Life&Style Writer Neeve Robinson argues that educational institutions should be doing more to de-stigmatise sexual health, following the example of the popular TV series
Content warning: brief reference to sexual assault.
Masturbation. Vaginismus. Anal douching. Just a handful of topics touched upon in Netflix’s intimate television series Sex Education– a show which simultaneously aims to entertain and educate the people left unaware and unprepared by their education systems. In doing so, the series acts as a prominent reminder of how far the schooling curriculums must advance, in order to provide a satisfactory level of sex education.
When I think of the education I received regarding sexual activity and health, I have a vague memory of the classic condom and banana procedure, probably done incorrectly, but something I had to complete in order to get that tick by my name- the symbol of completing the sex education course. Looking back at how little I was taught, it isn’t surprising that shows like Sex Education are booming because of the insight they offer into subjects that are considered taboo. I attended an all girls’ secondary school, and unsurprisingly female masturbation was never mentioned. Masturbation was something that only boys did, and the notion of educating girls about female pleasure was seemingly ridiculous and so never touched upon. Anything I learnt about ‘real’ sex during my first years at secondary school came from the highly unreliable gossip channels- from ‘experienced’ girls who were already having sex regardless of their knowledge about STIs and pregnancy. The nitty-gritty of sex was something that we were expected to find out independently, however, the internet is rife with inaccurate and potentially damaging information. How I wish there had been a show available like Sex Education when I was growing up.
I also wish there were more shows that portrayed sex and growing up for what it truly is. The media likes to create this image of losing your virginity as always being a magical and perfect moment: an atmosphere accompanied by soft lighting, some type of music that is synchronised with the actor’s movements, and the promise that both participants will orgasm at the same time (which on average, only 37% of couples experience). Sex Education does the complete opposite. Instead of the teenage characters acting like they’re in their mid- twenties, it offers a much more raw and compelling account of teenage life. It shows sex for what it often is the first time around- clumsy, awkward, messy, vulnerable, confusing etc. It shatters every illusion that previous shows have created in their attempt to glamourize something that should be shown for what it truly is.
I’m not sure if I was classed as naïve or just misinformed about sex when I was younger, but it will be people like my younger self that turn to shows like Sex Education for the sole purpose of gaining an education. It seems ludicrous how much the education system is failing adolescents, at the time when they need that education the most, when their bodies are experiencing optimum sexual change. Sexpression, a charity that aims to empower young people by teaching informal and comprehensive RSE lessons in secondary schools, believe that Sex Education’s popularity shows that teenagers ‘are in need of a source to dispel myths around sex, reinforce truths, and allow for the empowerment of their bodily autonomy and decision-making.’
Knowledge is such an important aspect when it comes to sex, mainly because there are many sub-topics that branch off from it. Sexual assault and consent are major topics that need addressing in secondary schools, with the Scottish Government having already announced plans to review RSE lessons to include these things. Improvements are also being implemented in England, with it being compulsory for all primary schools to teach ‘relationships education’ from April 2020, which looks at friendship and emotions. Sex education isn’t compulsory in primary schools, but it must be taught in secondary school, with a new focus upon STIs, pregnancy, contraception and miscarriages. These improvements in the sex education curriculum will hopefully lead to people watching shows like Sex Education predominantly for entertainment purposes. It’s disappointing that people need to rely on a television series to educate themselves about topics that should be covered in the early stages of education. It isn’t the primary responsibility of tv writers to use their shows to teach the areas where schools are lacking. Sex should be something that people feel comfortable talking about, and we shouldn’t let embarrassment prevent us from seeking guidance about something that should’ve already been taught to us. The more you know about sex, the more you know about yourself.