The new SRE bill is not good enough
Before I explain the flaws in this new legislation, here and here are good reads to bring you up to speed with the new legislation, if you are unfamiliar with it. Here is a blog to explain why we all need to learn about consent. See this article to see how people don’t understand what is classed as rape.
The bill is not completely flawed. Finally, the government is coming into the 21st century and acknowledging the need for SRE (sex and relationship education) to include safety online and ‘sexting’. Online information about sex is often misleading and leads to unhealthy relationships among teens; a lot of it derives from porn. There is also a lot of pressure to ‘send nudes,’ without really knowing where they’ll end up or who you’re sending them to in the first place. The SRE proposals address this, and that is a very good thing. Teaching young teenagers about healthy sexual relationships, along with what is and isn’t normal sexual behaviour, will help protect them and will help them see when they are not in a healthy relationship.
Likewise, teaching young children about healthy relationships is a good way to try and prevent peadophilia: If a child knows when the relationship is not normal, maybe they will be able to go to a trusted adult for help. It’s not just good for this, they will learn to treat people with respect, which will benefit their friendships throughout their lives and, as campaigners have argued, will lead to healthier relationships during adulthood and, hopefully, a decrease in domestic violence.
This being said, there are serious problems. One major concern is that there has been no mention of it including LGBT+ SRE. As we enter a more open society where same-sex marriage is now legal, we must also take the steps to protect LGBT+ children, to reduce bullying and to make sure all children and teenagers are taught safe sex, regardless of sexuality. If we teach young children what it means to be trans, then it may give children who feel “different” an explanation or, more importantly, for the vast majority of children, it’ll help reduce transphobia and the premature deaths due to suicide and attacks as we can begin to teach acceptance. If we want an equal society, it has to start in the classroom.
Along with this is the concern that whilst faith schools have to implement new sex education, they can do so in accordance with their faith. It has not been made clear as to how this would work. Would this mean that they could avoid talking about contraception and preventing pregnancies until both partners were ready?
The biggest concern, however, is that parents will still have the choice to take their child out of these lessons. I have a friend whose parents did this and, at the age of 17 whilst studying A Level biology, she asked, “what is an erection?” I think this shows we need to have SRE for all teenagers even if their parents disapprove.
Why should we be denied the right to know how our bodies work? Why should we be denied the right to know how to have fun and safe sex? Everyone (excluding asexual people, of course) wants to have sex and the vast majority of them will have sex at some point, whether it be as a teenager or as an adult. Don’t we, as a society, owe it to ourselves and to the younger generations to make sure that they know how to do it safely and have a good time? There is a reason people have sex – it’s fun. No amount of being a conservative-minded controlling parent is going to stop that. If your child wants to have sex, they will find a way to do it.
This all stems from the fact that campaigners against the new bill claim that good sex education will encourage kids to have sex. I’m sure I’ve touched on this before, but let me reiterate. My parents have always been open with me and my sister, they have always answered our questions at an age appropriate level (which is what the new bill aims to achieve). As a result of knowing about safe sex, healthy relationships and waiting until I was ready to enter a sexual relationship, I was ready when I did and I always practice safe sex. I have friends whose parents weren’t as open and they are the friends who had sexual relationships at much younger ages; for some, due to pressure from their partner, because they hadn’t been taught that pressure is abuse and anyone can say ‘no’ to sex.
I’m not saying that all teenagers with strict/’won’t-talk-about-sex’ parents have dangerous and unhealthy sexual relationships. Some, like my friend mentioned earlier, remain naïve, but at what cost? What will their future relationships look like? Will they know how to spot abuse or plan for a family properly?
I don’t understand why parents are allowed to take their kids out of SRE lessons. The only other time this is allowed is for religious worship/RE lessons. Preventing your child from receiving a thorough and good SRE is steeped in patriarchal beliefs. It is about controlling a (biological) woman’s body so that she is unable to control when she has children. Pregnancy/parenthood are emotionally and physically strenuous; women deserve the right to decide when this happens.
I don’t have to reference sources for readers to know that denying SRE to young people is misogynistic. The only people to benefit are the men who get to beat up and control their partners’ bodies (as domestic violence primarily affects women, although domestic violence towards men is just as much of an issue). The women in this scenario won’t be able to defend themselves or worse, know that this is wrong to begin with. Added to this is the fact that being taught about sex and how to have safe sex reduces unwanted pregnancies and encourages family planning. Do I need to reference that? It’s logic. If you understand how your body works and you understand how contraceptives work, then you are going to find the one that suits you and your body to prevent a pregnancy. The same can be said for when a couple do choose to have a child. Only through SRE can they both know how to conceive e.g. knowing about menstrual cycles and when the egg is released.
I could just go on and on. I could explain how SRE breaks down barriers of gender roles; if we understand all the sexes better, we understand the “new” gender identities better. Women will be more empowered to say ‘no’ to anything from unwanted and pressured sex to the traditional role of wife and mother. I could go into how SRE keeps us healthy in terms of prevention of STDs, if you know what they are and how to prevent, see the signs and then get tested and treated, we can reduce the transmission of STDs: From the ‘little’ ones like herpes to the more serious and life-threatening (although, not as severely as it was) HIV/AIDS.
On the flip side to protecting ourselves from violence, this actually prevents would-be attackers. If people know what a healthy relationship looks like, they know what is and isn’t consent,then people will be able to see when they are about to commit an attack. The main problem with consent is that not everyone knows what consent is, victims and attackers alike. Surely we owe it to the younger generations to know when someone actually wants to be with them?
I don’t know why, in 2017, I’m having to defend the right to a proper SRE. The thing is, I’m not. The government (the government I really despise) acknowledges all of this and are including, crucially, internet safety and sex. It is the pressure from the ultra-conservatives that is the problem. The government needs to stand up to parents who want to control their (primarily) daughter’s sexuality and show that SRE is not an evil force but a good way to keep children and teenagers safe for their whole lives.
I sincerely hope that the government remove the right for parents to take their kids out of SRE and add in compulsory LGBT+ SRE.