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Why Sex Education Needs To Change

Relationships

Split Banana is a social enterprise that delivers relevant and inclusive Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in UK schools. Here Anna Alexander from the organisation tells us about their work and why they need men to get involved.

One of the things we do at Split Banana is collect stories of people’s sex-ed from far and wide and ask them to rate their experiences. The good, the bad, the non-existent – we love hearing them all. 

To summarise: plastic penis’, condoms, bananas, graphic birth videos (human and animal…), STI horror stories, scary diagrams, awkward teachers, laughter, even more awkward parents, embarrassment and confusion. We’ve also received multiple submissions from men who say ‘even now guys in their 20s don’t understand periods’ because of being separated into classes at school.  

And this is the better end of the spectrum. 

At the other end you have rape jokes, fear-mongering, silence, public-outings, misinformation, homophobia, lies, hellfire, victim-blaming, racism, guilt, shame, racism, disgust.

Believe it or not, the majority of these stories are from the last 10 years. Our dads did chip in with memories from the 1970s, but overall this is a picture of what RSE looks like right now. Which actually shouldn’t be surprising, considering that in 2019 the curriculum received its first update for 20 years

“We watched a very graphic birth – twice ! And then had a bunch of STD visualisations laid out on a very long table. No explanation, no conversation just here’s a vid and some STI’s” – 2018

Cast your minds back. The Nokia 3310 was the phone of choice. You still had to use the weird dial-up internet. Bush became President. Eminem was popping off. Mel Gibson was worrying about the size of his penis in What Women Want. The armed forces had only just decided it was OK for LGBTQ people to serve. Section 28 was still in force – meaning that teachers were by law prohibited from speaking about homosexuality in schools. I was five years old. 

The fact that young people are leaving school today with RSE from this era, should be enough to demonstrate that this top-down process cannot be trusted to keep step. If you want to give it further thought, you could consider that our government took another 14 years to legalise same-sex marriage. Or that it has closed hundreds of sexual health clinics in the past decade. Or maybe just take a look at the current PM’s long history of promoting homphobic, sexist and racist views

“My first sex education lesson in school started with a rape joke.”  – 2005

We need an alternative. We need a curriculum that makes space for voices which have been erased from RSE and which listens to what people want and need to learn. 

Some improvements to 2020 curriculum include: information on online safety and the effects of pornography and sexting and an emphasis on inclusive education regarding sexuality. This means that learning about the LGBTQI+ community should be integrated into every session, rather than as a ‘stand alone’ topic. But we want to go further. 

We need an education with flexibility to respond to current events and research. We need sessions which build empathy and share people’s stories. Sex-ed shouldn’t come from a static government or one person’s head: it should be shaped by all of us. 

And we need this now more than ever. From working in schools, we are acutely aware of the need for stories, role models and examples of healthy and positive relationships from a male perspective. We overhear confusion, prejudice and anxiety around issues such as consent, sexuality, body image and mental health on a daily basis. Whilst these issues are not singular to men, male voices are missing from the conversation. A lot of sex educators in the UK are female, white, liberal and middle class, and as such they do not reflect the majority of the young people they support. 

“In fact, porn was hardly mentioned, which seems crazy and probably quite dangerous and stupid when you think about it really.” – 2009 

This is why, at Split Banana, we run ‘What I Wish I’d Known’ workshops with different groups of people. The workshops offer a relaxed and open space where participants can reflect on their experiences of RSE, through facilitated activities and discussions.

Our next workshop invites those who identify as men to join us in reshaping sex-ed. We will ask them to consider – knowing what they know now – what they wish they’d been taught when they were younger; what advice they wish they’d heard. And we’ll ask them to imagine what the world would look like if we gave young people a quality RSE: one which taught us to have positive relationships with our bodies, minds and each other. 

This workshop will take place in Hub67 in Hackney Wick on 14th March, 12-3pm. Lunch is provided and we can expense travel up to £10. This workshop is a welcoming, safe space: free from judgement, prejudice and discrimination. It is open to anyone who identifies as male. We welcome all those from the queer community, including trans and intersex folk. The session’s venue is accessible and has breakout and prayer spaces. 

Sign up here!

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