When I started this blog at the age of 21 (I am now 28), I wanted to write about my experiences of sex, dating and relationships because what I wanted to find out and talk about regarding sex wasn’t available in the magazines I was reading, the porn I was watching or the websites I was visiting. Like most students at university, I gossiped with my friends about the sex we were (or weren’t) having, whom we snogged at the nightclub and the time Toga Guy wouldn’t leave the next morning.
More recently, I’ve been bringing my sex writing into the educational field. Prior to establishing myself in the field of publishing and becoming a writer, I was a teacher. Whilst it would be inappropriate to teach five-year-olds the details of sex, masturbation and porn, I felt it was important I taught them about relationships – loving familial ones, relationships with friends, the ever-present ‘stranger danger’ and knowing that certain areas of our bodies are for us.
The disconnect between what I felt children needed to know growing up (in order to have healthy, fulfilling and enjoyable sex lives) and what was being taught in schools became more apparent when I was teaching in faith schools. Being an atheist, I grappled with teaching about relationships. Told to teach that love and marriage is between a man and a woman, I intentionally taught the classes when I didn’t have a teaching assistant to help. What this meant was that I could (and did) teach that marriage could be between two people who love each other, and that some children have two mummies and some have two daddies and that this is just fine. Teaching in a faith school often meant there were parents who were quite fanatical in their beliefs and I still remember a question I was once asked:
My daddy says that it’s not okay for two boys to love each other. Is he wrong?A five-year-old girl I taught
Not wanting to undermine the way this girl’s father was raising her, I aimed to be diplomatic and explained that it’s okay for her daddy to believe this [whilst my head is screaming: No! No, it is not!], and some people do, but it is okay for two boys to love each other, just like it’s okay for two girls to love each other. Now, had I taught older children, we could get into a lesson on gender identity and the trans community, but this would have been too much for these five-year-olds.
The news is awash with concerns of teachers instilling their personal beliefs upon children and part of the Teachers’ Standards in the UK is to ensure that these beliefs do not influence young minds. Yes, sure, let’s avoid raising extremists (in all senses of the word), but should we be teaching children antiquated family values? For me, it’s a resounding ‘no’. Our society and culture have moved beyond the Victorian times. Women have had the vote for almost 100 years, many of us have access to birth control; giving us the freedom to design our own lives without the dictates of biology and childbearing, and whilst many men and women are still fighting for equal pay, the idea that husbands bring home the bacon and wives raise the children doesn’t fit into many people’s concepts of marriage and family life.
So, you can imagine my relief when I discovered (just after leaving teaching) that the sex-ed curriculum is changing. Whilst there is still a lot more to change, it is a start. (See here for my full article).
However, what I’ve come to realise is that not all of society is ready.
At the risk of being rude, I’d like to park religious groups to the side. Yet even people with beliefs that don’t subscribe to common faith teachings struggle with talking openly and honestly about sex. We are a society steeped in shame – possibly why the British Government has only tweaked the curriculum rather than a gigantic overhaul that’s needed. Recently, the stigma surrounding sex has become very blatant in my personal life. People I know in professional and friendship circles have distanced themselves from me due to my sex writing. I can understand that the kink and BDSM writing can deter some people, but what of writing about the sex-ed curriculum?!
If we can’t talk freely with friends, close relatives or in online spaces, how will we begin to reduce this stigma?
Cindy Gallop is one of my heroes and she was interviewed in this recent Black Sheep podcast. She discusses her vision of empowered women, an end to rape culture and shame around sex, and ultimately being a step closer to ‘world peace’. In an iconic 2009 TED talk, Cindy launched the Make Love Not Porn (MLNP) website (for me, the fact you can hear a lot of laughing during quite a powerful message is indicative of how awkward we become around topics of sex).
With MLNP, her mission is to have a safe space for videos of real sex available online, much like videos of our dogs jumping around the field on social networking sites. The tag line of MLNP is ‘pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference’. If children and young people are growing up with inadequate sex education, they turn to porn. Porn is not real sex. As adults, we know this, but we still compare our bodies, labia and penises to the slim, tucked in and huge versions in porn performances. What does this do to our mental health and body image? Not good things. What will this do to the mental health and body images amongst young people? Arguably worse things. And teenagers grow up thinking this performance-based sex is ‘normal’. We know all the issues surrounding this: lack of consent, male-driven view, impossible body standards, male-orgasm focused, potentially aggressive sex as standard and these are all essential problems to find solutions for (idea: sex ed). But also, what about the impact porn-as-sex-ed has on sexual fulfilment?
I’m concerned our cohort of Gen Zs will have unfulfilling sex lives. Here are some credible, sometimes surprising, stats about teenagers’ exposure to porn. Notably, 60% of students said they watch porn to learn more about sex. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them. Sex ed is seriously lacking in most mainstream schools. Even growing up with liberal parents, I felt too embarrassed to talk with them about sex and the school nurse’s lesson showing us how to put a condom on a bright blue dildo (heaven forbid they give us each a condom to have a go!) was mortifying enough that it’s still a topic of conversation I have with close girlfriends from school.
I’m not promising or expecting to change the world by writing about sex, but I am hoping that a teenager stumbles upon this blog (or maybe a cool aunty or cousin directed them here) and they found something they wanted to discover, with writing that is true and realistic to real-life sex. Maybe it will encourage them to ask a trusted adult for more information, or maybe it allows them to question what they have seen in movies or porn.
That’s the reason I write about sex and also because I’ve done this:
identify what you stand for – ask yourself, ‘what do I believe in, what do I value, what am I all about?’, then live and work those values. That makes life so much simpler… and you will always know that what you’re doing is true to you – and that is the secret to happiness.Cindy Gallop