and why this is so important:
We all still bear the scars from our own experience of sex ed’ lessons at school… So when we suggest tell people that we promote a programme that begins in Reception with 4 year olds… people tend to panic as an initial response…
We would like to say things have changed a lot since our day, however, in many schools across the country, children’s experience of sex education is just as uncomfortable and unfit for purpose – indeed, there have been very little progress over the years.
Despite clear and compelling evidence for the benefits of high-quality, curriculum based RSE1 few children and people receive preparation for their lives that empowers them to take control and make informed decisions about their sexuality and relationships freely and responsiblyUNESCO (2018), International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach.
We would like to suggest an alternative – one that is evidence based and shown to work. Comprehensive sexuality education is built on a spiral curriculum and based on a values and human rights approach. It is built on the premise that it is much better to drip feed positive messages and have little conversations, than merely waiting until the last term of year six before dumping everything on children, having never mentioned relationships or S-E-X before and hoping that children will feel prepared for puberty and high school.
Comprehensive RSE, covers more than merely where babies come from. In fact, the majority of the programme isn’t actually about sex – instead it is focused on helping children to develop the skills to recognise and manage healthy relationships both online and in the real world. It is designed to build self esteem and to explore personal identity.
It is about helping children understand and make sense of the world they are growing up in; to recognise the differences and similarities between their peers and their families; to understand the fact every human being is unique and has the right to be respected. There are many different family structures and all children have the right to feel safe.
Comprehensive RSE has been shown to help keep children safe by allowing them to understand appropriate and inappropriate touching, to realise that their body is fantastic and belongs to them. No one has the right to touch you in a way you don’t like – the foundations of consent – but also the difference between public and private behaviours.
It is important for children to know the names and functions of their body and to be reassured it is natural to be curious about them. Indeed, by teaching children the correct terms for their private parts, children are proven to be safer from abuse. Unfortunately, if we aren’t giving them the correct terms for their body parts, we are leaving it up to potential abusers who will teach them language to hide their abuse.
In addition comprehensive RSE helps children to develop their vocabulary and emotional literacy to enable them to talk about and manage their feelings. It helps children build their own support networks and the confidence to ask for help when they feel unsafe.
Comprehensive RSE prepares children for both the emotional and physical changes that take place during puberty. Unfortunately, many young people complain that they felt completely unprepared for puberty. Children need to understand how both girls and boys bodies function and change as they grow into adults.
Equally, we need to recognise it is completely natural to have questions about sex, their bodies and to be curious about where they came from. In the age of information – with the internet, smartphone and tablets, if we are not answering children’s questions google will. It is much better that children receive age appropriate answers from us than it being left to their peers or worse the internet.
However, if we pretend it is something off limits and put barriers in place due to our own embarrassment – this not only makes it even more fascinating as a topic, but also something that becomes secretive and taboo – and if there’s one thing we know when it comes to safe guarding children, it is secrets that are dangerous… not the things we can talk about…
Just to be clear: Sexuality education does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk taking behaviour or STI infection rates. It does not encourage young people to have sex early – but actually enables them to delay sexual activity for when they are ready. Indeed, we know that young people who site school as a positive source for their sexual information, have sex later; are more likely to use protection when they do; are less likely to regret their first experience; and on top of that report happier relationships! Whereas, abstinence only programmes have been unanimously shown to be ineffective.
We know that some of these topics may make you uncomfortable – but when the outcomes are this clear – what is not to like?
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