Archive for the ‘Sex Ed Matters Campaign’ Category

What is the problem with teaching children the correct names for genitalia?   3 comments

Let’s admit it, there is a national squeamishness about using the correct names for sexual parts of the body. At the doctors, many people would rather point to their genitals and say ‘I’ve got a problem down there’ than use the correct medical names. I wonder how common it is for adults to have never used the correct names for genitalia with their sexual partner? So I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked to discover recently, that the version of Anne Frank’s diary that I read as a teenager was actually censored to take out the bits where Anne writes about her experience of body changes and her genitals.  Frankness about her body came naturally to Anne, and it comes naturally to small children until they are taught otherwise.

The need for a more honest and open culture about sex and relationships is clearly explained in the new government ‘Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England’, but sadly this ambition is not mirrored in the latest version of the National Curriculum science. The proposed curriculum for lower primary school science requires that children learn to name the main parts of the body, and gives a suggested list of body parts which does not include genitalia. And yet the genitalia are possibly the only parts of the body that children cannot yet name by this age.

The British are not short of words to describe their ‘crown jewels’. Ironically there is an abundance of slang words for penis, testicles, vagina, vulva and breasts. 

When I was teaching sex and relationships education for Brook in Birmingham I discovered what a vast selection of words for sexual body parts young teens have at their disposal. A favourite activity of mine was to ask pupils to work silently, walking round the classroom from table to table and writing down slang words that they have heard for ‘penis’, ‘vagina’ etc. One of the aims of the activity was to enable pupils to move beyond their embarrassment and to pre-empt the possibility of ribaldry spoiling the lesson.  Without exception I found pupils handled this activity well and it led to more mature and giggle-free discussion.  Pupils found it interesting to notice that many of the slang words for penis were weapons or in some way aggressive or powerful e.g. ‘sword’ and ‘snake’, whereas the slang words for vagina and vulva were often derogatory or at best passive e.g. ‘gash’.

Further study of the British (and international) slang vocabulary for sexual organs might be instructive. For example is a high volume of slang correlated with higher levels of embarrassment about genitalia… and less sex education?

I am not against slang words, and families shouldn’t feel they have to stop using words like ‘willy’ and ‘front-bottom’ at home. The problem is that failure to teach children to name the genitalia gives out a powerful message to children: a sense of shame about their bodies. And shame breeds silence and sometimes pain, as this parent explains in a comment on a Mumsnet discussion forum in March 2013.

“So we’re OK to teach children that they have knees, ears and toes but forbidden to teach them penis, testicles and labia? It’s just some other bits of their body isn’t it? And quite important bits they learn the proper names for in case of (god forbid) them ever having to explain that those bits hurt or have been touched inappropriately etc.”

Ofsted have made it very clear that the failure of schools to teach children correct names for sexual body parts is a safeguarding issue. The words for genitalia are building blocks for understanding the difference between boys and girls, learning about normal bodily functions and hygiene, puberty, and later, about sexual health. It is also vital for any learning about physical boundaries and privacy, about what kind of physical contact is acceptable and unacceptable. When schools teach this well it is done in a matter of fact and simple way, for example an outline drawing of the human body is labeled and a set list of vocabulary (shared with parents) is taught and ticked off. This is revisited in future years so that the list can be added and pupils’ questions answered. NSPCC have recently launched their very useful and practical ‘Underwear rule’ campaign, which explains how parents, carers and schools can all play their part in educating children about their bodies and boundaries.

In contrast, pornography doesn’t come with educational sub-titles, bits to label and a vocabulary list that can be shared with parents. If we fail to overcome our squeamishness, children may well first learn about penis and vagina by being confronted by easily accessed and highly sexualized images. The contrast with a line drawing of the human body is surely obvious.

It is our responsibility as adults to safeguard children, and I believe we will look back with deep regret if we lose this opportunity in 2013 for a new National Curriculum that can guarantee that all children learn correct names for genitalia in primary science.

Objections to the National Curriculum proposals are made clear in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph (19 July 2013) entitled ‘Naming of parts’.  The letter warns that the current proposals “will perpetuate shame, and brings the risk of children not having the language to understand their bodies or to recognise and report sexual abuse”. Signatories to the letter include Hilary Eldridge, Chief Executive of child protection experts the Lucy Faithful Foundation and Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mother’s Union who is also the Government appointed Independent Reviewer of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood.  

Public consultation on the final draft of the National Curriculum closes at 5pm on 8 August 2013. The Sex Education Forum has published their response.

Information about how to send your response is available from the Department for Education.   

Lucy Emmerson, 6 August 2013


Lorna Scott on ‘the good old days’   Leave a comment

Once upon a time I was a geography teacher. That was before I found out how many of my secondary pupils were getting pregnant. So I ended up running one of the most comprehensive sex education programmes in London. Can you imagine – it was timetabled every week for every class in the girls’ secondary modern school – soon to become a comprehensive – where I was working in the early sixties. And there were five of us in the sex education department. That’s probably what’s meant by the good old days!

Things moved on. There were two years as teacher in charge of a home for pregnant schoolgirls, then advisory work in the health education teachers‘ centre in London. This was where I started getting involved with special schools. Eventually it was young people with learning disabilities who became my specialism, my delight and my abiding passion for the next 25 years. It was my great fortune to take part in the development of Image in Action and its challenging work with young people and adults with learning disabilities until I finally retired last year, to return to my first interest by running an environmental group in the west country.

I have no doubt that learning about sex and sexual development is a powerful way of helping people with learning disabilities to understand themselves and the world around them, to become more mature and to enjoy their relationships with others. It’s one of the areas in which there has been real progress, and one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever been involved with.

As a member of the advisory group in the early years of the Sex Education Forum I couldn’t help but get involved with education – and sexual – politics, another interest that has remained with me. And I know from experience what a difference the SEF has made. We’re still waiting for SRE to be a properly acknowledged and properly taught part of every child’s entitlement. But it will happen – and the Forum will be able to claim more than a little of the credit.

Lorna Scott MA, Life Member of the Sex Education Forum

Hilary Dixon ’30 years and more in Sex Education – How it Started’   Leave a comment

Teaching in a girls’ secondary school in Hackney in the mid-1970s triggered my professional interest in sex education. Many of my pupils were sexually active (and very verbal about their experiences), whilst knowing little. As a result, a significant number had unplanned pregnancies. As a Social Studies teacher (I guess the forerunner of PSHE), I had the task of providing some sex education and it was these lessons where the girls queued up at the door to get into the classroom.

We watched videos, discussed issues and I tried to answer questions honestly, though this was often a challenge, since I had led a much more sheltered life than most of them had. I remember one lesson where a particularly precocious girl put up her hand at the back of the class and said ‘Miss, I’ve been reading this book and it’s got lots of long words I don’t know in it. I’ve written them down. Can you explain what they mean?’

I don’t know to this day whether it was a genuine request or a wind-up, but I had to find an immediate appropriate response. I asked her for the list of words and promised that, by the following week I would have the answer to her question. Using a combination of a dictionary and a husband more knowledgeable than me, I found the answers, and shared them with the class the following week.

The response of the pupils convinced me that good information, given simply without embarrassment, and the opportunity for young people to ask questions in a safe environment is the key to good sex education.

Hilary Dixon

Let’s support the Sex Education Forum’s new campaign by Gill Frances, OBE   Leave a comment

Gill FrancesHappy birthday to the Sex Education Forum – congratulations and well done for 25 years of service. I was there at the beginning of the Forum and hope we finally succeed to secure SRE for all of our children and young people before I die.

Mum was a family planner who made sure I knew about sex because she was appalled by young people’s lack of knowledge. I arrived in London in 1967, cut 10 inches off my skirt and almost immediately became an informal and untrained peer sex educator. My long career in sex education had begun!

Looking back, there is much to celebrate. We have been  successful in getting sex education guidance produced, getting rid of the hateful Section 28,  developing  resources for primary schools and the care sector, addressing SRE for boys,  considering faith and culture issues of SRE  and supporting the teenage pregnancy strategy.

Nonetheless in 2012 we are still letting young people down, many lack the knowledge, skills or confidence needed to negotiate safer, mutually respectful and enjoyable relationships. I am horrified at the number of young women who experience violence in their relationships, at the level of homophobic and transgender bullying in our schools and communities and I am disappointed that teenage pregnancy (although reducing) and sexually transmitted infection (including HIV) rates are still unacceptably high.

It makes me furious that we are still arguing for SRE.  The last government failed to make SRE statutory while the current government panders to a highly vocal minority who support inequality, abstinence education, independent counselling for women seeking an abortion, and creationism teaching in school.

We know what works in reducing teenage pregnancy and improving sexual health and wellbeing. We have a strong and irrefutable consensus in support of SRE; young people want it, so do their parents, teachers and health professionals.

We have to get active again, get organised and make a noise. So let’s support the Sex Education Forum’s new campaign ‘Sex Ed Matters’, write our own blogs, get on Twitter, write to and visit our MP   and contact every head and chair of governors in all schools in our local area.

We cannot sit by and let yet another generation of young people grow up without good quality SRE.  I am just going to nag my MP again and put something on Twitter – what are you going to do?

 Gill Frances OBE, Sex Education Forum Director 1996-99

Reflections of the Sex Education Forum on it’s 25th Anniversary by Anne Weyman   Leave a comment

Sex Education Forum Founder and President

In 1986 a copy of Jenny lives with Eric and Martin, probably the first English-language children’s book to discuss homosexuality, was discovered in a school library in London.   Hysterical outbursts in the press against school sex education and teaching about homosexuality followed and led to legislation to restrict school sex education and the infamous Section 28.

I’d just begun work at the National Children’s Bureau as Company Secretary and Director of Finance and Administration.  Horrified by these events, I was deeply concerned that FPA and Brook were the only voices of reason, often dismissed with ‘well they would say that wouldn’t they’.  So I set out to build an alliance to support children’s right to sex education in schools.

In November 1987 the Sex Education Forum was born with eight members including three religious organisations.  Not the usual suspects at all.  Journalists were sceptical that we could agree about much, and certainly not about teaching about topics such as homosexuality and abortion.  How wrong they were.

Teachers though responded enthusiastically.  At the launch conference they talked movingly about their feelings of isolation and frustration at the lack of support for their work.  It was clear that influencing public policy and providing practical advice were both essential.   And early work included how to develop a school policy and different religions’ attitudes to sex and relationships.

The arrival of the Labour government in 1997 kindled great hopes of major progress, which were partially realized.  The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy drove improvement by bringing investment and greater recognition and training for PSHE teachers.  But it was focused on health outcomes, reducing conception rates and the incidence of STIs among young people, and not educational aims.

And despite overwhelming evidence from young people about the patchy provision of sex education and PSHE in schools, shillyshallying by Ministers squandered the opportunity to make PSHE compulsory.

Back in 1987, who could have imagined the SEF as the large and influential body it is today. It has achieved so much.  Sex education is in embedded in many more schools, PSHE is recognised as a discipline and teachers can draw on high quality training and materials.

But children and young people are caught between the widespread availability of pornographic websites and the forces of reaction that make primary school sex education and any discussion of sexual pleasure controversial issues.

They need the Sex Education Forum as much today as in 1987 and we must keep fighting for their rights.

Anne Weyman, Sex Education Forum Founder and President

Sex Ed Matters   Leave a comment

Sex Ed Matters…

From this November the Sex Education Forum (SEF) celebrates 25 glorious years, having been formally launched in 1987. Over those last 25 years SEF has been instrumental in a number of key changes that have improved the provision of sex and relationships education. However the loss of statutory PSHE education in the wash-up prior to the last General Election has created a vacuum that some have used as an opportunity to try and chip away at sector confidence.

SEF therefore feels that both the sector and the wider community need a timely reminder of what our members have been saying for years; and to do this we are launching our ‘Sex Ed Matters’ Social Media Campaign to show that Sex Education does matter. We believe that all children and young people are entitled to quality sex and relationships education that equips children and young people with the information, skills and values they need to have safe, fulfilling and enjoyable relationships and to take responsibility for their sexual health and well being.

Why ‘Sex Ed’ matters

Over the years many practitioners have recognised the fact that sex education is more than biology, it’s about relationships too, and so many organisations, including SEF, have started calling it Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), or Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) or indeed Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), or for younger age groups; Growing Up, to name but a few variations. In reality it doesn’t matter what it is called as long as it is happening. The general public, including the media, often call it sex education and it is important that we make sure that everyone understands what we mean when we say ‘Sex Education Matters’.

Recognising that sex education starts in the home, and that children will start learning about the names of body parts, where babies come from and about what a family is, way before school, is the first step to understanding what we actually mean by sex education. Most children will know that there are differences between boys and girls, mummies and daddies, and so on. Some will pick up messages from their family, others will be from cartoons, TV programmes, stories and films, some will be positive, others counterproductive, but they will all be building a picture for that small child about what boys and girls do or are expected to do and behave in our society, towards each other and themselves.

‘Sex Ed Matters’ because it is more than the biology of reproduction; it is about relationships, about emotions, and growing up. Humans are not robots, we do not just function on a biological level, we function on feelings too, feelings that drive us to engage with each other, to develop friendships, bonds with other humans, that, as we got older, may develop intimately into sexual relationships. Young people want to learn about relationships, they want to know how you show people you love them, without having sex, without the consequences of an STI or a unwanted pregnancy, and to know that when they do make that decision that there are services that can help and support them without breaking their confidentiality, that believes in them as young people to be making the right decisions for them and to make sure they are offered support if they’re being pressured, or abused or exploited.

So when we talk about ‘Sex Ed Matters’ we’re not just talking about sexual activity; we’re talking about gender, we’re talking about biological cells, we’re talking about evolution, we’re talking about relationships, negotiation, consent, puberty, families, friends, and much, much more, and there are very few people out there that wouldn’t want children to be taught about sex without it being in the context of relationships to keep children and young people safe.

See our website for why our members say ‘Sex Ed Matters’ or leave a comment below.

Posted October 29, 2012 by sexeducationforum in Sex Ed Matters Campaign

Welcome to Sex Ed Matters   2 comments

In November 2012 the Sex Education Forum (SEF) will turn 25 years old! Over the next 12 months we will be blogging about our campaign ‘Sex Ed Matters’ and host a variety of guest bloggers who will contribute to the campaign of why Sex Ed Matters along with reflections of the progress of the SEF and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) over the last 25 years.

Alongside this blog we will also be launching our Facebook Page as well as our new look website, along with regular tweets via our twitter account.

So make sure to follow/like/share us and keep up to date on why ‘Sex Ed Matters’!

Posted August 10, 2012 by sexeducationforum in Sex Ed Matters Campaign