From frogs and diaphragms to the modern world of RSE

For Sexual Health Week 2020 and throughout September, Brook is celebrating the introduction of mandatory RSE in all schools in England. Here, award winning fatherhood and lifestyle blogger John Adams talks to us about his experiences of sex education growing up, and why he thinks mandatory RSE is good for young people.

It’s 2020 and at long last relationships and sex education (RSE) has become mandatory in primary and secondary schools! My question is: Why has it taken so long?

If I reflect on my own experiences, relationships simply weren’t a part of the sex-ed curriculum at all when I was a kid. In fact, until I was 15, my formal sex education involved nothing more than learning about the reproductive cycle of frogs.

In fairness to my science teacher, he was incredibly enthusiastic about teaching us the ins and outs of frog sex. Alas, those lessons were no use whatsoever when an older woman started stringing me along in what I shall call a ‘bizarre friendship thing’ when in was in my final few months at school (it was a platonic relationship, but it was a close call).

I’m not going to elaborate as to what happened, but let’s just say I found myself in a few situations no teenager should be exposed to. It was unhealthy, and a few lessons about relationships coming from a trusted adult may have made me realise this ‘friendship’ was not a friendship at all, and given me the confidence to run a mile.

When I did hit the age of 15, a chemistry teacher was given the responsibility of teaching my class about sex. This largely involved discussing birth control. My teacher was entirely unabashed. I can still recall her telling us in great detail about the perils of using a diaphragm when combined with spermicide. With great humour she explained it could go “weeeeeee and fly across the room” during the insertion process because spermicide made the diaphragm slippery!

Making RSE mandatory is a huge step in the right direction.

First of all, young people need to know about these issues because it is about their health. A young person needs to know what is and is not normal about their physiology so they can seek help if they need it.

Secondly, the world has changed. The online world provides many more opportunities for the young and old alike to be exploited in unhealthy relationships. Lessons at school to help children recognise the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships are definitely a positive thing.

That said, I believe very strongly that these discussions should start at home.

No parent should shy away from discussing sex or relationships with their children.

It is part of your responsibility as a parent. I know I speak to my children about healthy and unhealthy relationships all the time and I’d like to think other parents do the same.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. On a few occasions I have had discussions with parents about how they handle sex education in their households. It never ceases to amaze me how uncomfortable some parents are about dealing with these issues. On more than one occasion I have found myself shocked that a parent with pre-teen or teenage children has not discussed sex or even periods with their kids and are leaving it up to their child’s school to handle.

That’s not the way it should be. Nonetheless, it shows that schools have an enormous role to play in educating young people about relationships and sex.

My experiences as a teen show how vital it is that young people are properly educated about sex and relationships. I wish every educator who is teaching this new curriculum the very best of luck. You have an important job to do and it is reassuring to know things have moved on so that you won’t be talking about the sex lives of frogs.

Read more of John Adams’ writing about parenthood, family and lifestyle at his blog, Dad Blog UK.

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