Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Yessss. After a six month review, sex and relationships education in England is to become compulsory for all students of 11 and upwards. At last, at last, the Government has acknowledged what we sex educators have always known - that it's a straight choice between caught and taught.

Thankfully they've come down on the side of the teaching, so contraception, STIs and the supporting raft of relationship advice will be available to all late primary and secondary children from 2011 onwards. And that should mean that more resources are funnelled the SRE way - for student materials, teacher training and course support.

Yes, there are parental and faith school opt-outs, with provision for religious establishments to provide the teaching within the context of their own values. And, actually, though many sexual health providers disagree, I concur with this on the basis that democracy should trump mandatory every time.

But the fact remains that if we can fulfil this promise, in two years' time every adolescent in the country will be receiving regular, targetted, well-delivered SRE education. And with a bit of luck, a few years' after that, we won't be bottom of the European league tables for teen pregnancy and STIs!

PS: following a suggestion from my staff (truly not from me), I am now officially a nominee for the Our Bodies Ourselves Women's Health Heroes Award. If you'd like to vote for me - or even, if you know my work, post a comment in my support, then go to the Women's Health Heroes page and scroll down to find me. Last date for voting is May 8th.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Well, yet another gap in transmission due to busy-ness at work.

But that doesn't mean to say that nothing's been happening. The past few weeks have been full of sex-relevant media stories. And, happily many of them have carried a hidden upside.

Poor Jade Goody finally lost her battle with cervical cancer - but on the back of that, in some areas of the UK the number of women taking smear tests is up by many per cent. The economic crisis means that men can't afford to keep mistresses any more - and the upside of that is, hopefully, fewer broken marriages and destroyed families. Plus, Jacqui Smith's husband has been caught in flagrante with two porn films - but that in turn has brought the whole issue of porn squarely into the public domain.

It's been that last story that I've been asked to comment most on - including a long interview for The Times - and I have expressed concern. Yes, I was the one who in the recent Family Planning Association Debate on the issue of porn argued that there are no easy answers. And I still think that burying all sexual images and tabooing all sexual information - as was done in Victorian times - is a very bad idea.

Nevertheless, it's becoming clearer and clearer that while the general principle of openness about matters sexual still holds true, it needs to be done well. When linked with inaccurate information (all men have big penises, all women climax immediately upon penetration) and when surrounded by problematic values (a woman is only valid if she is slim and big breasted, a man is only valid if he keeps it up all night) porn is utterly harmful.

And, of course, addictive. I get more and more letters from women in particular who are distressed and disgusted by their partners' use of porn - and the subsequent deceit and betrayal where such partners promise to stop but then secretly. Relate reports a steep increase in marriage breakdown that is fuelled by Internet porn addiction (though whether the breakdown chicken or the addiction egg comes first is still in debate).

No it won't work to ban all erotic images. It won't work to think that our society can magically switch back to pre-sexualisation days.

But what we can do is to encourage a process of emotional maturity in our treatment of sex, so that we don't get stuck at the 'big tits, big cock' stage of adolescent sexuality. What we can do is topoint out that screen portrayals are not real life, and that real life sex is much much better just because it is real.

What we can do, in short, is to constantly remember that good, positive loving sex is much much better than the ersatz porn variety...