The importance of inclusive sex education among young people

It’s been one of the most precarious years for education, with many teenagers in limbo regarding their learning. But education has been challenging for young people long before the pandemic, specifically during sex education. From the giggles at the back of the classroom at the mere mention of a penis to the unflattering and almost always incorrect drawing of female genitalia, it can be a hard graft trying to get kids to listen to you talk about sex. But it's needed!


Sex education is tough as it is, however for queer kids it's even harder. Whilst most teenagers bare the awkwardness and learn the basics of safe sex and how to 'stay safe' aka a basic STI talk, there's no mention of what to do if you are LGBT and developing sexually. The system needs a revamp and a more inclusive one is where to start.


From my own personal experiences with it to the overwhelmingly large statistics that suggest it’s not satisfactory, the current curriculum doesn’t work. It’s an outdated and non-inclusive system that’s giving hundreds of thousands a disadvantage when transitioning through their teen years and into adulthood.

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Trusting teachers with the responsibility of forming any young person’s crucial learning stages is a risk, but it’s one that parents willingly take. But it’s no surprise that so many teachers feel extremely out of their depth talking about such personal and sometimes embarrassing topics with a bunch of pubescent teenagers. There are so many areas which are left untouched and skipped over which children are crying out for information on. Jamie, an 18-year-old gay man said:


“I didn’t learn much about gay sex in school, which was why I was so clueless when I lost my virginity. It’s embarrassing but I didn’t know how to use lube correctly and mistook it for a penetrative sex toy.”

It’s a distressing fact that this is the norm, with 82.2% of young people felt they didn’t learn enough about different forms of contraception during school, according to a 2019 CERT Report. There are currently 322,980 secondary school pupils in Scotland, meaning 264,843 pupils aren’t receiving satisfactory information which is crucial during a time when they are most likely to be developing sexually.


Emily, 20-year-old female, who identifies as bisexual said:


“At school, teachers would simply refuse to talk about queer sex and relationships if I ever asked. I definitely felt the stigma and was treated like an outsider, something of an enigma.”


Results of a personal survey also showed that 100% of people felt there was no effort to include LGBT+ experiences during sex education. However, with Scotland set to become the first country in the world to introduce LGBT+ inclusive learning things are about to change, or so we hope. From 2021, all public schools will have mandatory lessons about same-sex relationships, homophobia, transphobia and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The decision has been praised by charities such as Stonewall, and many more cite Scotland as one of the most inclusive countries.


Emily also echoed her praise for the Scottish Government’s introduction of LGBT education saying:


“I think this is long overdue, we needed an improvement to the inclusivity and information to the curriculum which failed me. It will 100% change the lives of young people questioning their identity for the better!”


With HIV and AIDS set to be discussed throughout schools, the premiere of ‘It’s A Sin’ on Channel 4 last month has only furthered the conversation around the disease. The new drama written by Russell T Davies focuses on five gay friends at the heart of the eighty’s epidemic. Davies beautifully shows how the disease tears apart the group and impacts the world around them. A mass amount of critical acclaim has already followed the show and it’s being cited as the main factor in the increase of home HIV testing kits.

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As the show reached an audience of nearly 19 million viewers in a month, it’s breaking down the misconceptions that so many people have as well as educating young people on the history of the disease. It also highlights how much progress has been made in 30 years, as nearly 38 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. It’s no longer the certain death which is shown on ‘It’s A Sin’, however tests are still worryingly low with only one in five UK adults ever being tested. A scarily low amount of heterosexual people also haven't ever been tested, with a 16% uptake. It’s a concerning figure that points towards the education system failing to prepare young people with the correct information and resources needed when being sexually active.


Through better education and a system that has the correct resources and information, it could save lives. 690,000 lives to be exact. That’s how many people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2019, which the Terrance Higgins Trust are trying so hard to decrease through the National HIV Testing Week. Many of the show’s stars such as Olly Alexander (of Years & Years), a frequent advocate for gay rights, have took to social media to promote how easy and accessible home testing kits are. The Terrance Higgins Trust said there had been a “four-fold increase” in comparison to previous years, which shows it’s working.


Rachel Jardine, a sex positive blogger and illustrator from Glasgow shared her thoughts on the stigma surrounding STI checks and diagnoses. She said:


“The shame of getting tested for STI’s is a harsh reality in Scotland. Young people are often given wrong, insufficient and incorrect information which is extremely damaging to not only their physical but mental health.”

There is a certain damaging effect to the lack of education for queer people, with 55% of LGBT 11-to-18-year old’s worrying about their mental health daily. It’s almost double that of straight teens, with only 26% facing the same worries, according to Just Like Us. Mental health has never been worse among LGBT+ young people and fighting for essential education isn’t a battle they should be facing in the UK, but it is in certain areas.


Although 97% of people think that LGBT+ sex and relationships should be taught, according to a Terrance Higgins Trust 2019 survey, there’s still a huge amount of resistance. In December 2020, the Western Isles council voted against the inclusion of LGBT+ sex and relationships during RSHP (Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood), and chose to remain with the Catholic Church learning, despite a heavy backing from the Scottish Government.


Jamie also spoke about the stigma he faces, saying:


“I feel there is still a shame around anything LGBT, never mind sex. As a gay man we’re always seen as predators, sordid or dirty. There’s definitely still hate towards us.”


We can still see a large amount of society are either homophobic, bi-phobic or transphobic. Whether it be from JK Rowling’s twitter TERF rants, the continuous invalidation of bisexual people or the rising hate crimes towards the community which has seen a 78% rise in sexual orientation-based hate crimes since 2013. It begs the question on how do we eradicate this without the correct education? With places like the Western Isles set in their ways and unwillingness to accept and adapt to change, there’s only so much TV can do to help the queer kids that populate places like this.

Jardine suggested that it’s not only TV shows that can help LGBT+ and straight young people, stressing the importance of external organisations helping out in schools with sometimes difficult conversations and stereotypical unusual queries. She said:


“I believe hiring external organisations such as Sexpression or specialist sex educators to deliver these classes would benefit loads, to allow it to be more inclusive and extensive to all people.


These people are mainly experts in their field and have the qualifications that teachers don’t! It’d be a huge positive to have external organisations continuously throughout sex education.”


With the UK as a whole following in Scotland’s footsteps and introducing compulsory inclusive education from September 2021, it’s a huge change from the introduction of Section 28 by the Conservative government back in 1988. It seems there’s active change and positive progress being made for queer kids in Britain, let’s hope the government follow through on their promises and maybe soon we’ll have a society that won’t require TV shows to do the educating.


Rachel is available for commissions and can be found here! https://www.instagram.com/rachjardine/


If you’re looking for helpful resources or websites here’s some great ones!

Sexpression - https://sexpression.org.uk

Stonewall - https://www.stonewall.org.uk

Just Like Us - https://www.justlikeus.org

The Terrance Higgins Trust - https://www.tht.org.uk