise Outspoken Sex Ed.

  • If parents acquire the skills, tools and language to address relationships and sex-ed issues with their children, they can model confidence.

  • By coming together with peers – at panel discussions or in workshops – parents can compare notes, examine their formative experiences, refine their current stance and consider their hopes for their children’s sex and relationships experiences.

  • Knowledge is a preventative measure. By using correct terms for body parts and by letting young children know they have a right to bodily autonomy and personal space – the cornerstones of consent – parents safeguard their children.

  • Of fundamental importance to safeguarding is getting parents to improve their children’s resilience through media and digital literacy so that they question our culture and become critical thinkers.

“From a public-health perspective, the best protective factor for anything to do with kids is having well-educated, skilled parents,” declares Professor Gail Dines, author of Pornland and creator of the parent programme Culture Reframed.

Countering the impact of porn is the power of the parent-child connection.

Forging that connection through proactive engagement in sex and relationships issues is a two-way street of learning and listening. Being aware of their own mental health is a vital step in parents encouraging good mental health in their children.

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