Silva Neves

Silva Neves
Psychosexual, Relationship and Couples Therapist

Saturday, 27 July 2019

YES, we need proper Relationship & Sex Education in schools

Whether we want to admit it or not, our children, from the moment they are born, are in relationships with others. First, with parents and primary care givers. Then, we other young children in nursery, then with older children and adults around them. 

Children have great skills at observing the world around them to start to build a sense of themselves. What they observe is only from their immature eyes, they don’t have anything else to compare what they see with other knowledge, so they make up their own conclusion. 

For example, a young girl who doesn’t see their parents touch or kiss, yet watches a Disney cartoon about a princess being rescued by her prince through a passionate embrace can be confusing. 

A girl who is dressed like a princess at a party and is being told by adults how pretty she looks comes with an unspoken implicit message, yet strong one based on children’s stories, that there will be a prince somewhere that will choose her and make her happy, all she needs to do is stay pretty. The Prince Charming might even come into her bedroom whilst she’s asleep and kiss her without her explicit consent – how romantic, not! 

Similarly, a boy dressed in a super hero outfit for the same birthday party is forced to act strong and powerful – it is even a permission to be a little aggressive, only because he’s Spiderman that day. The very same boy, from a very young age, is already conditioned to know that it is not acceptable to be curious about playing with dolls or want to wear a pink t-shirt. The worst toxic message for boys is being taught not to cry. 

Girls are conditioned to hold hands and kiss each other, but boys are told not to kiss other boys. Children are told to be careful when adults want to touch them and they are also forced to endure that horrible sloppy kiss from the smelly grandpa each time they visit him. This is another confusing message about consent, which children can find very difficult to understand properly without proper education. 

These are only a few reasons why it is crucial to have proper and thorough Relationship and Sex Education in primary schools and secondary schools and High Schools. Many people protest about it because I think there is a misunderstanding of what it actually means. I think people are hung up with the word ‘sex’ and they think teachers will go into schools telling inappropriate sexual content to their children. This is not the case. 

In Primary School, children need to be taught how to form friendships. Children will form relationships from the time they are born, so it is definitely not too early. Forming good friendships and making sense of what they observe is really important: they can gain a much greater sense of the world around them and understand properly what they see everywhere: in their parents relationship, in cartoons, children’s movies and stories. In primary schools, the teaching of friendships comes with accepting who is different (different colour skin, different cultural clothes, different bodies, different abilities, different types of families, and so on). Frankly, the world could do with a lot more kindness and acceptance, and if we can start teaching these in primary schools, perhaps the world could be a better place. Children of primary school age who come from a homophobic household will already be conditioned to be homophobic, even if they don’t know what it means, they simply imitate their parents (That’s the wrong kind of Relationship and Sex Education). It is not uncommon to see young children expressing racism, it is not them who have those views, they only repeat what they hear from parents. So, it is most definitely not too early to teach children of that age group some proper information about accepting difference. 

In Primary Schools, we have to teach our children about consent in a way that is age appropriate and relevant to their lives. It is in that age group that body exploration comes in the way of: ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’. Although being curious about each other’s genitals and body parts is a normal process of our children’s development, we need to teach children that it is ok to be curious and it is ok to say ‘no’. 

It is also in Primary Schools that we need to teach children about what is coming next: puberty. Some many people go through a very confusing time at puberty when their bodies change so much and so fast and with very little conversations about it. There needs to be a lot more conversations about puberty before it happens, and throughout. 

Relationship and Sex Education in Primary School is not about sex and inappropriate content. It is about appropriate and relevant information that is crucial to the children’s well-being as well as the whole community. It is teaching about friendships, kindness, acceptance, love, their sense of self in the world, what is ok and what is not ok, and how they can say ‘no’ when it is important to say so. 

In Secondary and High Schools, Relationship and Sex Education also needs to be age appropriate, and that means more details about what is relevant in their lives. How to form peer relationships, romantic relationships and sexual relationships. There needs to be a lot of space to discuss consent properly: what it actually is, what it means and how it is done. There needs to be teachings on good sexual health to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancy, but it needs to be done in a matter-of-fact way rather than in a scary way to put young people off. 

There needs to be a lot more conversations about sexual pleasure and how to enjoy their bodies. There needs to be conversations about recognising when sex stops becoming pleasurable and how they can stop it then rather than enduring it.

Relationship and Sex Education absolutely needs to include same-sex relationships and there must not be an option for opting out. Too many children and teenagers are harmed by homophobia. It is a matter of public health. Just as we can teach Primary School children about accepting the diversity of human beings, we need to reinforce this teaching in Secondary and High Schools: acceptance and kindness is key. Homophobia is not acceptable. Teachers much learn not to ignore homophobic language and behaviours that happen before their eyes. 

The religious groups that oppose Relationship and Sex Education may be mis-informed. Good teaching on sexual health is teaching teenagers the importance of having sexual contacts that match their values. It means that if a young person does not want sex because of their religious or moral values, it is ok. Good relationship and sexual health is knowing that it is ok to want sex and it is also ok not to want sex. However it is not ok to impose one’s moral values or beliefs onto someone else and be sexist, racist or homophobic. Young people also need to know that it is ok to have same-sex attraction no matter what their religious or moral beliefs are, and to be given the right resources of who they can see to discuss these issues in a confidential and non-judgmental place.  

I urge the Government to put in place adequate resources to enable every single UK schools to have a well-trained relationship and sex educator because in my profession, I see many adults who have distressing problems as a consequence of poor relationship and sex education. 

Good relationship and sexual health is crucial to people’s overall health. By having a solid relationship and sex education system in all ages of schools, we can actually save lives by preventing too many tragedies like suicide. We can prevent so much physical and psychological pain, we can help people lead much happier lives, and we can start to create a new generation of people who will understand kindness, acceptance and love on a deeper level and shape a better world. 

Silva Neves