It was a lighthearted conversation, but it was one that genuinely caught my attention yesterday. My sister was talking about how all her classmates at school (she’s in Year 7 at a secondary school that serves a high number of small primary schools) have had sex education lessons in Year 6, and she hasn’t. My brother is at a different secondary school but went to the same primary, and found that he had experienced the same thing – he’s in Year 9, and most of his classmates had sex education before going to secondary. I also received no sex education – neither at primary nor secondary school, save for one lesson I don’t remember very much about where I think we watched a video about sexually transmitted diseases.
I know that in some of the bigger cities, people are worried that their children are being exposed to sex at such a young age – for example, lessons about friendship and different types of friendship at the age of five, being called “sex education” by the sensationalist newspapers, which immediately gets peoples’ backs up and makes them declare that all teenage girls will be pregnant by sixteen, but really, I think they need to look at addressing the opposite problems – in the more rural areas, and possibly in suburban/city areas too, there are too many schools that are getting away with not delivering adequate sex education.
I’m at the very least, the fifth teenage girl in my village (that I know of) and the next town along to get pregnant in the last year. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider how small these villages are – I’m talking incredibly tiny – it suddenly becomes a big number. And this is in the last year alone. Two are younger than me, two are older but were teenagers when they got pregnant or had their babies, and it’s something that was practically unheard of until a few years ago around here.
Sex education needs to be delivered consistently and fairly, and not just a case of “Don’t have sex or you’ll get pregnant” – for some girls, that is what they aim for without any consideration of the consequences. For others, it happens because the consequences haven’t been hammered home enough to make them stop and use protection before they do have sex. If someone had sat me down six or seven years ago and told me how much raising a baby would cost, and what stress it puts on a relationship, and the massive changes you’ll go through physically and emotionally – and if that message had been repeated a couple of years later, say at the age of fifteen or sixteen – I probably wouldn’t be pregnant now. And in some ways, that’s a good thing – I love my baby, I can’t wait to meet them and it’s exciting – but at the same time, I’m stressed enough now, let alone how it’ll be when the baby comes. Money is a major worry, as is carrying on with my education. I don’t have family nearby who can just hold the baby while I run off and carry on with my life. I’ve found myself wanting to be babied, and wanting to cry to my mum and have her cuddle me like she used to when I was little – but at the same time, I’ve got my own child to think about now. It throws you into one of the most adult situations imaginable, but thanks to the hormones, it makes you want to be a child again. It’s not an easy paradox to deal with.
There’s lots of these young mothers’ training schemes around – and to be honest, as much as I’ve researched, I can’t really see what they’re training young mothers to do. I think that, at thirteen, I’d have been much more likely to listen to someone in their late teens or twenties, living the struggle, telling me the facts and the figures but also giving me her feelings, with an honesty she could achieve far better than a probably middle-aged community nurse who sees teenage mothers maybe once or twice a week and only knows of their struggles what these young women tell her – I think I would’ve been much more likely to listen, and I’d probably remember what we learned in that class, rather than vaguely remembering ‘some video about STDs’. It’s little wonder so many girls from my old school became unexpectedly pregnant in their twenties. I don’t think it’s anything to do with being bored, or ‘wanting something that will love them’ – I think it’s because we were told that “unprotected sex = a baby”. Babies are cute, babies are lovely, babies can’t be that bad – even if you aren’t expecting it, what’s the worst that could happen.
What they should be doing is delivering a sex education not dissimilar to the smoking education many places do (and other places should) offer. They’ve realised that telling someone they can’t do something, makes them more likely to do it. Rather than saying “smoking = nicotine into your system”, they tell us that smoking equals nicotine being released into the system, which people can find relaxing, but that it can also have serious long-term health issues, that it can affect your career if you want to work in theatre or music, that it is an expensive and potentially dangerous habit – but smoking is a choice, and if people make that choice, they have to be prepared to live with the consequences. That’s what we were taught about smoking.
Sexual education? There was nothing about the long-term effects of sexually transmitted diseases on health and fertility, nor the emotional problems they can create in relationships. There’s nothing about the pros and cons of casual sex – it’s ignored, like it doesn’t exist. There’s no mention of how people should get checked regularly for sexually transmitted diseases, because ‘you shouldn’t be sleeping around’. And as for pregnancy, well apparently all we need to know is that sex results in a cute little baby, not dozens of difficult life choices to make in a short space of time, not a frantic scramble to find a house, not a desperation of not knowing what you’re going to do for money because every avenue seems closed off to you. There’s nothing about abortion. That’s the reality, and that’s what we’re not being taught. I really hope there are schools out there that DO teach about the real-life consequences of an unplanned pregnancy, and the choices that girls do have if they find themselves in that situation. At the moment, it seems like there’s no constant, and doesn’t even seem like there’s any onus on schools – primary or secondary – to provide sex education. I’m sure there’s a law that makes it compulsory, but we need to stop leaving it up to schools what they do or don’t teach. Regardless of their religion or personal beliefs, we need a strong, constant curriculum of sex education, dictating EXACTLY what needs to be taught – and there needs to be real consequences for schools that think they can get away without offering any or substandard sex education. I know the schools’ attitudes towards sexual education in my area may not be the norm, but looking at trends around the UK, I highly doubt our situation is unique.