The good, the bad, the risky
Updated: Feb 20
In giving our keynote presentation – Encouraging Parents To Talk Openly About Sex, Love, Pleasure & Relationships – at a Government Events conference on 6 February 2020 in central London, we were impressed by some innovative angles on sex ed that shone through…
1 THE RIGHT TO LEARN
When I was a young boy I went to a special school. They only taught me the basics in sex education. I asked my dad about consent when one of my favourite celebrities got arrested. I found out about LGBT in one of my favourite soaps on TV.
I set up and co-chair a sexuality & relationships steering group at Mencap, the learning disability charity. We use accessible words, pictures, videos and role-plays. Me and my co-chair have a learning disability. We run the group so that others with a learning disability can get involved and speak up.
People with a learning disability are often discriminated against and treated badly. This can make people less likely to want to make friends, be included in society and explore their sexuality. Childhood is the time when someone is learning the most, developing and exploring who they are.
Why I am interested in speaking up about relationships & sex education (RSE):
I don’t want other people to suffer just because they didn’t get the right education in life
RSE should teach the facts. Otherwise people can learn false information from friends and TV
Everyone has a right to learn
Everyone has sexual rights
My advice is to talk to people with a learning disability and find out what they want. You can learn from us.
– Richard Lawrence, project support assistant at learning-disability charity Mencap
2 DIFFERENT FAMILIES, SAME LOVE
Sometimes parents’ resistance to their children being exposed to LGBT issues is about “othering” – it comes down to thinking: “Is it right for my children to hear about others?”
If you have conversations and bust myths, then a lot of that resistance goes away.
We LGBT people need to see ourselves reflected in education. LGBT people and issues should be threaded through the curriculum – in English, geography, history etc.
When young people are questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation, they need support. It’s important that they have someone to talk things through with, someone who can help them process their feelings and help them to understand what they’re going through. If a child brings this up with you, listening and empathising is key.
Young people will lead us.
There’s a conversation going on – but do you have the ears to hear it? Hearing it and embracing it is the inclusive way to be.
– Mo Wiltshire, director of education at LGBT-charity Stonewall
3 PLAY VIRTUAL, LIVE REAL
Grooming shouldn’t be a stand-alone subject at school – it should be added into drama, science, English.
Everyone can be vulnerable to harm online. Everyone online is a stranger – and “friends of friends” online are not the same as real friends.
Predators can be any age or gender. And boys can be groomed too.
My son Breck didn’t have the life lessons. At age 14 he was groomed then murdered.
We cannot trust that every parent is educated and aware of the various real dangers that children may face online.
But I encourage parents to set boundaries, follow age restrictions, set up parameters with other parents. We all need to think about if we have cyberbalance in our lives. So challenge yourself to put the technology away for a day. Have your school set up a #NoTech4BreckDay.
Don’t scare children, but educate them.
– Lorin LaFave, founder/head of education at safer-internet charity Breck Foundation
4 HANDLING THE WILD WEST
The internet is an opportunity for the good, the bad, the risky and – I hope – the helpful and healthy.
Talking about young people’s experiences of school, someone said: “Sex is everything and nowhere” – and that’s particularly true in education. We can talk about sex & relationships in specific spaces at school – but then stuff gets around the building, gets shared in the playground. The ways we handle uniform rules and sports also send young people messages about what we think about sex and gender.
Sex is a natural, everyday part of people’s normal lives. It’s there. It’s just a question of whether we respond to it. Giving no response is in fact a very powerful, loud response. So silence about sex & relationships is not an option. Not saying much about it is saying something.
In teaching sex & relationships we are helping young people to develop their critical faculties about how they might imagine thinking about these things themselves. We’re in the business of saying: “You have enough capacity to figure out your own space.” It’s an educational dream.
The best kinds of education are actually conversations. So what is relationships & sex education? I think it’s people having a conversation.
– Professor Simon Forrest, professor of sociology and principal of St Hild & St Bede College at University of Durham