Channel 4 screened a programme last night about the parlous state of sex ed in UK schools, and the mission of Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens to change the situation.
It really gave me pause for thought. I like to consider myself as very open when it comes to talking about sex with my child. Any questions – I’m happy to answer them. I don’t really get embarrassed about the subject. So, there’s me patting myself on the back and thinking I’m doing a great job, but ‘Sex in Class’ made me feel a bit inadequate.
Goedele was so up front, calm and matter of fact about every subject and area of sex, that she made me feel like a dried up old prude. Yes, I answer questions, but I don’t ever elaborate on subjects such as masturbation, orgasms or pornography. I’m actually just doing the bare minimum when it comes to imparting information about sex.
Goedele demonstrated the appalling lack of knowledge that girls, in particular, in the UK, have about their bodies. I know I was the same at the age of 14/15, but the girls in the class Goedele was working with couldn’t draw a diagram of their sexual organs. She tried to hide her shock at this as she handed the girls their homework. They were each given a hand mirror, which they were asked to take home and use to look at their genitals. One of the girls was so upset by the homework that her parent had to phone Goedele and make his concerns felt. She looked pretty depressed after the phone call.
I found the boys very interesting too. They were genuinely keen, in a respectful way, to engage with learning about sex from a girl’s viewpoint. They each made works of art showing the clitoris, vagina and labia, and ended the programme with far more knowledge, confidence and empathy for the girls in their peer group.
This is surely what we need in all schools. To see how empowered the girls in the class were by the end of the programme was quite amazing. They were telling the boys what was OK and what wasn’t, without embarrassment or apology. To see how much more sensible and thoughtful the boys were was also pretty mind blowing.
By the end of the programme I felt empowered too. Watching and listening to Goedele had given me an answer to my thorny issue – how do you teach sex education to children who have been sexually abused?
The answer has always got to be openness. It’s going to be tough for me. The children I am fostering have been abused from a very young age and their sexualised behaviour is hard wired into them. My reaction has been to shut the lid firmly on everything sexual, suggestive or adult. I’ve wanted them to regain their innocence and to forget what has happened, but it’s never going to happen.
I need to get real. The next time I am asked where babies come from, I am going to have sit down and have that conversation, calmly and sensibly, without censorship. At some point I have to trust in the children’s ability to relearn about sex in a healthy way. I have to dig deep and find my inner Goedele Liekins. She’s in there, somewhere……