UK Gov’t Criticized for Not Making Sex Education Mandatory

(Photo: Policy Exchange, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Policy Exchange, Creative Commons)

The British government has been roughly criticised for declining calls by MPs to make sex education compulsory in primary and secondary schools across the nation. The news comes shortly after the Office for National Statistics announced that in the past twelve months to March 2015, 30 percent of female rape victims were girls under 16, a quarter were 14 or younger, and almost 10 percent were nine or younger.

In addition to the study by National Statistics, the NASUWT teachers union have revealed their own relevant data. According to its research, children as young as seven have been practicing "sexting" – sending text messages with explicit sexual content and even images to one another, writes The Independent. The study also showed that a great majority of the teachers were aware of the fact that their 11-year-old students were exchanging sexualized images via social media. Most of the pupils involved in this practice were aged 13-16 – not yet mature, but grown-up enough to have started exploring the more advanced aspects of adulthood.

The most eye-opening finding of the research was that "sexting" was used as a contemporary form of bullying. Pictures of others' intimate body parts were publicly shared on the Internet and used to belittle others. Bullying is not new in British schools, but for the first time it is being combined with sexual-related public humiliation.

Another important issue highlighted in the Sex Education Forum was the importance of the understanding of same-sex relationships, and between teenage gay and bisexual men in particular. The topic has been poorly referenced by school sex education classes, mainly due to the low levels of knowledge about safety and HIV.

Based on the findings of these reports, four different chairs of House of Commons Committees – education, health, home affairs and business – sent a letter to Nicky Morgan, the UK education secretary, stating that sex education was a vital part of preparing teenagers for life:

"It can provide them with the knowledge and confidence to make decisions which affect their health, well-being, and relationships, now and in the future."

In her reply to the MPs, Morgan defended the lack of change by explaining that the schools were either not ready, or did not possess the necessary expertise to teach such classes, writes Max Biddulph of The Conversation.

The current "non-statutory" status of sex education means that the British schools refer to it with a varying degree of enthusiasm. As Catherine Martin of Parent Herald writes, it is therefore almost impossible to provide a decent education on the matter at a consistent level nationwide.

In many aspects, the current level of sex education in the UK is stuck in the past. Its aim is to "regulate the moral and sexual behaviour of citizens in accordance with reoccurring social agendas". That includes promoting a heterosexually envisaged future, strong family values, avoiding STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and more, but critics say that is not representative of modern reality. Advocates say that early sex education is supposed to be a facilitator of an individual's personal growth and empowerment.

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