Explicit sex lessons to help SEN pupils

Family Planning Association launches CD-Rom to help pupils with learning difficulties

Adi Bloom

Explicit images of intercourse are needed to help pupils with learning difficulties understand about sex, according to a new campaign launched this month.

It's My Right, run by the Family Planning Association, campaigns for the need to provide effective sex education for teenagers with learning difficulties.

Audrey Simpson, of the FPA, said: "People often think that those with learning difficulties don't have sexual feelings. But of course they do. They have periods, they have wet dreams. They have the same physiological make-up that any of us has."

To accompany the campaign, the FPA has produced an interactive CD-Rom for teachers and school nurses. This provides information on relationships and sexual orientation, as well as looking at what is and is not appropriate.

For example, pupils are told that, while it may have been acceptable for them to hug near strangers as children, this is not the case when they are older. They are taught to respect other people's physical boundaries, and to have the confidence to establish their own.

"Often, a person with learning disabilities displays inappropriate behaviour, and the panic sets in," said Ms Simpson. "So we look at who can you talk to about sex. Your doctor? Yes. Your family? Yes. Your friends? Yes. The bus driver? No.

"We look at the boundaries you put around yourself, that help you to develop as an individual. And we encourage that development through small choices: choosing what you have for breakfast, what you buy at the shop. If you pick the wrong thing, no one dies. You learn from it. It's about learning what makes you you."

The CD-Rom also includes explicit images of masturbation and intercourse. "It's more explicit than mainstream sex-education," said Ms Simpson. "But you need to be quite explicit, otherwise you create confusion."

John Lloyd, policy adviser for the PHSE Association, agrees. "Often, as children grow, you've got adults with all the sexual and emotional feelings who unfortunately do not have the mental age to match.

"So it's important to give them knowledge to accompany their feelings, otherwise there's the potential for people to take advantage of them. If children know what their bodies are for, they are more likely to be able to say no to inappropriate sexual approaches."

But, overall, the CD-Rom's messages are the same as those in mainstream sex education lessons. Pupils are told not to be pressured into a sexual relationship, not to have sex with someone just to save a relationship, and to make sure that they practise safe sex.

The campaign pack also includes a series of advice guidelines for teachers, explaining how to teach about masturbation and intercourse in an appropriate manner. This includes an explanation of the legal issues surrounding such lessons.

Mark Breslin, who runs courses in sex education in schools and youth groups in Northern Ireland, has already piloted the scheme.

"They're individuals," he said. "A young man with a learning disability - his penis will still go up and down. But unless someone actually has time to go and answer his questions, he won't understand it.

"So we're giving people the space and opportunity to discuss their feelings, and who they are."

In fact, Mr Breslin believes many mainstream pupils would benefit from a similar approach. Sex education is not compulsory in schools, so many pupils are taught only the biological elements of sex, with no discussion of the emotional aspects.

"There's so much that isn't explained," he said. "Once you start saying it's okay to be you, they're able to talk about their feelings, to say, `breaking up with my girlfriend did hurt me'.

"It's about choice and consent. How do you give consent about something you know nothing about? How do you make infor-med choices?"


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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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