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The bike shed and beyond

Sex is one of life's great pleasures, but there has been much concern recently about the frightening effect that extreme images, so easily obtained, are having on young people. The internet is mostly to blame, of course. Just a key press and anyone can view the most bizarre sexual experiences. The worry is that youngsters are coming to regard this kind of activity as the norm. By the age of 13, a recent survey said, a youngster could have watched more than 200 strangers having sex in a disturbing variety of ways. Innocence has been well and truly lost, it seems.

But I don't think we were ever that innocent. The sexual urge is no different from hunger and never has been. At primary school, I remember Anne offering to show her wares behind the piano to any boy who was interested, and most of us were. During a craft lesson, I recall Charlie decorating his genitals with raffia instead of using it on the basket he was weaving and then wanting the girls to admire his handiwork.

At my mixed secondary school, things took a more serious turn as puberty gained a stranglehold. Occasionally there was great excitement when somebody had a naughty photo, and for those who were dating, there was much discussion about "how far we had got" with our partners. I recall sitting in the cinema watching a Disney film called Third Man On The Mountain. Afterwards, I couldn't remember a thing about the film, because my girlfriend had allowed me to go further than the usual necking. By the end of the film, Michael Rennie had conquered a mountain and I'd conquered a breast.

Although our parents would have been horrified to know what we were doing, it was all relatively innocent and harmless. Even at training college, there were strict rules about how much time you spent in a young lady's room, especially in the evening, and this was the permissive 1960s. I remember one unfortunate couple being caught. They were banished from college the next day, their future careers in tatters.

But these days, even primary schoolchildren can access undesirable images on their mobile phones and it is essential that primary schools have an honest, sensitive and realistic PSHE curriculum, especially as so many parents are still reluctant to talk about sexual matters with their children. And whereas sexual issues in my childhood were rarely something that teachers had to deal with, this is not so nowadays and situations crop up that can be tricky to handle.

I recall the fury of a strict, church-going mother when she discovered that her daughter had been kissing Andrew in the play hut at lunchtime. She demanded that I exclude the boy immediately, "because you never know what these things will lead to". In fact, the daughter had instigated the activity and they simply liked each other's company: I saw nothing harmful in it. A week later I had to deal with a boy lying on top of a girl in the cloakroom. Again, the girl had instigated things, but investigation revealed she had been watching some unsavoury stuff with Mum's boyfriend.

Knowing what to do will always involve tightrope decisions. You want children to grow up strong and true, but also understand that physical attraction should be a source of joy and pleasure, not something demeaning and ugly.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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