We need a respectful, verbal orgy.

Let’s go back to sex ed lessons at secondary school, they usually began with: ”And this is chlamydia.” You remember yourself wincing as your health teacher introduced you to STIs on white slides with the same kind of intimacy they’d use to introduce their cousins; the only difference is that these cousins have pubic lice and burning urine. You labelled the same vulva four million times, but today you still don’t know where the clit is – or what it even does for that matter. For the most part, your sex ed has probably hammered the same three messages: do not get STIs, use a condom, and do not get pregnant.

Considering sex is an intrinsic human drive, the amount of time spent teaching it in the public school system is practically negligible. Whilst there have been changes to introduce a new curriculum which creates room for discussion and which has evolved to incorporate an introduction into contemporary sexual habits, there is still a great deal of work to be done. The curriculum covers topics ranging from sexting and consent to relationships and gender identity – but the bulk of the content remains up to the discretion of the teacher. The goal of sex ed is to equip students with the tools necessary to navigate healthy relationships and sexuality once they embark on their sexual life. Sex can be a taboo subject and that is why it is important to create healthy environments where it can be explored and certain myths can be busted and certain fears eradicated.

When it comes to any sexual act or topic that deviates from heteronormative norms, many students feel that their questions were not being answered at secondary school. When I was discussing my ideas for this article with a friend, they recalled a time at secondary school when ”the teacher was asked how lesbians have sex” and responded by ”suggest[ing] the class should search the internet.” Prior to that, ”she’d just informed [everyone] that to conceive a baby, a penis had to enter a vagina.” Even though this notion of reproduction is applicable to a majority, it does not account for everyone. In essence, the same student ”won’t say it made [him] feel excluded, but for him, ”sex ed didn’t answers the questions [it] should have answered”, especially since ”being transgender” – with all the associated ”resources, risk, and limitations” – ”was never mentioned.” In many cases, the main culprit isn’t the teachers, the students, or the documents, but the sheer lack of resources that explore the topics that aren’t as rooted in sex ed tradition.

For those with more open relationships in their lives, sexual education might not seem like a necessity, but for others, learning through the curriculum is the sole option. Hailing from a traditional Chinese family, another friend of mine highlighted the fact that when it comes to contraception, ”[her] parents are strongly against having sex before marriage.” However, by ”having teachers educate [students and] parents about [birth control]”, they were able to realise ”contraception is not only about biological protection, but psychological protection and feelings of safety as well.” In addition, with regards to the heterosexual context, she feels that the emphasis should be placed on ”how to communicate between [romantic and sexual] partners instead of educating them separately.” Incited by the way students are raised and educated, another friend of mine (we sat down and had a friendly debate if you had not already gathered by now) questioned whether ”[adolescent] couples [are] really serious about their relationships or [whether they’re all] just a fling” as he ”believes virginity [still] has value.” I feel that all of the above quotes reveal that something needs to be done about sex ed not just at secondary school, but also in life more generally. Why should sex ed formally have to end at secondary school? Why not introduce sex ed at University? Many students are still virgins when they start their first year of University and use the freedom of moving away from home to explore their sexuality and unleash their libido in full force. Yes, Queen Mary does have certain programmes in place catered towards student sex life, such as a stall that often appears in Library Square or Grounds that offers students free condoms and advice, but I feel like this is not enough.

If we come together as a Queen Mary community and vocalise our opinions, let our needs and questions be known, and teach one another, then I am hopeful that progress can be made in pioneering healthy and open attitudes towards sexual relationships. In short, we need a respectful, verbal orgy. Whether you feel pain in your urethra or simply a desire to get lucky, sex shouldn’t just be on the table at secondary school, it should be spoken about throughout life- including at Queen Mary University.

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