SEXED UP: Don’t believe the hype
Young Minds consultations with young people revealed that sexual pressures rate highly in issues they are facing today. The research outlined:
> Over half of 11-14 year olds have viewed online pornography, with 4 out of 10 believing it has affected their relationships.
> 75% of young people want sex education that gives them the chance to talk about sex and relationships.
Young people are asking for:
> every school to ensure we get sex education that helps us understand more about relationships, and how to say what we want and don’t want.
> sex education that gives us the chance to talk about pornography and how it affects us.
> safe spaces where we can talk about sexual pressures online, in school and youth centres.
> more information about sexting so everyone understands the bad things that can happen if we do it.
> more help and advice for parents and carers so they understand how to talk to us about sex in sensitive ways.
The government states that primary schools should have a sexual education program that caters to the age, emotional maturity and physical maturity of students. However, the language is different for secondary schools. Sexual education is compulsory from age 11+; that means secondary schools must have sex and relationship education as part of the basic curriculum. Schools must have a written policy on sex and relationship education freely available to parents. Part of the sex and relationship curriculum is compulsory as part of the national curriculum of science. Parents are able to withdraw their children from other parts of the curriculum and schools need to cater to this.
There is a sex and relationship guidance for education in teaching the subject. It guides on such topics as menstruation, abortion, puberty, sexual identity and orientation.
There are organisations that are helping to educate young people about sex and sexual exploitation.Brook provides services and advice for young people under 25 on contraception, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. Bish is a website offering sex and relationships advice for young people. National Children’s Bureau is a national children’s charity. They run the Sex Education Forum, which offers support and guidance on sex and relationships education for teachers and parents. Read more at http://www.fpa.org.uk/where-get-help/where-else-can-i-get-help#URB2toLp8mwgxd7C.99. They have resources for young people, parents and professionals.
As Social Workers we can talk to children and young people about sex – what they know, what they don’t, what they’ve done and how much of it was consensual or due to pressures. We can help reassure them that they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do and direct them to professionals who can help but most of all we can be listening ear and review information with them that will help them develop the ability to make informed decisions about sex. We can help them distinguish between what is “pornographic myth” and what is a healthy sexual relationship as well as what constitutes healthy relationships.
But sexual education is not explicitly the responsibility of schools, social workers, youth workers or other professionals. Parents have to take responsibility for talking to their children about sex. Parents need to be able to create safe spaces for their children to ask honest questions and report when something has happened to them, without judgement. Professionals spend minimal time with children and young people. Parents are their primary safeguarders, the people who are the closest and responsible for their general well being. It needs to be a partnership. Parents need to be having these conversations to avoid children and young people from going to inappropriate sources for their sexual education. Where there is a need for support, where parents don’t know how to have those conversations, it would be beneficial for them to sit in with professionals to start the conversation. Developing this partnership supports parents in addressing difficult issues but it also surrounds children and young people with a network of support and allows the lines of communication between children and parents to be open. Where parents are not best placed to have these conversations – and we have to be realistic because some children and young people live with parents with histories of unhealthy relationships and interactions with sex – professionals need to be comfortable having these conversations without judgement or any agenda other than educating young people on the realities of sex and sexual relationships.
We also need to remember the links between sex among young people and low self esteem, the need for attention and their natural development. They need to understands what is considered “normal” (for lack of a better word) sexual development and what exploitation is, what sexual blackmail is, what coercion is and why these things are harmful. We have a duty to our young people and we need to make sure we can answer that call.