Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sex and relationships - what should they teach us at school?

Nadine Dorries MP

I watched Nadine Dorries, MP, on The One Show yesterday and was immediately taken back to the mid-1960s when Mary Whitehouse was campaigning against the permissive society. My first reaction was 'Oh no, not someone else telling us what we should and shouldn't do!' But my interest was captured - after all we have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, so Nadine is not talking about a minor problem. She proposes formalising the content of sex education in the UK to give more emphasis to teaching girls how to resist the pressure on them to conform to a highly sexually orientated culture and to be able to say 'NO.'

Has our society become obsessed with sex?
I don't profess to know what precisely should go into the best sex education system for our young people. 
What I do feel at an instinctive level is that somehow our view of sex and relationships has got skewed. We are bombarded with sexual images on a daily basis and we are becoming de-sensitised to what is okay and what is not. It would be easy to put forward a case that our society has become unhealthily obsessed with sex. But that's not the whole story - sex is an important and fulfilling part of a healthy relationship. In the right circumstances sex is fun and it's only right that we should be able to enjoy a joke with a bit of innuendo. Finally, having been part of the swinging sixties myself, I cannot bring myself to suggest that good and loving sex only happens when you are in a stable and long-term relationship. There are many possible permutations of what works for different people.  All of which makes this a much more complex subject than it seems.

Creating healthy relationships that include sex
Sexual attraction is a natural part of the process of finding a mate and there is no denying the power of that chemistry at times. It can lead us into trouble - or into the relationship with our soul-mate. Embracing our natural interest in sex while also having the strength to say No when it's not right for us is a hard lesson to learn. I'd like to think that whatever we are teaching children and young people, the aim is to give them information that balances the mechanics of sex with the importance of building loving relationships. I'm given some hope in this by the information on the website of  The Sex Education Forum of the National Children's Bureau. 

   Nigel and I see many couples who are concerned about the intimacy in their relationship. While some problems are based on unrealistic expectations, many more stem from a general lack of knowledge of how to talk about more intimate needs in ways that balance the differences between the partners. 

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