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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

The sex ed generation gap

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

Working With Young People Around Sex & Relationships Terrence Higgins Trust workshop held in Ipswich on 11/9/19

The sex ed generation gap
“The positive thing is that young people are open to talking” – Ali McWilliams, Terrence Higgins Trust facilitator

“Parents need sex education! If they're lucky they had one session in school and a chat with their parents,” states workshop leader Alison McWilliam. She’s a health-promotion specialist who’s known among young people as “the Sex Lady” or “the Sperm Lady” for her condom demonstrations. McWilliam’s claim to fame is having successfully fought to have a clitoris included on a diagram of female anatomy. Her parting shot: “A thousand women will thank you for this!”

There's a generation gap between parents’ reluctance and young people’s need to talk about sex and healthy relationships. McWilliam says:

“It’s the parents’ approach that’s preventing or inhibiting young people from learning about sex and healthy relationships, but the positive thing is that young people are open to talking”

Common objections to talking openly to young people include: embarrassment; shame; culture and religion; worries over age appropriateness; not wanting to give children ideas; fears of destroying their innocence; fears or denial of children’s sexuality; passing the buck to schools (“It’s not my job”) and a lack of knowledge, understanding or education.

In an interesting commentary on peers’ perception of sexual bravado, one school asked its year 7 and year 9 students to guess the percentage of year 9s who’d had sex in the last three months. Based on what they’d been hearing, the year 7s estimated 76% while the year 9s reckoned 37%. The reality: 18%.

With young people it’s crucial, McWilliam emphasises, to look at sex not in isolation but rather in the context of relationships.

Along with offering advice on relationships, emergency contraception and pregnancy and STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing, the Terrence Higgins Trust provides free condoms to young people aged 13 to 24 via the C-Card scheme with the line: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re having sex, thinking about having sex or if you’re just curious…”

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