Monday 28 November 2011

Myth-Busting Monday – Teaching children about sex and relationships is child abuse

We really shouldn’t have to be busting this one. Would anyone think that giving young people factual, age-appropriate information about their bodies, relationships with others and sexuality is akin to paedophilia? Unfortunately, it seems the answer is yes. At least if they’re a Daily Mail journalist, ‘family values’ campaigner or member of the BNP.

The Daily Mail published this rambling article about SRE last week, implying that materials being shown as part of primary school education were being used to sexualise children and destroy their childhoods.

The BNP latched onto this and started an attack on a primary school in Sheffield claiming that 'Sex education for 6-year-olds is mental paedophilia’. They wrote to the school, 'We believe that your evil plans to introduce these children to sex at such a young age borders on paedophilia and that it is not acceptable.'

And you may remember us covering the charming views of Lynette Burrows on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live last month. She made the bold statement that: ‘this sort of education (SRE) is so unhelpfully obsessed with destroying childhood innocence, in a way that's reminiscent of paedophilia. To me, anyone who wants to talk dirty to little children is a danger to them.'

A worrying trend seems to be appearing. The notion that anyone who talks to young people about sex and relationships in an educational setting is necessarily ‘a paedophile’ interested only in sexualising young children and encouraging them into early sexual activity. Alice Hoyle (the sex educator who was pitted against Lynette Burrows on the BBC) has written about this vile accusation on her blog Sexedukation. But we thought it might be useful to outline not just the case against SRE being ‘psychological paedophilia’ (as the BNP would have it), but also the importance it has in helping children make informed choices as well as to recognise and report sexual abuse.

The Department for Education acknowledges that ‘young people who have good sex and relationship education at home and at school, start sex later and are less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy or to get a sexually transmitted infection’. In terms of sexual abuse, research actually suggests that having information about sex and relationships may help young people negotiate inappropriate sexual behaviour. This quote from the Australian Institute of Family Studies makes the case clearly:

‘It is important for young children to learn about body parts, healthy relationships and consensual adult expressions of intimacy. Age-appropriate education involves teaching children the correct names for and functions of their body parts and teaching them to care for, respect, and protect their bodies. It means talking with them about “healthy” touch. It does not involve talking about “monsters”, “bad people”,“down there” and “those bits”. Age-appropriate education is clear, accurate, positive and protective. Education and access to resources on self-protection and sexuality can reduce the risk of sexual assault. Research shows that positive messages about sexuality and participation in a comprehensive self-protection program (that is reinforced at home) may protect children from experiencing sexual assault’

The majority of parents and health professionals support SRE being taught in schools, so we think it’s time for that majority to stand up and be heard. Those of us who support accurate, comprehensive SRE need to assert our belief in the importance of giving young people the facts, and also how vital this information can be for their own health and well-being.

  • Let your child's school know you support the teaching of age-appropriate SRE

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