My mum and dad never told me that I was found in a cabbage patch, or delivered by a stork. They took a straightforward approach to talking about sex, and always seemed far less embarrassed about it than I did.
Once I started at my all-girls secondary school, PSHE lessons re-enforced the emphasis my parents placed on sex as an important part of healthy and committed relationships. The aim was to enable us to make informed decisions, and to feel confident saying no if need be, not to preach abstinence.
Sex-ed sessions were good on the practical stuff, too. I’m grateful that, aged 16, my schoolmates and I bid farewell to PSHE with an encyclopaedic knowledge of sexually transmitted infections, and the ability to label genitalia diagrams and put on a condom.
The fallacies of Victorian literature were tackled – we were reassured that your first time shouldn’t be horrendously painful and there probably wouldn’t be any blood. Our parents’ generation were on hand to give us the answers they’d have liked to have had as teenagers: you can still get STIs from oral sex, using two condoms isn’t a good idea (and neither is using cling-film), and you can still get pregnant if he pulls out.
It’s a sex-ed model that’s useful and frank, but with one fatal flaw: 40-year-olds have very little idea what today’s 16-year-olds need to know about sex. Teachers think they’re being modern by keeping up with the changes brought about by the pill, but they ignore the sexual revolution sparked by the internet.
For my smartphone-wielding peers, parents’ and teachers’ good work was undermined by online pornography. It was porn, not blood on the sheets, that worried my friends at school. The thought of even the most vanilla sex was nerve-racking – knowing that boys were used to having outlandish acts beamed in high definition and explicit detail to their bedrooms was cause for much concern.
Commentators tend to focus on the pressure porn puts on teenage girls, but it can be just as damaging for the boys. Tyger Drew-Honey, of Outnumbered fame, is the same age as me. In a recent interview with The Times, he said of porn:
‘Say women are making ridiculous noises. If you’re always watching porn, then you have sex for the first time and they’re not making a single noise, that will probably make you think you’ve done something wrong’.
So when it comes to sex-ed, my parents’ generation have the right idea about the style but need to update the substance. The misconceptions promoted by porn need to be addressed in schools alongside more traditional FAQs.
We’ve moved beyond Victorian romances and even Playboy: today’s teenagers need to know that it’s OK not to be waxed from top to toe, having sex for 45-minutes might get a bit tiring and 8-inches isn’t the norm.