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Sex Education in Primary School

Updated on June 23, 2012
(photo by net_efekt in Flckr: Creative Commons)
(photo by net_efekt in Flckr: Creative Commons)

Sex Education in Primary School

December 2009 - The UK Government recently announced plans to introduce a new sex education curriculum into schools in England and Wales.

This broadly following the existing Dutch model which has been successful in that country in introducing the subject to children.

It is a controversial proposal as it has raised complaints that it will sexualise children and take away the innocence of childhood.

It has also been criticised for insisting on a compulsory course for teenagers of 16 years and over. Prior to this age group the programme will require parental consent and the right to withdraw children from the classes. The general points about the new programme are broken into three developmental stages.

  • · Between the ages of 5 to 7 years children will learn about physical changes since birth, close relationships and similarities and differences between boys and girls.
  • · From 7 to 11 years physical changes about puberty will be taught, classes will be in relation to reproduction and will discuss different relationships, marriage and civil partnerships.
  • · Older children bertween 11 and 14 years of age will attend classes on sexual activity, contraception, sexually transmitted infections (STI), pregnancy and relationships

The reason it is felt that the system needs updating is because Britain has almost the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe, it is five times higher than the Netherlands. Only around 53 per cent of young people in Britain use contraception, compared with 93 per cent in the Netherlands.

In a recent survey by the Sex Education Forum, a third of young people said they felt that they received poor advice on sex at school. The most dramatic statistics put forward are that in the UK the number of abortions performed on under-16s rose by 10 per cent last year (2008) to a figure of 4,376 young people. Even today young teenage girls have revealed that they have never been told about subjects such as menstruation.

Controversy over the curriculum

Much of the outcry surrounds the resistance to the government attempting to legislate in family life. Another example of the 'Nanny State' entering into areas where it should leave well alone and allow parents to rear their children as they deem fit. Margaret Morrissey, from the campaign group 'Parents Outloud' has condemned government ministers for “infringing parents' rights” and 'Respect' MP George Galloway agrees. Speaking on his radio show he comments that "children are not the property of the state" and that parents should be in control of sex education.

However, Government research suggests that four out of five parents had no objections and wanted their children to be given sex education in school. Nevertheless almost a third insisted they should have the option to withdraw them from lessons at any age. To date very few children in the UK have been withdrawn from classes by their parents as it is less than 0.5% of the total.

There are concerns that sex education classes would conflict with deeply held religious morals and teachings. At home parents can teach the subject in the context of their faith thereby avoiding the contradictions or dilemmas pertaining to sensitive subjects such as contraception, unmarried sex and homosexuality. Particular attention has been focused on devout Moslem families and possible outrage that sex education in a secular environment would go against their strong beliefs.

But it has been pointed out that this may represent more of a generational difference than an issue of religion. Certainly ultra-conservative Moslems of the older generation may object to these new teachings but it is reckoned that many Moslems under the age of 35 years would be more open and tolerant to the curriculum. And of course this would probably be the same age-related difference of views across all religions whether they be Christian, Moslem or otherwise

Faith Schools

More controversially the new curriculum will allow 'Faith Schools' to stage lessons within the “tenets of their faith”. A third of schools in England are faith schools and therefore this means that a great deal of schoolchildren will be exempt from the new classes. This has caused alarm and has even been described as a ‘bigots charter’ in which children could be taught that homosexuality is wrong and a sinful act, the teaching of which could actually be illegal under UK discrimination law.

In any event it is felt that there is little point in introducing a new method of sex education if it is not applied universally. If it is so needed and so beneficial to health and welfare then why should a large group of children be denied the classes.This is especially since the new curriculum will not be about questioning religion but merely giving information and advice.

It raises the difficult question of whether religion needs to modernise and move with the times although that is an issue far beyond the scope of this article. An interesting angle on the role of Faith Schools is that if they can be exempt then why cannot other exemptions be made, or indeed any exemptions on a genuine point of principle. For the first time it will be compulsory for children to be taught evolution.

But what if the parents of a child strongly believe in creationism as part of their creed? Should they not be allowed to withdraw their child from classes on evolution? Even if a parent of a teenager objected to the syllabus in a History topic or in Politics or Sociological issues. Could they not have the same right to object on the grounds that their child is being indoctrinated by being taught a viewpoint that they vehemently disagree with. It could descend into absurd extremes if the principle was applied fairly.

The role of the Teacher

Traditionally it is an accepted fact that it is difficult for children to ask their parents about matters relating to sex and reproduction. It can be comfortable to learn from teachers despite the blushes or embarrassed sniggers from the back row of the classroom. Parents can still have worries about this as they may not know the teacher well. They may not know what framework and values the teacher possesses. However as with any state curriculum, surely the teaching on sex education would be standard across all teachers irrespective of their own personal values. We should feel secure that they would approach the subject in a professional and objective manner as they would any class.

Ben Hicks of 'Brook', an organisation that provides sexual health information and advice to young people, explained that there has been an immediate misconception about the new programme in the media. This has caused worries among parents of the sexualisation of young children and a loss of innocence at too early an age. He emphasises that "sex education is not sexualisation" and particularly among 5 to 7 year olds there is no actual teaching on sex at this level. Young primary school children will learn likes and dislikes, well-being and welfare, personal hygiene, the process growing up and learn about the main parts of their bodies. He states that the intention is to empower children and help them develop a healthy respect for themselves.

It is important to remember that it is not all about sex and reproduction. The curriculum is oficially described as 'Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education' or PHSE for short. Therefore it will cover a broad spectrum encompassing well-being, confidence, self-esteem, positive relationships and good citizenship. Children are naturally curious about their themselves, about others and where they came from. There seems little harm in them being taught about the facts of life at an age-appropriate level suited to their stage of development and their understanding.

Certainly parents have rights and these should be respected. But children also have rights to be informed on matters that can and will affect their health and their welfare now and in the future. The brittle fault line between family and state is always a sensitive area and it will be interesting to see how the new curriculum is received once it is put into action.



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    • ancientgreen profile image

      ancientgreen 5 years ago from Augusta, GA

      Great article, Comprehensive Sex Education should be taught in all schools, our children deserve it!

    • profile image

      jilson 5 years ago

      ya iam agrred in ur argument young generation must know about the sexual changes. its help them to grow in matured

    • TroyM profile image

      TroyM 6 years ago

      This Hub provides a better insite into sex education. Good article.

    • profile image

      kelikelloggs 6 years ago

      I am 27 year old mum of two. My eldest, 5, has just started year 1 and my youngest, 4, has just started reception. I am lost as to what is for the best for my children. I recently signed a consent form to say I agree to PHSE including sex education in line with the government set curriculum. I am now unsure if I should withdraw this consent. I fully appreciate that knowledge is power and that with the right information an informed decision can be made, I do however feel that too much information will lead to early curiosity. For example, when I was at school I was 11 before I was introduced to basic puberity issues and contraception, I was then around 14 when sex was the talk of the biology classroom. I first had sex with my partner, (who I am still with today) at the age of 16 and fell prenant at 21, which just for the record, I now beleive was too young. Only a small percentage of my friends had sex before this and none of them fell pregnant. Which sways my view that to introduce sex education too early will of course make the pupil more aware of facts but may also make them more likely to act upon these facts. Similar to tellingg a child not to touch those sweets left in front of them, 9 out 10 are likely to! I feel school life as already taken away some innocence i.e. my children have both been having nightmares about death and my youngest is petrified of growing old (even to 5, her next birthday) because it has been the talk of school, through books and other issues that basically everybody grows old and dies. So you can see that this particular subject has been taking out of my control (unwillingly) and I am afraid that PHSE will do the same.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 6 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Well rounded hub, but I must disagree with sex education as its purpose seems to be to introduce the whole scope of adult sexuality and all of its perverseness as well. I see nothing wrong with teaching the basics as it pertains to biology, and there is no need to be prudish either. However, will a lack of sex education cause two people not to fall in love? Will a lack of sex education cause them to not create children? I think not!

      We certainly don't need to make kids feel ashamed for having sexual feelings and we don't need to hide anything, but why this movement to expose every facet of sexuality? As a Christian, I am against homosexuality, however, in a public school setting, we should neither condone nor speak against it as a moral choice, and there is no need to teach kids anything about it at all, since if the progressives are right and they are born with that desire, they will naturally turn to the homosexual lifestyle all on their own without outside help.

      The ONLY reason sex education is "needed" is because there are so many people getting diseases and getting pregnant. The reasonable alternative is teaching old morals and abstinence. It used to be that sexual awareness started at a much later age, but now 12 year olds are dressing for the part and doing the act. If anyone is wondering why, just look at music videos and at how much sex is a part of Western culture. Cars are "sexy". I've never understood this, but people having been saying it for the last few decades. A car is a piece of transportation, it can even be a symbol of freedom or maturity, but now it is also an accessory to enhance our look of vitality.

      I guess what I'm trying to express is that school intrudes on morality when it should say nothing at all. If parents want their kids to learn about protection, that is their right and in the interest of freedom for all, I support their right to do so. If parents want their kids to learn abstinence, that is their right and they can sit their own kids down and teach them. We rely too much on school and act as if parents have no rights. If the state knows best, who decides for the state what is best?

      Great hub, you handled a controversial issue well and made me think, in fact strengthening my belief in individual rights over that of the community or government. You made a follower out of me.

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 6 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks Safiq, france1982, The Monk and Stacey for your comments. Very good last point there about the different stages of maturity and of course parental involvement

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 6 years ago

      it's an important subject but not all children are ready for "the talk"

      it probably depends on individual maturity level and having the parents involved in this discussion is vital.

    • TheMonk profile image

      TheMonk 6 years ago from Brazil

      This is some delicate subject. My parents never talked about that kind of thing. I just had to read a lot and talk to the few friends I had at that time. It turned out ok, but two of my friends got their gf pregnant before turning 16! That´s why I think it is a great idea to introduce the subject at an early age. Nice hub!

    • france1982 profile image

      france1982 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      I think it is a useful hub. FYI, I have just watched "Let's Talk About Sex The Film Trailer"... .

    • safiq ali patel profile image

      safiq ali patel 6 years ago from United States Of America

      This article provides a better insite into sex education that many of the mainstream media. Of course people want to know about current government policy towards sex education but there is very little information out there. Your published hub is a very useful guide for anyone wanting to understand where sex education in schools in the 21 Century in the United Kingdom is up to.

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks for stopping by attemptedhumour and thanks for the comment.

      It's an interesting topic and attracts many viewpoints.

      All the best

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 7 years ago from Australia

      Hi mate, great topic I answered every single question put to me by my two daughters, at the time of asking, with some of them being rather tricky to answer. I believe that that is the correct time and place to educate our kids and i wish i'd have had a bit more knowledge in the so called swinging sixties. I also think that sex education in schools is a must, but of course it is not the view of everyone. Cheers mate.

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Hi LilMsMoonshine

      I take your point. It's preparing kids for the dangers and challenges of growing up in the real world.

      Thanks for stopping by

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Hi Lady E

      Thanks for reading. Maybe a good idea there. Kids develop in their own time. It's hard to have a standard approach that would suit everyone

    • LilMsMoonshine profile image

      LilMsMoonshine 7 years ago from West Houston, Texas

      Knowledge is Power. I feel that the more a child knows, the better prepared he/she will be when any particular situation arises. We teach our kids as young as 3 what to do in case of an emergency and how many times has the news reported that a child, by dialing 911 or seeking help, was able to save the life of another person? We teach our young ones to run away from strangers and to stay far away from a person in a car, etc....Sex education is just another one of those situations where information can mean the difference between an informed decision and an unwanted pregnancy.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Oh Shinkicker - what has the world come to? I personally think 7-10s should be left out of Sex Education. Maybe parents should be given resources on how to introduce the topic to their kids, when they feel they are ready to. (as some people think it's a difficult topic for parent and child).

      Great Hub. :)

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks General

      It's a delicate subject

    • GeneralHowitzer profile image

      Gener Geminiano 7 years ago from Land of Salt, Philippines

      Great stuff here and delicate too... Thanks for bringing this up...

    • profile image

      Janine D 7 years ago

      I'm a public health student with a particular interest in this topic and the article. Was wondering which references you used throughout the article?

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Same here in Glasgow Mary, they look so young, you wonder how they cope with babys.

    • profile image

      MarygrauSheila 7 years ago


      I loved reading this hub. I'm sure the parents of these kids born by kids will be delighted by the new Britain sex education system. It is not nice to see these very young teenagers pulling boogies with their very little energy out of the public bus. I see many of them here too.

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks prasetio30, good to hear a teacher's perspective

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I support this hub. As a teacher, I think they have to know the information about sex education than they searching by their self. And the result is not good for them. such as: they try doing early sex or free sex.

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 7 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks Rob. In the UK they're now going to introduce classes in personal banking for kids.

    • Rob Lattin profile image

      Rob Lattin 7 years ago from Born in Chicago, now I'm in Mostly Michigan

      Good article. Another aspect which I feel is important, and why I took my kids out of the public school and parochial systems and into homeschooling is that even if the government's long arm seems benign when instituting such changes, two variables creep into the pot. the first is that once the government does one thing it makes changes as time goes on and oversteps its bounds. The other other variable has to do with over-exuberant teachers and schools that go to far believing the government mandated programs are inadequate and therefore need "school-assisted" compensation. In the US, that's when schools go way to the left and assume parental control.

      what crazy times we live!

      Keep up the writing.