Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Battle of Ideas - we do need sex education

Today I took part in a debate at the Institute of Ideas, Battle of Ideas Festival at the Royal College of Arts in Kensington. I have to admit to being dubious beforehand about how many people would be there - first thing on a Sunday morning, the night after halloween. I have done Sunday morning debating slots before with the panel and their supporters. I am glad to say I was proven absolutely wrong. It was a good debate, with a decent amount of people, and very well chaired. I recommend next years festival, and the activities of the Institute of Ideas to you.

The title of my debate was we don't need no sex education and the other panellists were Dr Hera Cook a historian from the University of Birmingham; Dr Jan Macvarish from University of Canterbury and Professor David Paton from University of Nottingham.

I really enjoyed the contribution of Dr Hera Cook from a historical perspective. It is always useful to remember how history shapes our understanding of what is happening now and what will happen in the future. I was struck yet again by how powerfully sexuality is controlled in this country.

It was clear today yet again that we should never underestimate the power of myth and misunderstanding in relation to sex and relationships education and young people's sexual health. Some of the stories I heard today about sex and relationships education seem far fetched at worst, and at best mis guided. But isn't that true of attempts to engage young people in english, maths and geography too - just we fail to question these subjects as much as we question SRE.

Anyways, the rumour, the myth, and the misunderstanding about SRE promise to be continual challenges to the type of education and support children and young people tell us they want. As professionals, parents and young people who want to improve young people's sexual health we must continue to challenge the hysteria, politicisation and misinformation that is so common place.

And on a different but equally important note, when it comes to intimate relationships, people with learning disabilities often have less opportunities to make friendships and establish relationships than their non disabled peers - in the Sunday Times there was a brilliant article called pleasure principle - its introductory paragraph, ' time was when a learning disability meant automatic exclusion from cool music, clubs and clothes, kate spencer meets the people who are blazing a trail to change all that'. And thank goodness there are people trailblazing these overdue and important changes.

And in case you have not heard of Heart N Soul before, go on their website and see the fantastic work they do, led by people with disabilities to promote social opportunities, high aspirations and relationships. They are an organisation that really walks the talk.