Sunday 30 April 2017

Sex education must reflect our digital era

Teachers have to be equipped with a curriculum that recognises the cyber world, says Carol Hunt

WHAT A TWERK: Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke perform 'Blurred Lines' at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York
WHAT A TWERK: Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke perform 'Blurred Lines' at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York

It was a maths teacher who had the unlucky job of explaining what sex was all about to my class in secondary school. I suspect because the biology teacher was a young beatific-faced nun, thought far too pure to be associated with such a filthy, begrudgingly necessary, part of life. There was a note sent home asking parents if they wished their chaste, though potentially wanton, daughters to receive a once-off individual "sex education" session.

Many parents said yes, though quite a substantial number declined. Those who signed up assumed gratefully that their duty, as regards sex education, would then be done. We kids knew it would be an irrelevance. The 20-minute session consisted of a quick run through the mechanics; an addendum at the end warning us not to get raped – or worse still, pregnant without a husband. Homosexuality was not mentioned. There was nothing about masturbation, STDs, contraception or, God forgive us, abortion. Nothing about intimacy or desire. And it was mortifying for both the teacher and each solitary pupil she spoke to; head down, eyes averted. As well as useless. We had already covered the mechanics of sex in biology class – with our lovely young, enthusiastic, fresh-faced nun. The rest? Well, we picked it up along the way. Or at least most of us did.

Schools have come a long way since then, haven't they? As have parents. We're far more open about the topic of sexual intimacy, and all the messy joys and horrors that lie along the path of young love. Or at least that's what we'd like to believe. It's not true though, is it? There are still far too many schools, and even more parents, who believe that it's somebody else's job to educate children about sex. Or that the kids will pick up what they need as they go along, like we did when we were teenagers.

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