Last night Channel 4 broadcast the latest edu-documentary, ‘Sex in Class’. Goedele Liekens, a Belgian sexologist delivered her programme of sex education at the Hollins Technology College in Lancashire. Armed with her vagina cushion and plasticine, she had 2 weeks to work with 13 students. She explored how pornography influences the pupils, both their behaviour and the expectations they have; she discussed masturbation and anatomy; and looked at relationships within families and with partners. It was brilliant. Her direct approach and understanding of what the pupils have experienced gained the respect of the pupils. Her shock at what the pupils didn’t know and hadn’t been taught was evident.
Something really needs to happen with sex education in our schools. Of course it’s a matter for our whole society, but schools are a significant part of that. It’s clear that adults in this country have no idea what our children are watching. The statistics on the programme show that 83% of children have watched porn online by the time they’re 13, and more than half view it regularly. Let me be clear. This porn isn’t the free 10 minutes at midnight stuff they put on satellite TV; this is hard-core, explicit, in-your-face stuff, and our children are normalised to this. They don’t have to look at the underwear pages of a catalogue to get their kicks, they have more than they want of the proper stuff online.
I’ve tweeted this in the past – Russell T Davies has written about this beautifully in ‘Screwdriver’ an online spin off from Cucumber on Channel 4. I would have every parent and every teacher watch this. It’s 15 minutes and the message is perfectly clear. Go on. Watch it. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/cucumber/videos/all/screwdriver?cntsrc=4od (The irony of parental guidance notices)
I was aware of ‘Sex in Class’ because I had seen Goedele on This Morning talking about the project and taking part in their phone in. I was impressed by what she was saying but equally I was disappointed at the reaction of presenter Eamonn Holmes. I know that presenters are there in part to play the role of devil’s advocate and there’s nothing wrong with challenging what she’s trying to do, but the way he attacked her point of view came from a much more personal place. He’s not the only one to have these views of course, and the predictability of the professionally outraged in the media will be a reason for commissioning the programme. What I find frustrating is the assumption that people will find what Goedele is doing shocking. What I find most shocking is the naivety of the public as to what is happening.
Goedele wants to use her work to develop a GCSE in sex education and at the end of her course the pupils sat an exam. We saw her meet with Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the government’s Select Committee on Sex Education to discuss the content of sex education in schools. She set him straight on a few facts and stressed the importance of age appropriateness and pupils learning about sexual pleasure. He was so far out of his comfort zone that we witnessed the ridiculous situation where she’s talking to the chairman the Sex Education Select committee and he’s unable to talk about sex. He bumbled through a question about where the clitoris is and by the end of their meeting was declared as an Advocate for Sexual Pleasure.
The solution to all this is not to get rid of porn. We can’t. What we need to do is educate. We need to get over this uncomfortable, British attitude from government down. We can’t pretend it’s not happening. 10 year olds no longer cuss each other by calling each other a wally, they tell each other to ‘suck their mum out’. Obviously it’s not all of them, but it’s real and we need to do our part to educate. As Goedele so frequently stated; we can’t stop them from accessing online porn so we need to act to counterbalance this with facts and information across every aspect of sex and relationships education. I really hope the right people were watching.