An article in Tuesday’s Guardian (Love in the time of phone porn, 29 January 2007 http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,,2001171,00.html) again highlighted the worrying levels of sexual imagery that young people are exposed to via television, magazines and a range of new media including bluetoothing on mobile phones. The article rightly underlined the importance, in this environment, of sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools that counters the potentially damaging messages about sex and relationships that young people are likely to have received through the media.
Improving Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), the curriculum subject in which teaching about sex and relationships takes place is certainly important. Brook believes it is an entitlement for all children and young people and should be made part of the national curriculum. Unfortunately, however, PSHE is not the universal panacea. For decades young people have been telling us they need more reliable, consistent, open discussion about sex, gender, relationships, body image and so on. More recently young men in particular have been telling us the education they receive at home, at school and in the community was not helping them learn how to be good at relationships and to understand sex. They tell us they turned to pornography for this vital information, and as technological change races on the dissemination of porn via the internet and bluetooth has become ever easier to access. But porn in turn is confusing and reinforces stereotypes, fears and concerns.
The Guardian article talks a lot about the role of schools, but much less about the responsibilities of us all as parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and family friends. No one person or organisation can bring about the cultural change we need so that when young people decide to have relationships and sex they are emotionally ready, can communicate well, respect themselves and their partners and take responsibility for and enjoy sex. Many things have changed since Brook first opened its doors in 1964 to provide contraception for unmarried people, not least the explosion in the number of ways in which people receive information about sex. However, the need for reliable, objective information and advice and our shared responsibility to provide it remains as great as ever.