Kick sex education out of schools

Trust in kids has reached an all-time low. A recent report by the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC), a cross-party committee of MPs, calls for mandatory, age-appropriate sex-and-relationship education (SRE) for all school students. The WEC says it is responding to the ‘shocking scale of sexual harassment and sexual violence that is not being tackled effectively in English schools’.

Freedom-of-information requests sent to the police in 2015 revealed that 5,500 sexual-assault cases had been reported by schools over a three-year period. But only one fifth of these were pupil-on-pupil offences, and only 60 students were expelled as a result. Contrary to the current panic about sexual harassment, the scale of reported abuse in schools isn’t that shocking after all.

Everybody knows that kids are intrigued by sex. Before the age of the selfie, kids would sneak behind the bike sheds at lunchtime to flash each other. The only thing that has changed today is that kids send each other semi-nude photos on photo-sharing apps like Snapchat. However, teachers and MPs still insist that there is something more sinister about this new wave of ‘sexualised behaviour’.

One teacher gave an example of what she thought constituted sexual harassment to the Guardian: a young boy saying ‘let me touch your boobies’ in her classroom. Remarks like this are commonplace among kids who are curious about sex. Kids push the boundaries – why are we so quick to condemn what is, essentially, normal behaviour?

The report itself states that ‘there is insufficient data to conclusively demonstrate that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a growing problem’. So, when the WEC says it is concerned about sexualisation, what it really means is that we can’t trust kids to be kids. Instead, we should be teaching children as young as four how to have ‘healthy relationships’, and what constitutes sexual abuse.

Teaching primary-school kids to understand sexual abuse, let alone grasp or negotiate an adult relationship, is a terrible idea. Forcing SRE on kids only sends them the message that adults don’t trust them to grow up without constant intervention. What next: are we going to have lessons on how to make friends?

Primary-school children don’t need to be taught about healthy relationships, sexual or otherwise. Children learn for themselves how to form bonds with one another, and, in the rare cases where boundaries are crossed, we take them aside and tell them off – that’s the way it’s always worked. We shouldn’t scare kids about sex and make them feel that their actions and words are always under scrutiny. We must stop panicking about whether we’re raising a generation of abusers, and let kids be kids.

Emily Dinsmore is a writer, student and a campaigner for spiked’s Invoke Article 50 NOW! campaign.

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