So, I’m sure I need to tell precisely no one that Brexit happened this weekend; it’s all over the world news, and I’m almost certain it’s the first time in history that the whole world is laughing except the British. But I’m not going to go into the ins and outs (no pun intended) of that result or the aftermath. What I want to address is a far older complaint.
One thing that those within the UK know that perhaps those outside don’t know is that the UK’s young overwhelmingly supported remaining within the EU, but were outvoted by gran and grandad, much to the anger and disappointment of the voting youth. I can see why they’re angry – whilst I’m not suggesting that the older vote is in any way diminished or even unanimous, it’s a bit odd that the young people that voted to remain will be the ones living with the decision for so long and yet can do nothing to affect the change they wanted to see. It’s kinda sad.
But almost as soon as they were published, the voices of the young people who did vote were dismissed entirely because “if they really cared, why did so few young people vote?”.
I would like to point out that the survey was conducted on young people who did actually vote, so it’s unfair to dismiss their opinion for something so totally out of their control. As someone who voted and is under 24, I’d like to say that I don’t appreciate that. I’d also like to point out that I share the frustration of the whole nation that so few young people in this country engage with politics of any kind – not just this referendum but all of the previous general elections in my lifetime in which the youth vote has continually declined.
But, perhaps more importantly, as a young person I TOTALLY understand why they don’t engage with politics. In fact I openly admit that I feel that pull towards not voting at each point that it’s offered to me. My main motivator for voting, if I’m honest, is the knowledge that so many died to give me the chance to do it.
The motivation not to vote is something I picked up on before I was even eligible. When I was 16, still doing my GCSEs and totally unable to have a say in the country, the 2010 General Election was a popular a talking point for me and my friends than that shitty movie Twilight and it’s never ending sequels. We quickly found that when the country goes to the polls, politicians come out in force to tell the young how much their vote matters, and to make sexy promises like the one Nick Clegg made. You remember, don’t you? The one he immediately backtracked on, issued a non-apology for two years later, and effectively ruined his career over. But I guess we at least got a cool song from it… Not much of a silver lining when I look at my £46,500+ of student debt but it’s something I suppose.
But there you go – I’d learned already not to trust the promises that politicians make when we go to the polls. Over the years that followed, as I passed into voting eligibility, I quickly learned other things too. Mainly that politicians only care about the young voters when we’re at the polls – the rest of the time they honestly couldn’t give a shit what we think, even if we are disproportionately affected by their policies. Take for example the proposed policy to cut various benefits for under 25s in order to save money. Sure, they work shit jobs in a shit economy where they aren’t guaranteed any hours at all, but that just means they don’t pay enough in as far as we’re concerned so fuck ’em. They should go back to living with mum and dad, even if there aren’t any jobs with mum and dad and mum and dad both live in a cemetary or something. What about the so-called-but-not-actually-accurate ‘Living Wage’? I personally thought the idea of a Living Wage was fabulous, signing numerous petitions to see it. I don’t recall having ever said “WOW, this is so fab, please keep me out of it!” Sure, I appreciate that maybe they can’t otherwise afford to do it (and I know they certainly can’t now the economy is up shit creek), but voting it in anyway is basically a declaration that MPs are more than willing to sacrifice living standards for under 25s to suit basically everyone else. Cheers, guys.
None of this was stuff I’d voted for, but I believed in democracy and I’d naively hoped that politicians would spare a thought for us before plowing ahead with their various policies. But every policy that was announced since I became eligible to vote seemed to have a small print that excluded us as a demographic. It’s hard not to wonder what the point is in voting when you sort of know that’s going to be the case.
The point is, politicians can’t ignore the young and throw them under the bus continually and then turn around and ask them to trust them or even help them when it’s time to make a decision about running the country. If you want young people to get involved, involve them or at least acknowledge they exist more than once every 5 years. And when you want to know why under 25s didn’t vote en masse to stop Brexit, remind yourself that they’d been taught from before they could even vote that their opinion didn’t really matter anyway.
My fifth anniversary with my partner is fast approaching, and that’s pretty great – not only as a testament to the amount of time two human beings can be with each other and not bludgeon each other to death, but as a fabulous excuse for steak.
Sadly, not everything about this will be as wonderful as steak and cuddles. It is an unfortunate fact that other people exist in this world solely – at least it seems – to stick their nose right into your personal affairs. So while most people will congratulate you on not killing someone with a gleeful “grtz”, others will come right out and ask you that goddamn question that most people who’ve been dating someone for a little while get. The one that gets more and more bloody frequent – and frustrating – the longer you date.
“When are you getting married?”
I hate that question. “Why, Laura?” you don’t ask. “Why hate the seemingly innocent, genuinely curious question?” I’ll tell you, curious stranger!
1. It’s part of some unwritten formula for doing hetrosexual relationships
As I said, the longer you spend with someone, the more likely you are to be asked about your marriage plans and if they’re your “one”. While no one says it – and I’m sure a whole bunch of folks are going to yell at me – it strikes me that there is some rule book out there that states time = marriage. But that’s kind of total bollocks. You could meet someone and rush into a perfectly fab marriage, get judged (it goes against the “rule”), and stay together for always. You could also spend years with someone, get married, and basically hate each other the whole time.
Time basically doesn’t factor into it. It’s about the quality of your relationship. While it might seem like the two are related, time doesn’t equal good quality. Your relationship is not a piece of furniture.
Plus, as I always like to point out at this point, I’m 21 going on 16. I still don’t feel mature enough for half these decisions regardless of time spent together.
2. No one is asking my partner this… well, not as frequently anyway
This isn’t a question that only the ladies get asked and I’m not saying that it is. But you have to question why I get this question from everyone during these sorts of occasions, and why my partner reports basically never getting asked this. As in ever. In fact the only time he gets asked about marriage is when he’s being told the benefits for a man of avoiding it like the plague.
If we’re both in the same room together, I am definitely going to be asked about marriage plans. All the jokes about how we should totally avoid marriage are directed at the males in the room, including my partner… who actually wants to get married eventually, kinda unlike myself. Why does my ownership of lady parts mean I should get all the serious questions about families? Maybe it’s because…
3. Everyone assumes women really want to get married, and men are the unwilling party
There’s this prevailing assumption among the people that ask this question that I want to get married. My partner reports hearing the exact opposite assumption – everyone assumes he doesn’t want to, and that I’ll have to drag him down the isle. Frankly, trying to then explain to these people that I’m not super keen on the idea of getting married ever is an idea met with confusion and revulsion. It’s almost a given that the man will be “scared of commitment”, as they so nicely put these things, but the idea that I as a chick would be anything other than obsessed with weddings is abhorrent and offensive to a surprisingly large array of people that ask me these questions.
4. The concept of bridezillas
Because too frequently my desire not to get married right now, if ever, is met with some despair about how I’ll be missing out on the biggest, most extravagant celebration of me. “But Laura!” they cry, “you won’t get to wear that beautiful dress!” Yes, obviously the clothing is the point of getting hitched. Forget signing the certificate or doing the legal bit, let’s just spend all the money in the world to throw one giant bash in honour of me (and my partner), because I really love the spotlight so much.
It’s a total turn off.
5. It devalues our current commitment and feelings for one another
This is kinda the main reason that the constant questioning about us getting married one day winds me up so much. It’s not just that there’s a loaded, gendered expectation that we should get married, but it’s the judgement that is subtly applied to our current relationship because we aren’t married.
Despite its declining popularity and the emergence of more diverse forms of relationships, marriage is very much still championed as the relationship and familial ideal. If you don’t believe me, look at all the tax breaks afforded to married couples specifically designed to encourage the practice. The notion still exists that you find the person you love, and you settle down and commit to them through marriage, and then you maybe even have kids.
The problem I have with this is the assumption that you can’t be totally committed to your partner, forever, and love them unconditionally without having a legally binding document to prove it. I can’t imagine another scenario where you decide, “hey, I like this person, let me give them a contract to sign so they can see that!”
But in this scenario, my love for my partner and our relationship is somehow lesser than those of married couples by default, simply because we don’t have that bit of paper. It doesn’t matter that we are a coherent unit, that we adore each other and are always there for one another. It is irrelevant that we’d save each other from burning buildings or pirate zombie invasions. We aren’t married, so as far as wider society is concerned right now, that makes us lesser. There’s something really sad in that.
I take your point.
Yup. So please people – stop asking me when I’m getting married. Instead, why don’t you try congratulating us and asking us how it’s all going? Cos it’s actually pretty great just the way it is.
Unless you’ve been living under a very large rock for the past month or so, or trapped on a desert island like Tom Hanks in Castaway (WILSON, sob), then you have probably heard about the hackers who stole nudes of a whole bunch of celebrities. In case you haven’t seen it, this is where it all began, and I applaud you on having a life unlike the rest of us internet dwellers.
In the latest development, Jennifer Lawrence – who up until recently has been entirely silent on the issue – has given a statement about her experience, which is both heartbreaking and honest. In her view the hack is a violation and a sex crime, and not only the hackers and websites containing the pictures are at fault – people who viewed the images are also “perpetuating a sexual offence”. In response to those that might have suggested this comes with the territory of being a public figure, she also points out that her body is her own and not public property, and so the ultimate choice about sharing those photos was her own.
I honestly can’t say I disagree with a single word said there, but the whole hacking scandal has brought to light a whole bunch of issues that we have to talk about.
Consent and nudes
We all know about issues of consent when it comes to sex (or at least I hope so, but if you don’t then here’s a nice video for you!). What people might not be so clear on are issues of consent when it comes to nudity in videos or pictures, which I guess is understandable, since most pictures can’t exactly get up and say “OI! I never consented to this!”.
While the same principles apply in theory, (i.e. an excited, resounding yes is given), it’s often very difficult to work out as a viewer whether someone did actually consent not only to having their picture/video taken, but to this being published on the web. This is especially a concern since incidences of revenge pornseem to be increasing.
So how do we know if someone has consented to all of this? Well, you really should use a website with strict rules about who can post what, and avoid known revenge porn sites or sites with a distinct lack of rules like the plague. Commercial porn websites are *usually* pretty safe for example.
BUT, and this is a big but (pun intended), don’t assume it’s all safe because a place appears to have strict rules on the subject. Take Reddit for example, which has a whole bunch of sections devoted to amateur porn, and is widely considered to be a “safe-space” for exhibitionists. Now a lot of people think it’s pretty safe porn, because they ask users to verify their posts – usually by posting a picture or video with themselves in it, holding a plaque with their username and date on it. Except, you can post pictures on their without having to do any of that – the moderators pick who has to verify their photos. Maybe that’s how leaked celeb nudes ended up on Reddit. Safe.
When you know it’s safe, look all you want. When you know or suspect it isn’t (and in this case you knew it wasn’t), then don’t click on it. By looking at these personal images without the consent of those in them you are violating that person, and you are indeed perpetuating a sexual offence. It’s that simple.
Blaming the victim
Every time something like this happens, in the midst of all the anger and blame directed at the hackers, a (hopefully) small bunch of folks make some rather stupid comments about how no one should create these images in the first place, lest this should happen. Actions have consequences, right folks?
There’s one thing that everyone seems to forget when talking about the creation of personal images; that is, the reasonable expectation of privacy that goes with them. Let’s say I come home one day and spontaneously decide to get naked – maybe I’m having a bath or something. If no one is in the house (except people I would feel comfortable being naked with), and all the doors are shut, I expect that my nakedness is between me, the four walls, and anyone I allow to view it. You would therefore be violating my privacy if you secretly filmed me, or burst into my house to gawp, which are highly unusual situations.
That sort of situation is very similar to the one in which nudes are created – people are choosing to create these personal images for the benefit of a limited few, and can expect those images to remain between them. It’s up to them to share those images out after all – no one else gets to make that decision. For most people, it remains a safe thing, with no one breaking the ground rules of nudes. In highly irregular situations, jerkwads will steal those pictures or distribute them without consent in an attempt to generally fuck shit up for the person that made them. Again, that’s violating their reasonable expectation of privacy.
“Hold on a minute Laura,” you might protest, “you have to concede that a lot of hassle would be saved if you just didn’t create them in the first place!”. Sure, I get it. By the same token, I could avoid a lot of hassle by not getting naked in my own home, lest someone should secretly film it, or burst in to gawp. But maybe I like being naked; maybe I want to share some intimate part of myself with someone else. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to, just because some asshole feels entitled to look at everyone’s genitals ever?
People make nudes. People will probably always make nudes. Therefore, telling people not to make them is just not an effective solution. In fact, all it does it upset people, and detract attention away from the real villains – the people that distributed those images without consent in the first place.
Plus, on a slightly more obvious note, it already happened, so preaching about shit afterwards gets you nowhere.
Once upon a time, there was a man who hated a certain sort of person. They got on his nerves so much that he would scream, and steam would come out of his ears. His doctor thought this most unhealthy. One day, the man came up with a cunning plan. “Aha!” he thought, “I can take to the internet to complain about those people!”. So he took to the internet and wrote huge essays in which he branded all those sorts of people “psychopaths”, complete with his own definition of a psychopath…
You’ve probably noticed that I write a lot of stuff which can be said to be somewhat factual; usually based on my own interest or *cough* “expertise”. But, it’s also full of opinions – like my love of pants or my firm belief that prisons don’t really reduce crime (have I mentioned that?). A lot of blogs are that way – if you skim through a few posts, you’ll find an intricate mix of fact and opinion. That’s great; who wants to read a boring, perfectly-balanced essay outside of erm… a place where that sort of thing is standard? Exactly – only weirdos. Fact.
The problem comes when you consider that people like my Auntie, or the users of 4chan, actually use the internet. By which I mean those people that believe everything they read, even if it doesn’t make sense or contradicts other information they have read. Where a non-gullible person might look at an obviously wrong thing (say, an instance where the whole world is branded psychotic) and think “what utter nonsense this blogger is talking!”, other folks will look at it and think it’s some seriously deep shit, kept from us under lock and key by the man.
To explain why this is such a big problem, we need to return to my Auntie. Sorry, Auntie… I’m not poking fun, you’re just a very good example. You see, she is one of your typical Facebook spammers. She LOVES to share things, and puts no consideration at all into whether or not anyone wants to read it. She especially loves the “shocking” “facts” that do the rounds on there – stuff like secret changes to privacy settings, or about new bugs that will eat your insides out that are everywhere, totes. She genuinely believes this stuff, as I mentioned before; she doesn’t even think to double check any of the information she meets, leading to problems where she has made her Facebook page easily accessible to just about anyone, and half her Facebook friends won’t buy pillows anymore for fear of being eaten alive.
It all sounds relatively harmless – but there’s more than just Facebook on the internet. What about scammy emails? For starters, my Auntie is a prime target for the Prince of Nigeria. And what about health misinformation? What if seriously ill people suddenly stopped all their treatments, convinced they were going to die if they carried on?
I’m not exaggerating. In fact, to get my Auntie to stop sharing every bit of crap she came across, another relative told her they all contained viruses that she unwittingly sent to all her Facebook buddies. She didn’t check this and automatically believed it; we’ve not heard a peep since.
What I’m trying to say is that the internet is full of crap, and if you flick through a few blog posts, the same is true. But the internet is also being used by people who find it super difficult to work out what is real and what is fake. We have to put some responsibility on people to use their common sense and fact check things, sure, but we also have to accept that people are lazy and gullible and just don’t do that. Some responsibility therefore lands on the people creating the content. So for everyone’s sake, please consider this when writing your blog! It takes two minutes to state where the fuck you are getting this from, and if you can’t find something to back it up, state it is an opinion (not the same as fact), or just don’t write it. Simple pimple.
I made the mistake of going on Facebook today – apparently some woman is having her second child, it’s the talk of erm… Britain. (Maybe she’s important somehow, like maybe she was working on the cure for a disease or something? I mean, the media is kind of going crazy, so she must be soooooo important!)
Anyway, among the drivel about a peanut-sized fetus, there was this gem about how I am totally going to regret these ten “choices” in ten years. I mean, that’s vastly important information so I thought I’d better read it, before I get that tattoo of my driving license on my arm.
Except, as I read through these ten things, I found I was kind of underwhelmed. I was expecting (stupidly) an insightful list of things I totally think are a good idea now, that I will regret later. That’s what the title led me to believe. What I got was disappointing common sense, things that aren’t even choices, and a few things that are not so black and white as the article suggests.
1. Wearing a mask to impress others.
Okay, so obviously this refers to pretending to be someone you’re not, and not to literally wearing a mask all the time (unless you’re trying to impress members of the KKK or people who really love gimp suits, obviously). In which case the article is totally right – if you pretend to be something you’re not all the time to impress other people, you’re going to feel shitty. Firstly with exhaustion, and secondly with the realization that no one really knows and respects the real you, which is pretty lonely.
On the other hand, there are times when you should probably put your best face forward, and that might involve a little mask wearing. I doubt anyone has ever regretted showering and acting polite when they felt shit on the inside during a job interview, if you catch my drift.
2. Letting someone else create your dreams for you.
Every sci-fi in history says this is totally a bad idea – not least because people in your head will attack the person fucking your dreams up.
But seriously, living your own life is just common sense. Nothing to see here folks!
3. Keeping negative company
Okay, everyone likes nice people. You should hang out with nice people, people who make you feel good. But this one totally contradicts with things happening later on in that it’s kind of selfish and douchy when you think about it. I mean, nice people aren’t nice all the time – people fluctuate. Don’t give up on your buddy because they were honest with you about that haircut you love but they think is hideous, or because they were a bit mardy with you that day their husband died, or because they don’t want to hang out with you when they’re in the depths of a long depression. Just like you, they have fluctuating moods and personalities and are not perfect all of the time.
4. Being selfish and egotistical
I donate to charity whenever I can – time and money, I give everything to support causes I care about. Some people would say I have a selfless side; other people would rightly realize that I do get a bit of a kick out of doing good, so some of it is still kind of selfish; other people would say I don’t do enough because I don’t deal in absolutes. I mean, I sleep at night rather than spending all day and all night helping folks, so I’m just not giving enough. The problem with selfishness is that it’s almost entirely decided relatively – as in by comparison between you and some bugger else. So, basically, stop worrying about being “selfish” by other people’s standards and just do what you think is right.
5. Avoiding change and growth
What can I say – some change is good, some not so good. Avoid the good, go for the bad. Wait… that’s the wrong way around!
6. Giving up when the going gets tough
Over the summer I had a shit job. Most of us have been there – it looked okay, and actually it turned out to be a steaming pile of shit. But I stuck it out based on the notion that I shouldn’t just quit because it was crap and thus kinda hard to put up with.
In doing this, I ended up putting up with stuff that no person should ever have to put up with, including but not limited to: four hour daily travel, eight hours without a break, doing everything on my own, sexual harassment (that was ignored), and an unsafe working environment. My nerves now completely shot, I have quit.
Sometimes, you should preserve. Others you should run for the hills. Learn to recognize which is which to avoid regret and unnecessary bullshit.
7. Trying to micromanage every single little thing
This is explained in terrible wishy-washy bullshit in the article (which I find ironic given later advice!), but the principle remains that you can’t manage every aspect of life. Sometimes things just happen and you can only deal with the consequences of it.
8. Settling for less than you deserve
Hold on a minute… the article said don’t be selfish, and yet this involves that very thing! Sometimes in life, this totally applies – if you work a certain number of hours, you deserve a certain amount of pay, for example. If you pass all of your assessments for a qualification, you deserve to be awarded that qualification. If, however, you are nice to a chick that’s a friend, and she doesn’t shag you, you can’t exactly claim you were swindled – no one said you “deserved” that as a reward. So, bear that sort of thing in mind.
9. Endlessly waiting until tomorrow
We’re all going to die! HOLY SHIT WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! And we haven’t got a clue when, it’s true. So while that does mean trying to get the most out of your life, what it doesn’t mean is not making any future plans simply because you can’t be totally sure you’re going to be alive by then. Future plans are still awesome, and some tasks take longer than a day to complete.
10. Being lazy and wishy-washy
Have you ever spent the day sat in front of the TV? Of course you have, you lazy bastard. There was so much more you could have done that day – maybe you were even thinking that as you watched Jamie and Adam blow the shit out of stuff on Mythbusters. So why didn’t you do it? Are you lazy and unreliable? Are you afraid of taking responsibility for shit?
Or, just maybe, you really needed a fucking rest. Just because you aren’t leaping from buildings or running a marathon every day doesn’t mean you aren’t doing something quite important. Just like sleep, taking a regular break to be lazy is very important. Think of RSI, but for your whole body and brain. Yeah, you can go back to watching Mythbusters in your pants now – do it for the welfare of you, man!
You got to the end!
In which case, you deserve a reward. Like my number one tip for not regretting anything ever? Don’t choose to regret stuff. You aren’t perfect, and shit happens. That, like you, is perfectly okay bro.
As a self-identifying feminist, I am frequently asked by people why I totally hate porn. At this point I like to shock everyone, by announcing that Aha! I actually do not hate porn.
You read that right: I don’t hate porn. In fact, I’m perfectly okay with the fact pornography exists. But, BIG BUT, I’m not so cool with the society in which it exists, and the really awful stuff that happens to porn stars and porn viewers.
So I don’t watch porn – don’t ask me about my favourites, okay?
Why I am okay with porn
Pornography has been around forever and ever, and did I say forever? I mean, the Kamasutra anyone? Totally counts. What about this lovely Roman oil lamp?
I hear you – you’re more of a Manet/French prossie fan, got ya. Sure, you could argue that those are just pieces of art, and that nudity is just the done thing in art. The same argument could be applied to a lot of things, like erotic novels, or sexual photographs, and porn movies.
Let’s face it, folks have been viewing sexual imagery and getting off on it since forever. Some people would question whether we should, but hey, it happens, and I’m totally cool with it. Do what you will my buddies – take charge of your own sexuality, work out what you do and don’t like, watch/read/stare at some porn.
You have my blessing – provided you do it ethically and sparingly!
Why I don’t like porn so much
The last thing you might be worried about when watching ‘Mary’ have an OTT threesome with two dudes is about the ethics of it, I get that. But for the sake of Mary and her two male buddies, for the sake of their lifetime of wondrous shagging, please please think of the ethics.
For starters, her two male buddies will not get paid half as much as Mary for their shag-fest. Which sucks, if you’ll pardon the pun. They put just as much effort into it (if not more, considering that they have to manage to keep an erection and have an orgasm on demand, whereas Mary could just fake it), so they should get paid the same amount.
But they don’t. Because the porn industry is designed almost exclusively for hetero men, and rightly or wrongly, the folks in charge assume that hetero men don’t want to watch two blokes. I look forward to the days in which the world isn’t designed exclusively for blokes that just refuse to pay other blokes to screw ladies for their pleasure. THE SACRIFICE, MAN.
Besides, the fact that the industry is pretty much exclusively designed for straight blokes just outright ignores huuuuuuge demographics of potential porn-watchers. Ladies especially are barely catered for, even though they need to get off too. Lesbian porn – pretty much designed for men. “Bisexual” porn – well, that’s just an excuse for a (usually two-chick) threesome in porn land, which I must say isn’t doing my image any favours. It would be super duper nice if women could have some porn that actually reflects and caters to their sexuality, instead of stuff that peddles the myth that female sexuality basically revolves around male pleasure, or that sex should end when the bloke is finished. Maybe something in which the ladies have actual, real orgasms and actual fun? Then maybe guys would get paid more, too, because there would be a greater demand for penises!
Then there’s the problem of desensitization. It’s been well documented that some people just cannot get aroused without porn, because they’ve consumed waaay too much of some seriously hard shit. Now, how much is too much will vary depending on the person, but the risk is still there. Maybe before dropping your trousers and double-clicking, you should take a moment and wonder if you even need to watch Mary having an OTT threesome to get your rocks off. There are other ways, my friends!
I could go on forever – there’s issues of consent and revenge porn, kids accessing it, rape porn and other violent stuff, for example – but I’m supposed to be revising for my exams. Needless to say, we need to take a long, hard look at porn (haha!), and actively seek to reform the industry so that it’s fairer for the people in it, at the very least!
TW: This post touches on topics around sex and sexuality (e.g. consent and abuse) which might be sensitive for some readers.
Usually when people are calling for some kind of compulsory teaching of health information, they make reference to sex education. For example, some students at my university started a petition for compulsory lessons on mental health as part of the curriculum. Because if we do it with sex ed., they argue, why not do it with mental health too?
Personally, I have higher hopes for mental health education than that. Not everyone will agree, but I think sex ed. is actually pretty shocking. Not in the sense that they teach sex ed. – right on! – more in what they teach and how they teach it.
Sex education is the source of continuous debate, which is understandable in a world where people still think sex can be evil. They have arguments about where it should happen, when it should happen, who should teach it, what they should teach, how they should teach it, you name it. So what do they actually have to teach in schools in the UK?
Well, from the key stage one it is compulsory to teach about anatomy, puberty, fertility, and sexual reproduction in state schools. In secondary school, you have to have specific sex education, which has to contain as a minimum information about STIs and HIV/AIDS. Some people would still object to some of these topics being taught in schools. But never fear nay-sayers! You are legally able to teach these within your school ethos. So an ultra religious school that maybe thinks condoms cause HIV could totally say so, provided they state that it’s their belief.
I disagree with that. Kids need to be told facts as well as a variety of beliefs, so they can be fully equipped to make decisions about their own sexual health. Plus it leads to some frankly patchy provision – every school ends up doing something differently.
Everything else? It’s non-statutory. Some schools won’t teach anything extra, and some pupils can be removed from those lessons by parents. Some schools, like those academies that now make up over half our education system, don’t have to teach anything. And literally anyone can teach this stuff. No offence to virgins – you are totally welcome to do as you please with your own body – but I’m not sure they are the best people to tell me about what’s happens to me when getting jiggy, so I’d really like it if they had some training or something!
This is not to say the only thing kids learn is boobs and diseases. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 requires that our little folk also learn about the importance of marriage in relationships and bringing up children. Now, obviously, I have a huge objection right there too. Because getting married has fuck all to do with bringing up kids. You can be an unmarried couple, or two seperated people, bringing up your kids excellently. A lot of the kids that will go through sex ed. will be coming from those families. Are we really going to tell them that their parents totally suck as parents because they broke up?
Not to mention that marriage wasn’t legal between same sex couples until March. Which means that for the past 14 years, we have been telling kids that gay people suck at parenting. I think that runs counter to that whole ‘not favouring any sexual orientation’ thing governments keep banging on about!
One of the things they’re supposed to do is give you a basic understanding of sexuality. Now, when I was in school, this was covered almost exclusively by an educational video from decades ago. There were two options presented – you were gay, or you were straight. There was no asexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality, bicuriousity, questioning, and so on. It was a binary view of sexuality, with all the colour sucked straight out.
Which led to me basically relying on my friends, family, and the internet to learn about my sexuality. I was basically led to believe that I was a greedy bitch for years. That sounds so… healthy. I’m not the only one either; I know plenty of asexual people who were completely traumatized growing up, after being led to believe that we are all deeply sexual beings, so they must just be broken or something.
Allow me to say fuck that shit. We need to make sure that every damn school is teaching the broadness and fluidity of sexuality. If anything for the self-esteem of a barrel full of kids!
We were fortunate enough to have a nurse come into school to give us all a demonstration on contraception, the first such lesson we had on the subject… which just so happened to take place when I was 15 and half the class had already started boning. Anyway, can you guess what this hour long demonstration was?
Yep. It was an ode to male condoms. She had a huge collection of novelty ones which she systematically showed us, before doing a demonstration of putting a condom on (which we weren’t allowed to do ourselves), and then passing around a book of STIs.
It’s not a big deal; my mum had taken the time to tell me about the pill, and I had heard from a doctor about implants. So I was pretty covered on the heterosexual contraception side. But not everyone is. Not everyone is aware of their ridiculously broad range of options. Certainly the lesbian in me learned nothing about protecting myself from disease – at least not until I looked up types of contraception some time later. And I’m pretty sure no one left that class knowing how to put a johnny on, or where to even get them from. (You can get them from the supermarket, pharmacies and doctors, kids!)
Pornography and masturbation
Porn is a complicated thing, but something that kids increasingly have access to. It’s everywhere. It’s also something the government won’t touch with a barge pole. No sir, that’s not for us thank you!
So then you get kids that are uncertain of sex, learning about it by watching Alotta Vagina having an orgy. That sounds so accurate. It totally doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that if left unchecked would screw up a person’s expectations about sex, or make them feel self-conscious about their body, or cause them to make others self-conscious due to their unrealistic expectations about that person’s body.
Then there’s masturbation in general. In school we were always taught that it was okay to masturbate (I went to a secular school, after all)… if you are a boy at least. There was nothing on the subject for girls. People out there genuinely think girls don’t do it. Maybe they don’t have an Ann Summers near by or something…
Literally nothing is covered about relationships accept the “look how awesome marriage is!” bit. Kids don’t have to be told what a healthy relationship looks like, how to fix their relationships, alternative options to marriage, different kinds of relationships and so on.
They don’t get told about domestic abuse either, even though it happens to them. It’s not like the government is blissfully unaware of that fact, since they just changed the definition of domestic abuse so it includes 16 – 17 year olds (I’d like to point out that I was 15 when I was in an abusive relationship, Clegg).
“There are adverts, though!” you might scream. Sure, there are adverts, but those are generally of women being physically abused by men. What about the young men getting abused by young women? What about emotional abuse? How are kids supposed to spot it and be aware something is horrendously wrong if they don’t know about it?
Yeah this one doesn’t even need explaining. We just don’t teach kids what consent looks like, about peer pressure and sex, or situations in which consent can’t happen. I know it seems like you might instinctively know, but people genuinely don’t. Heaven forbid the first time they learn about consent is from The LAD Bible or Robin Thicke.
Sex is different for disabled people, but that actually isn’t covered in sex education much at all. In fact, not at all. Even though being able-bodied as a young person doesn’t mean at all you will be able-bodied forever, and despite the fact that you might totally want to bang a person with a disability. Come on, sex ed., be cool already.
If you do want to know about sex with disabilities there’s a really awesome video on it here. Seriously, if you aren’t regularly watching Laci Green and co. you should just kick yourself. You’re missing out.
So, in schools they have to cover sexual reproduction. We’ve mentioned that. But yet again they miss out some vital information. Like, for example, what do you do if you struggle to conceive? What if you can’t have children? What if you are in a same sex relationship? Adoption is just one of many options for those situations, but it’s the only one that has been mentioned to me in school. That doesn’t feel right.
Plus, there’s this massive emphasis on sex for children rather than pleasure. A total bummer if you are a person who just doesn’t want kids. Instead of approaching this like everyone is going to have kids because that’s totally what every normal person wants, why don’t we approach having kids more realistically – it’s an option, not a requirement for being a human being.
Can’t the parents do it?
I know some people will be reading this thinking that parents should be the ones teaching kids about all of these things. They should, totally – parents have a responsibility when it comes to sex education too. Yet schools should be teaching a broader version of sex education as well.
I mean, consider this: what if parents don’t know about something that they are expected to teach? If you’re a heterosexual, conservative couple with a pansexual child, for example, what advice do you actually have to give them about same-sex relationships and intercourse? If you’ve had no fertility problems, what can you teach your kid about them? The same goes for porn, and disabilities, and the broad range of relationship types.
Sometimes you have to concede that parents don’t have all the answers. That’s where sex education is supposed to intervene.
So no, sex ed. is full of gaping holes. It’s letting loads of people down. Let’s fix it soon, please, so that whole swathes of young people don’t have to get their important health information from a dodgy internet source written before broadband by someone’s grandparent. Reliable? I don’t think so…