A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Sex education: youth, respect and equality

We need to be talking to young people about attitudes and values, good and bad relationships and so on. It’s really important that sexual violence becomes part of sex and relationships education. There is a high level of sexual bullying that has a huge impact on both girls and boys from quite a young age. It starts in primary school with name-calling – like homophobic insults and words like “slut”. This can escalate if it’s not dealt with. Without the right support in schools, it can become sexual harassment and sexual bullying. Coercive sex, and sex as an exchange for social status or money – known as transactional sex – are becoming more and more a feature for girls. It’s quite disturbing because it’s becoming normal, part of “that’s just what you do”. This can lead to further sexual abuse as girls get older. We need to go back to some of the women’s liberation agenda – that it’s your body and it’s your right to say no.

The young people who are most vulnerable to violence are sexually active, and maybe have already been pregnant. They often feel they have lost the right to say no. This is particularly true of young women who are involved with gangs. Often, if they have had sex with a boy in the gang, they feel pressured to say yes to others. Some girls then see the situation as their fault because they have been sexually active. There is a right wing, moralistic, agenda that is very anti-sex and anti-young people. Yet that comes from a media where everything is sexualised, often in a negative way. And, along with that, come images of women’s bodies used to sell products, the objectification of women in popular culture and the way strip clubs have become mainstream. That means that lots of conflicting messages are being sent to young people. Boys are under huge pressure – if they’re not active they are taunted as gay and pressured into sexual activity to prove that they’re not. This is happening to 12, 13, 14 year olds. So I don’t think we can solely blame young men when negative messages about women are everywhere. They add pressure to both girls and boys.

Young people don’t get much education about sex and good relationships – there’s the right wing that says not to talk about it. For example, there’s a big fuss about the work sexual health educators do in primary schools, but what young people see in the media is often very explicit and negative. If more positive work was done, with more acceptance of the reality of people’s lives, and less stress on “family values”, then young people would be better equipped to negotiate through those situations and make decisions in a more positive way. research shows that the more good sex education there is – about bodies, feelings, emotions and relationships – the less likely 12 and 13 year olds are to become sexually active. They become more likely to put off having sex until later. Britain has the worst sex education in Europe – though it is improving. On average, young people here start having sex earlier, and we have some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates. We can’t separate how unequal Britain is from these facts. With higher inequality and less opportunities, young people are more likely to become pregnant. For some young women, being a mother represents one of the few ways in which they can be taken seriously as adult, with a clear role in society. Special clinics for young people have improved things but haven’t gone far enough. We need to expand the services and get out to the people who find it’s most difficult to access them.

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