The heart of the matter

21st February 2003 at 00:00
Lynda Brine believes that family love and responsibility should be on the curriculum rather than sexual activities

I am a Year 10 form tutor and obliged to help with the delivery of sex education, accompanied by a health professional, as part of the personal, social, health and citizenship education programme. To do this I recently attended a course entitled "A Pause". I believe this is designed to equip tutors with the necessary skills for dealing with this sensitive topic.

The training followed many routes, from informing students of the methods of contraception freely available, to the diseases they may contract as a consequence of sexual activity. This I feel is important and has value in teaching this topic. However, the third session involved training in the responses we should make to "frequently asked questions". Examples included when a 14-year-old girl asks: "What does semen taste like?" Or a 15-year-old boy: "How do gay men have sex, and is it possible for a man and woman to do it the same way?" I ask myself why children of this age ask such things.

Many more questions of this nature were asked. However, statistics show that only 12 per cent of pupils are sexually active in Y10, so as a profession should we respond to such questions? My answer is yes, but not in the way I have been asked to do so.

I believe that we need to teach children values and respect for one another, to instil a sense of responsibility and not to make light of sexual encounters. To inform is one thing, but to educate in this instance involves conveying the importance of a stable and loving relationship before sexual activity occurs.

Do we make children aware that sexual intercourse below the age of consent is illegal? Not on this course. Having spent some years in Catholic education, I have been involved in endeavours to promote family values, to equip children with the skills to love and to be loved, to empower them with the tools to help create the ideal family unit. While I accept this is not the norm these days, surely it is still what we should be asking our children to aspire to?

I do not speak from any high moral ground. I am myself a single parent with two small children, working hard to give them the skills they need for life. What I want for them, and indeed for the children I teach, is a true sense of their own personal worth. What I don't want is for them to know at the age of 14 what semen tastes like, or indeed how gay men have sex and if, in fact, women have anal intercourse.

My current school is a large comprehensive in Doncaster. The catchment includes an ex-mining community and unemployment in the area is high. We have our fair share of problem children, or should I say children with problems? While some may not achieve academically, what we can try to give them is respect for themselves and their bodies and a true sense of worth.

Surely we should be looking to create a sensible attitude to sex, not, as implied on this course, how to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection and what people do and how they do it.

Remember, just one in eight children of this age has experienced sex. As a teacher and role model for these children I most certainly do not want to encourage increased sexual activity in this age group, which by delivering the course material I feel I would.

We should be trying to bring back the mystery of a sexual encounter. Let's teach about responsibility, respect and, dare I say it, learning to love.

Please do not ask me to teach children about the taste of semen. Allow me instead to talk about trust and how relationships develop freely without pressure or consequence, because my belief is that if you cannot accept the consequences of your actions don't do it.

Abortion in any sense is an experience I do not want the children in my care to face. As responsible teachers I think we should advise our children against casual sexual relationships, inform them more of the consequences, and explain the benefits of not having such relationships.

I cast my mind back to a case scenario used at the training. This was the story of a 22-year-old married male who "couldn't get it up". On seeking a doctor's advice he was told to refrain from sex for a period of time. We discussed the ways in which he could enjoy his partner without actually having intercourse. A Pause implies that this is information we should as educators give our children. It emerged, however, that the reason behind his condition was linked to an unfortunate sexual experience at the age of 17.

I asked the course trainers whether we should question whether the initial problem - lack of trust and mutual respect in his partner- was the reason why this condition has arisen.

But no, we are expected only to teach our children to deal with the consequences of damage due to inexperienced sexual activity.

A course such as this gives children information they do not or should not know. I am concerned about the damage and the consequences of such empowerment, and so feel that I can play no part in it.

Lynda Brine is an advanced skills science teacher

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