Hang on. My son's five.
What does he need with Sex Ed?
So I’m really excited that he’s about to begin a series of Sex, Health and Relationships Education classes in the next couple of weeks. It’s all part of the wonderful, varied, stimulating educational journey he’s embarked on, in the supportive, caring environment of his primary school.
Hang on. He’s five. What does he need with Sex Ed?
Most of us adults remember it as a deeply uncomfortable experience: giggling behind our hands as a squirming biology teacher talked us through a highly abstract diagram of anatomical features – at an age when most of us had already heard plenty of rumours about what sex was all about. And some of us had even given it (or versions of it) a go… This, I think, is partly why some people are worried, upset or even scared at the prospect of sex education being on the curriculum for primary age children. But I’m here to tell you, it ain’t what it used to be – and this time in a good way.
Here’s what they do in the first class. The class is called ‘Me: I am unique’. The children are asked to think and talk about ‘what makes me me’ – what they like and dislike, for example. Then they talk about the body as part of what makes each person unique. The teacher shows them two drawings – one of a girl, one of a boy, each naked. They notice that both the boy and the girl have, say, arms. They both have legs. They both have a head, stomach, eyes, ears, toenails, eyelashes... in fact there’s only one part of the body that’s different in girls and in boys. They learn the anatomical name for each of these parts. Then, they learn that those parts of the body are private. They do the ‘swimming costume’ exercise – parts of the body covered by a swimming costume are special and not to be touched by anyone else.
And that’s it.
No great mystery, no song and dance – no information that a five year old child (or their parents) is going to feel uncomfortable about.
I think that’s great. Marvellous, in fact. There are three things that I think are particularly fantastic about the SHRE curriculum that my son is going to experience – and I’ve seen an outline of the whole thing through to the end of secondary school:
- Classes are taught only by teachers who have had two full days of intensive training. That’s how important this material is to the education authority where I live. And my son’s teachers tell me that this training is absolutely crucial to the success of the classes.
- There’s an emphasis on how boys and girls are *the same*. Sure, the class might prompt a bit of discussion about penises and vulvas (though frankly that kind of chat is already happening in my experience). But at an age where children are starting to get – or have often already got – some very fixed ideas about gender, it’s great that they’ll be reminded that in some ways we are all more or less the same. As it happens the school is also very racially and culturally diverse, so this emphasis on equality is particularly resonant.
- Finally – perhaps most importantly – the whole curriculum is underpinned by the aim of giving children self-esteem. Showing them that they are unique; that their bodies are precious; and giving them the confidence to talk about their bodies and their feelings.
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Bryony Randall is a mum of two, full time academic teaching English Literature and baked goods obsessive. Tweet her up @RandallBryony