The documentary Sex In Class, where Belgian sexologist and TV presenter Goedele Liekens teaches sex education to English teens, raises a lot of questions about the UK system.
We already know sex education in Britain is often inadequate, a luck of the draw, and heteronormative. Section 28 prevents teachers from “promoting homosexuality” so LGBTQ pupils don’t recieve any relevant teaching. In practice, intersex, agender, transgender and genderfluid pupils are ignored too. Even more worryingly, because kinks aren’t discussed, young people can be left not knowing that their desires are sexual- and that they must seek consent when trying them out. I was 18 when I read a magazine produced by my fellow students and realised my “weird fascinations” were fetishes. Luckily for my peers, I hadn’t yet made serious attempts at satisfying these desires.
But not only is British sex education anti-LGBTQ, trans-erasing and kink-erasing, it denies biological facts of women’s sexuality. In school- and in the kids’ books on human reproduction- sex is always described as something initiated by the man, both socially (asking for sex) and biologically: “the man becomes erect and puts his penis in the woman’s vagina, and ejaculates”. That’s a deliberate erasure of half of the biological reality of human intercourse.
Women get hard-ons too
Firstly, women become ‘erect’ too- and I’m not just talking about the clitoris. Without the engorging and lubrication of the female organ, sex is nearly impossible and, even if successful, is painful. That’s why rape is painful. Blood flow increases to engorge the genitals of all human beings, regardless of sex or gender. Without it (consensual, reproductive) sex is not possible.
The way we teach kids about sex misleadingly prioritises men
My second peeve as a feminist is that sex is only described as a man doing something to a woman. It could just as easily be “the woman puts her vagina on the man’s penis”- but it’s not. In fact, with some sexual positions the woman-doing-something-to-the-man narrative is actually more accurate. I’m not saying we should only use the woman-centric narrative. We could use both equally. But we don’t. And this simple idea, that sex is something men do to women, or something women ‘have’ that men ‘get’, is more harmful than it appears. It suggests that men should pursue women and not the other way around, that women lose out by ‘giving’ up sex, that women are always acted on and never the actors. It leads to slut shaming- after all, if men are the chasers and women the prey then a woman who has lots of sex can’t be gaining by it. She has to be losing out. She has to be abnormal. She has to be being used. And men who have lots of sex must be winners.
Todd Akin will (very briefly) love me for this
Thirdly, ejaculation isn’t the only thing that gets a body (not everyone with a womb is a woman) pregnant. Not only must the other person be ovulating, the body has a neat trick to maximise the chances of pregnancy: the clitoris, a large organ mostly buried within the flesh, causes the vagina to contract and push the sperm towards the ovary which happens to be ovulating. That’s what an orgasm is. Sorry to disappoint Todd Akin, but of course this doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant if you don’t orgasm- you certainly can. It’s just less likely.
Sex education should be changed to reflect its biological reality and the crucial part which female anatomy plays in human reproduction.