What should we be teaching in Sex and Relationships Education?
Sunday 5 August 2012
The Guardian recently reported on lessons at St Marylebone School in Central London where girls are properly informed about fertility issues in their Sex and Relationships education lessons. It observes that this practice seems to be relatively uncommon, as SRE lessons in schools tend to focus on avoiding unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The message we unwittingly give is that getting pregnant is easy. If, later in life, the girls who are led to believe this to be the case experience fertility problems, they are likely to be poorly prepared for this, and their ‘failure’ to conceive may be particularly difficult for them to deal with.
As ‘The Guardian’ observes, ‘the reality is that pupils are far more likely to have a fertility problem in the future than they are to get pregnant while they’re still at school’. As a society we seem to be obsessed with the likelihood and undesirability of teenage pregnancy, and yet the teenage pregnancy rates in England and Wales are currently the lowest they have been since the 1960s, while infertility rates are rising. The article reports that one in six of the current population are likely to experience fertility problems.
In the girls’ school where I was a Deputy Head, one of the members of staff who had been through the IVF process used to talk each year to the girls in Year 10 about her experience. I was very appreciative of her courage in being prepared to talk openly about a very personal issue, and her talks were always well-received by the girls who learnt a considerable amount about a crucial aspect of SRE.
Teaching about fertility, and the lifestyle choices that can affect fertility, clearly has benefits. If we consider that the job of schools is to help prepare young people for the realities of their adult life, including its challenges, then we need perhaps to rethink what we include in our SRE lessons. When the Family Planning Association investigated young people’s knowledge about sex and reproduction, it found widespread confusion and misinformation. As Sarah Swain, Assistant Head of St Marylebone School, says, ‘You’ve got to give young people the facts and educate them about the realities.’ Absolutely.
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