Friday 4 June 2010

He said, she said: single gender sex ed?

A bit late on this, but Knowsley has been making news in the sexual health community lately. If we had a water cooler, we’d be talking around it about their possible new approach to sex ed: the county council recently announced its intention to consider teaching aspects of sex and relationships education (SRE) in single gender groups. The decision follows a report from the (creepily Orwellian-sounding, if we do say so) Children and Families Scrutiny Committee, which recommended that the Council consider gender-segregated delivery.

Children and Young People Now asked experts to weigh in. Simon Blake, director of national young people’s sexual health charity Brook, points out that young people often ask for elements of sex ed to be delivered separately. Lucy Emmerson of the Sex Ed Forum agrees, and adds that bringing the girls’ and boys’ group together after a separated lesson can also be beneficial for learning outcomes. Dr. John Lloyd of the PSHE Association takes a different stance, stating that as SRE should be delivered as part of PSHE, mixed groups make the most sense.

Education For Choice delivers its Talk About Choice workshops, examining issues around unintended pregnancy and abortion, to young people in a wide variety of settings. Whether we’re working with a single-gender or mixed group, gender forms a key part of our discussions. We encourage all young people to consider pregnancy decision-making from all perspectives, including what it might be like for their partner(s). While young men have no legal rights when it comes to a pregnancy decision, Education For Choice encourages young men to share their feelings with their partner(s) and access professional support where desired. In mixed groups, young men are often surprised about their female classmates’ opinions about men’s roles in pregnancy choices, whether it’s their willingness to consider their partner’s preferences, or to make a decision without such consideration. Likewise, young women find themselves surprised by their male classmates’ strong opinions, or apparent indifference.

Young men and women (and, for that matter, old men and women!) do not discuss the issue of unintended pregnancy and pregnancy choices often with one another. Even long-term partners may never have discussed what would happen if faced with an unexpected decision. This leads to more pressure in the already-stressful situation of unintended pregnancy. Talking about these issues in mixed gender groups encourages young people to talk openly about contraception, pregnancy, and pregnancy choices with their partners and friends, leading to more careful consideration of this situation before it arises. Ideally, this equips young people to make a considered, informed choice about pregnancy in the future.

In the end, I think I’m with Gareth Davies of the Terrence Higgins Trust: this idea perhaps deserves some exploring, but in my experience young people benefit from the diversity of experience that comes with a mixed-gender group. We’ll keep an eye on Knowsley and in the meantime, look forward to abortion education stories here on the blog!

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