Spoiler alert: Before you get too excited or worried this post isn’t about my sex life.
I’m not a fan of moral panics, unlike the media, but I’ve been picking up on a growing wave of concern about young people and how they learn about sex.
It doesn’t help that everywhere I look there are adverts for Fifty Shades of Grey; a film that seems to be reinforcing the idea that if women want a relationship they will do as men tell them to do. And I mean the relationship outside the bedroom. Not the kinky sex.
Anyway back to sex education, but not about how to do it. The kids learn that in school now as standard.
(Cue sighs of relief from all the parents who never got over the awkward factor and had ‘the chat’.)
What isn’t compulsory in schools is learning about healthy, happy relationships. About concepts like consent. Or self-esteem and realizing your body is yours and no one else’s.
And those to me seem to be the most important part of sex education, because without them we’re all just like a troupe of monkeys grabbing each other when we feel like it.
Actually, I bet even monkeys have safe squeaks.
There are three issues that have been covered in the press recently and lodged themselves in my brain; they all seem to be interlinked but I don’t think anyone is sure how or why.
This is a massive subject so I am going to focus on how this makes me feel about being a parent.
You may well now be shouting at the screen:
Why on earth are you thinking about this when Baby B isn’t even one?
Well, partly it’s because I know time will fly by and the ‘tricky’ questions will start when we least expect them. And partly because since I became a dad I’ve become more aware of the weight of responsibility to raise a decent human being.
And I think that I have a particular responsibility because I’ve got a boy. Before you take to Twitter to rant at me, I’m not for one moment saying boys are a problem per se. But the uncomfortable truth is that when it comes to sexual offences most of them are committed by men and most victims are women.
Any kind of negative behaviour is likely to be learned in childhood and is likely to be manifesting by the time a person reaches adolescence.
Now I don’t anticipate for one moment that my son is ever going to do anything bad. But there’s the rub. No one ever does. No one looks at their little boy (or girl) and imagines them hurting another person. But it happens.
That doesn’t mean it’s always the fault of poor parenting. External influences, especially peers and societal norms, are going to battle with whatever mum or dad have said and done. But we definitely have a head start in laying some strong foundations during the early years.
It would be easy to flip out in the face of this rising tide of negative chatter about the next generation’s sexual attitudes. So I will say that I don’t believe this a lost cause.
It’s up to all parents, teachers, and anyone who has a stake in raising a child to make sure they feel confident about talking, in an age-appropriate way, to the children and young people in their lives about healthy sex and relationships.
So when should sex and relationships education start?
When Labour announced back in 2009 that all five-year olds would get sex education there was the usual rapid descent into a sociopolitical tug of war over this thing called childhood, which some people argue must be preserved as a perfect bubble of innocence until the child becomes a teenager. And by then, as we all remember from our own youth, the last thing you want to do is have any adult talk to you awkwardly about the birds and the bees.
Children’s charity The NSPCC is now calling on the government to take action to ensure teenagers get a clearer message about healthy relationships.
Claire Lilley, head of child safety online at the charity, said:
“…action is urgently needed by the government to make updated sex and relationship education a statutory right for every child and young person. There needs to be a greater focus in schools on topics such as sexual exploitation and violence against girls and young women, as part of a balanced curriculum.
“We need to nurture children to have positive relationships based on mutual respect.”
Well, I wholeheartedly agree. And I think parents can start this nurturing as soon as babies understand that they are a separate person.
What I mean, for parents like me whose offspring are still at the toddler stage, is this is not going to be telling them about sex. It’s going to be all about modelling respectful relationships. And as Baby B’s sense of self develops that includes him and the way we interact with him.
So I think it starts with something as simple as explaining to Baby B what I’m doing and not just treating him like an object.
For example, I’ll let him know that I’m about to wipe his face or change his nappy and why I’m doing it. He may not understand the words yet but I think there is something reassuring about the tone and it shows that when I do something I am including him in the act and if he gets upset I’ll reassure him before carrying on.
I’m sure this is what most parents do anyway, but I’m aware that sometimes when I’m in a rush it’s easy to start bundling him into his clothes as if he’s a doll.
And the other thing I’m becoming more conscious of is Baby B watching me and his mum interact with each other. We aren’t an argumentative couple but clearly there are times of tiredness and tension in any relationship, especially once a baby is on the scene.
I’m not suggesting that arguing in front of your baby is going to do irreparable damage. Nor am I suggesting that we start acting out some idealised happy fantasy of family life. But if we do disagree I think Baby B shouldn’t see us getting angry with each other. It’s probably scary and it’s much better if he sees us working things out together.
For now that’s probably enough. I’m sure this is an issue I’ll be revisiting many times as he grows up!
What I hope is that as he soaks up the world around him and starts asking questions we will be able to answer them without getting flustered or embarrassed or sending out the message that sex is a subject we don’t talk about.
As a dad I want Baby B to grow up into a teenager who respects other people’s sexuality, understands what consent means in practice, doesn’t feel he has to do anything or ask anyone else to do anything because of peer pressure. In short the kind of young man anyone would be happy for their son or daughter to fall for.
Most of all I want him to be happy. Hmm. This is quite a to do list!
Have you had to deal with tricky conversations?
Do you have a teenager who won’t talk to you about their love life?
Feel free to leave a comment and carry on the debate.
I’m linking up with #SundayStars
Categories: Big Issues