Young people are more sexualised than ever before, and no one has worked out how to deal with the problem. This week, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and University College London discovered that the number of 16-24-year-olds moving away from traditional sexual intercourse had doubled, partially thanks to the easy access of internet porn.
Immediately the sex ‘experts’ were out in full force. “We must have more graphic sex education on the curriculum!” was their knee-jerk reaction. None of this surprises me; whenever there is a issue surrounding sexualised young people, educators always promote information as the salvation.
Many think that the more teenagers know about the birds and the bees – and the handcuffs, and the rest – the better they will be at making decisions. This is flawed thinking, though, because through overly-focussing over sex, teachers actually raise expectations for children to be sexual. Imagine being a twelve-year-old in a classroom where you are told about S&M. That plants an expectation that it is something you will do.
It makes more sense to draw kids’ attention away from sex and onto other topics to counter national habits. For too long, this country has long been atrocious at dealing with sex education; we often overestimate the prurience of young people. The overarching assumption has become that most teenagers are gagging for it, as if school was an episode of Mad Men.
There’s also our wider culture that suggest to society’s most impressionable: “you should be having sex!” The Channel 4 Show The Joy of Teen Sex, released in 2011, is one strong example of this. It was ostensibly designed to allay teenagers’ sexual concerns, but – in fact – merely encouraged them to think around the clock about their genitals.
The “information is power” approach has overloaded kids, and this has had hugely negative consequences, with STI rates rising all the time. In 2014, 85,513 young people in England aged 15-19 had an STI.
People often mock religious schools because they skirt around sex education. But it’s ironic that they may have lower levels of STIs and STDs through promoting practices that limit sexual partners. Sex is even taught – shock, horror! – in the context of love and commitment.
I’m hardly the Virgin Mary, but I can see that there is something to be said for less is more in sex education. Sure, children need to know the basics. But when we feed them all the time on the subject, we suggest they should be “at it” all the time. Then we wonder why they are so precocious. We need to think laterally about sexual education. Making everything more graphic is not the way forward.