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.