by Jessica Aszkenasy
Awkward, uncomfortable and downright embarrassing. That’s how some people remember the clumsy teachings of sexual health education at secondary school. But is this all about to change?
To say that approaches to “sex ed” are stuck in the past would be an understatement. The current sexual health and relationship programme was implemented by the Department of Education back in 2000: before the era of social media such as Snapchat, sexting, and cyberbullying.
Nor is sex education compulsory. Certain biological aspects of sex education are of course inherent to science classes, but parents have the right to remove their children from Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) classes if they see fit.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between education provided in schools and the influx of sexual codes that our shiny new social media age has solicited, young people are turning to online resources to seek out answers.
“Most young people say that SRE is increasingly out of date, that there isn’t a sexual focus and that we don’t really talk about relationships. They’re more interested in how to have a healthy relationship, not just in sex,” says Françoise Facella of charity The Mix that provides resources and support for under 25s.
Sex Ed On YouTube
Charities aren’t the only ones that have noticed the imbalance between the supply and demand for information.
YouTube personalities such as 28-year-old Laci Green from the USA and the British 26-year-old Hannah Witton have picked up where schools have left off, tackling everything from the hymen to the female orgasm to basic relationship advice.
With 1.4 million and 471,000 subscribers respectively, their videos are aimed at young adults who might not have the opportunity or desire to voice their questions within the four walls of a classroom.
Mother of three Geraldine, 51, from London supports this fresh approach. “I think that YouTube videos are a brilliant idea. People can do it in their own house or in their own time, with their friends or their parents if they wanted to,” she says.
However, Geraldine says she would feel more comfortable if schools had a more prominent role in the process. “I think it’s good that the videos are coming from people of their age group, but they might feel under pressure to behave a certain way because they feel that that’s the norm.
“It would be nice to have guidance from the government to make sure that this element is in there as well, so 15-year-olds don’t run out and feel like they have to have safe sex,” she explained.
Sex and Relationships Education will be made compulsory in all secondary schools from September 2019, although parents will still be able to withdraw their children from sex education in primary schools.
49-year-old father of four Mishkin Taylor says that a programme sanctioned by the Department of Education ensures that pupils’ interests take centre-stage.
“When sexual health education is coming out of a school, you know that it falls under an umbrella of legislation and that they’ve got the pupils’ interests at heart, not those of third parties such as Google or YouTube,” he says.
Government sanctioned or not, sexual health education is online and here to stay.
“Millennials are the first generation to be digital natives. Young people are on YouTube all the time, whether they’re looking at how to solve a household issue or make a shirt cuter. It makes sense to have information around sexual health online because that’s already where you are,” says Rachel Cooke, Director of Strategic Projects and Brand Expansion at Advocates for Youth. The organisation makes videos aimed at young people on the subject of sexual health at Amaze.org.
But change needn’t be seen as the enemy. The shift of resources from schools to the internet does not mean excluding parents from the process.
Rachel underlines that these videos can be conversation starters and that parents make up a big part of Amaze’s audience: “Young people want to talk to their parents about these issues. They want to go to someone that they trust, and who do they trust more than their parents or their guardians? The videos are just as important for parents and a great way to start a conversation about it.”
Featured Image by Amaze.org