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Schools Blog

The Good Sex Guide… in schools?

It was recently my privilege to spend a weekend with a couple of hundred enthusiastic 11 to 14 year olds on a Youth for Christ residential. As usually happens, there is a part of the programme where a panel take questions for anything and everything that the young people have on their mind – about life, about God, about faith in general.

I was on the panel. Sifting through the mounds of questions hastily written by 12 year olds, I was intrigued to come across the following: “What about sex after marriage? Do you have to?”

Where would such a question come from? Tragically, we can’t rule out the possibility that this comes from a place of bitter experience. But maybe the enquiry is simply a twisted reflection of where a lot of young people are at regarding sex; an insight into the impression of sex that our teenagers have cobbled together from school, TV, STI stats and cold Christian morality, which has left them – Frankenstein-like – with a bit of a monster.

The Government’s teenage pregnancy strategy, published in 1999, is up for renewal next year prompting a string of recommendations from the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group. Top of the list for amendments was inclusion of frank discussions on sexual pleasure to help children and young people realise that sex should be enjoyed, rather than endured. Gill Frances, chair of TPIAG, explained that such discussions would empower young women to make informed decisions about having sex and help them recognise issues around coercive sex.

The research goes in its favour. Countries where sex is discussed openly have better sexual health outcomes. It’s a strategy already being adopted in Sexual Health Departments around the country. Leeds NHS recently published ‘Pleasure’ – a sexual health booklet aimed at teenagers – to make young people aware of pleasure potential of sex, prompting debate between faith and health groups.

Perhaps you can see the rub. Britain in the 21st century is already a highly sexualised society. Magazines are full of how much good sex people are entitled to as a basic human right. Morality rarely seems to come into question, just pure hedonism: if it feels good, do it! Such a strategy at first glance seems to play right into the hands of this modern sexual ethic, which must surely be out of keeping with the school’s responsibility. After all, schools should help students to think critically rather than simply to go with the flow. They should be teaching young people values and integrity, rather than springing them a temptation trap and sending them straight into a minefield. No wonder faith groups have reacted strongly.

But is this really something that the church should feel threatened by? I don’t think so. After all, the Bible itself promotes sex as something intensely pleasurable (Song of Songs, anyone?) and an incredible bond that joins a man and woman so that two become one. So there can’t be anything revolutionary about letting young people in on the secret. In fact, Christian schools workers have been spreading the message for years. Sex is good. It was God’s idea.

The truth is, good sex education has never been so needed as now. Piece together the different fragmented impressions of sex and you’ll make a very confusing and even frightening mosaic. On the one hand, beautiful people in Hollyoaks and One Tree Hill sleep together as a way of getting to know each other better. Chick flicks portray sex as the height of romance. But the advert at the beginning of the movie warned of Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea and word has it that a girl in Year 10 is pregnant. Couple increased awareness of sex with fear of its consequences and you’ll find two very unhappy bedfellows. And our young people are unhappily stuck with both of them.

Gill Frances is right. The news that sex is intended for pleasure is the most liberating thing our young people can hear right now. From a Christian perspective, it doesn’t go far enough. Sex at its very best will only be in the context of trust, respect and long-term commitment. We should be sharing that sex is something to look forward to when the right time comes, and be passionate in explaining why marriage is truly a God-given institution. Only then will we restore something so good, but so misunderstood, to its intended glory.

Submitted by Rachel Noyce at 9:35am, 9th October 2009