As many of you know it is gynaecological cancer awareness month, and I have been doing a lot of work with the wonderful Eve Appeal. I was invited to attend a very interesting debate about the taboos of talking about women’s body parts in the correct terms and how this simple issue leads to so many problems. Poor communication being the main one, leading to possible complex health issues later on in life. Personally I have always believed that we have never dealt with sex education correctly since I was a child. Now our world has become more complex, with mobile technology and a rapid shift for younger people. It seems to me that the only logical way to deal with this is at school? But these days it seems that many in society have mixed views about how this should be done and who should be doing it. Therefore very little is done, at a critical time in our children’s lives. At this meeting I also met Melonie, who is a specialist teacher, and invited her to share her own perspectives.
“The Guardian ran a story today that 1 in 4 girls aged 14 are depressed. I’d like to say that is ‘blow it out of the water new news,’ but the mental health of our children has been going downhill for some time now. I’ve been based in Southwark for a while where the SHEU survey shows that self-esteem in girls is plummeting. I’ve been working in schools where social media concerns such as ‘sexting’, posting explicit images and safeguarding issues; like sharing your personal data is becoming the norm. I’ve also been working in schools where children think that you must ‘have sex, even if you don’t want to, if you are married’ and ‘when someone wants to touch you and you are together, you must let them or they’ll finish with you’. These are primary school pupils. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
So why are we so opposed to supporting our young people in a preventative way, rather than an ‘oops, it’s already happened, better get a plaster and stick over it’ way?
That’s what I feel. In 2019, it looks like Relationships Education is going to be statutory in primary schools.
Well, if you ask me, this is NOT enough. Why on earth do we shy away from saying YES to Sex Education in primary schools? It’s the word isn’t it. *Sex* It conjures up all of our adult knowledge of that which is sordid and intimate and naked and writhing and doggy style and sweaty and….I’m sure you get the idea! So…this is what is taught to 4 ,5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-year olds yes?
NO! Of course it isn’t. That would be ridiculous. But , it is what most of us seem to fear. That they will get this knowledge and then turn into a nation of underage sexually charged beings. That would be irresponsible and certainly not developmentally appropriate or maturity relevant. They are the keys words here.’ Developmentally appropriate’ and ‘maturity relevant’. In fact the latter is the most important in my eyes. We need to arm our children, fill their backpack with the knowledge, skills and understanding that they need to face the challenges life brings. As they go through school, life brings different challenges. It is like starting with the inside of an onion and adding the layers one at a time, until you get the full, well rounded, finished piece.
At their level, we need to start young – 4 and 5 year olds. Help them build resilience, assertiveness, a great understanding of how awesome they are, of how awesome their body is and help them build an understanding of what they like and don’t like, what they want and don’t want and how to manage that.
As they grow, we should continue to arm our wonderful children, building up the layers of self-esteem, of body confidence, of knowledge of our own abilities and how we grow and change and what might happen next year. Teaching them to be discerning and make choices based on facts and conscience not peer pressure and myth.
Our Sex Education is so much more than SEX. It is about knowing how your body changes, how you have changed since you were born, it’s about knowing the names of your body parts so that you can talk about them with confidence and own them, as yours in any situation.
It is about building the skills so that you can ignore the media’s body image slant and hold your head high as the individual that you are.
And as we age, remember age appropriate, it is about preparing yourself for that time when you first bleed and find discharge in your knickers or when you have your first wet dream and knowing that it is ok, this is normal and you don’t have to be afraid or ashamed. I cannot say how important I think SRE/RSE is for our children, it would be like saying -how important is it for your health to have shelter, clothes and safety? I just wish that our government had the same fire in their bellies for their youth and that our schools had the money to send their teachers for high quality training and that universities trained all student teachers in this work. It is crucial to turning this trend of poor mental health, body image, self esteem etc around.”
Melonie Syrett is a PSHE and RSE Consultant based in London. She led PSHE in schools for 15 years and was awarded Chartered Teacher status is 2012. She is passionate about changing the future for our children and our children’s children.
I would like to thank Melonie for writing this piece and if you would like to contact her she is on Twitter @meloniesyrett As always these are some thoughts and opinions, please feel free to share yours below.
I am an official support partner of the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth. The only hotel in the UK specifically for people affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions.