Sex education is a key part of a young person’s life, especially given how sexualised British society is, yet research from Birmingham City University and Sheffield Hallam University has revealed that these lessons are ignoring gay and lesbian relationships. Considering that a recent YouGov showed that 49% of young people aged 18-24 do not identify as totally heterosexual, it is at least possible that this same number could be in a same-sex relationship at some point in their lives. It is crucial for same-sex relationships to be acknowledged in schools so that young people do not feel ashamed of their sexuality and resort to drastic behaviours such as self-harm or suicide.
This story was not especially shocking given attitudes towards the LGBT community have not become as accepting as is perceived by wider society, but it was disheartening to have the research confirm this suspicion. The researchers cited one teacher that had been teaching sex and relationships for eight years who said: “in terms of the promotion of homosexuality, we don’t really get into all that. If they want to discuss it, I don’t think the classroom is the best place to do it. If they have concerns about it, we say we have the drop-in clinic with the school nurse.” Unfortunately this teacher, although not saying anything expressly malicious, acknowledges that non-heterosexual relationships are somehow not normal. Sex education is often delivered, at least in part, by the resident school nurse however saying that young people should go to the school nurse to speak about same-sex relationships implies that these relationships are somehow medically related.
The subconscious attitude on display from this unnamed teacher was unsurprising given the quote from Keeley Abbott, who is a lecturer in social psychology and was the lead researcher on the project: “our findings highlight a lack of understanding amongst teachers around what constitutes real inclusivity within the context of sex and relationships education”. So long as teachers are under-trained and under-informed same-sex relationships will be neglected during sex education lessons, and as a consequence young LGBT people will still perceive themselves as ‘not normal’.
The government’s response has been simple: palm it off to local authorities. At the moment the guidance given to teachers is that material about sex and relationships should be inclusive, however this crucial part of the curriculum remains non-compulsory. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has claimed that school administration is best left to individual schools, which is true but if you’re not going to encourage schools and local authorities to improve the scope of education then what else is that government department there for?
Here’s the simple response. The National Curriculum should mandate that sex and relationship education should be compulsory, and that same-sex relationships should be a part of this. The government should not be in the business of deciding which types of relationships are better than others, end of discussion. Given that Cameron is trying to portray the Tories as a modern political party that supported gay marriage in the last parliamentary session, it would be consistent to argue that teaching young people about same-sex relationships is totally consistent with their stated policy positions.
Personally I can’t help thinking that this is an open-and-shut case as the answer is blatantly obvious. Young people are exposed to sex and relationships every day of their lives, especially given our incredibly sexualised culture. As a reaction to this we need to make sure that young people are fully aware of as many types of sex and relationship as possible because I passionately believe that when it comes to safe sex and how to behave in a relationship you can never have too much information.