EROTIC MAGAZINE FOR WOMEN AND COUPLES » Sex Articles » Sex education at every age (yes, even yours!)
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When should sex education begin? Many of us will have an idea in our heads of the ‘birds and the bees’ talk—a brief and possibly awkward overview of how babies are made, delivered just a year or two before we become physically capable of making them ourselves. But ‘sex education for children is actually a bit of a misnomer. The topics which are taught in a standard PSHE class (Personal, Social, Health and Economic education) are far more wide-ranging than simply babies, condoms and STIs. Young people today, with a good enough education, will be educated on things like consent, identity, gender, sexuality, personal autonomy and much much more. So when should this vital education begin?

The UK Government recently floated the idea of banning sex education for children under 9, and many people (me included) are shaking their heads. One of the key problems with sex ed is that so many people carry the misconception that it just means teachingƒ children how to have sex. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Sex ed is a very broad category—it’s relevant at every stage of life, and there are age-appropriate lessons about consent, bodily autonomy, identity, community, families, love and much more that are worth teaching to even the youngest children. I know everyone reading this will be an adult probably long out of school, but don’t think you’re off the hook either: there’s plenty you can still learn about sex, whether you’re 18 or 80. Let’s dive in!

Sex education for children

Young children: birth to age 9

From the moment they are born, children are incredibly curious about the world and their place within it. You can teach infants a lot about their own bodies even before they have the language to understand it in the same way you do: making eye contact and seeking physical cues before you touch them, or withdrawing your touch if they seem to be in pain or unwilling. Avoid forcing young children to hug relatives or friends when they are giving cues that say they don’t want to (shyness, hiding, withdrawing) etc.

You can also model consent in your family life—respecting adult ‘no’s in front of your younger children gives them a model for behaviour that will help them understand that their own boundaries should be respected too, especially when it comes to their bodies and where/whether they are touched. Other aspects of sex education are vital for young children too: showing them different family models (single/solo parents, same-sex parents, foster families etc) is vital to help them understand the world and their place within it.

You can also help young children by teaching them the medical terms for parts of their bodies and what those parts do. The NSPCC recommends teaching young children ‘the underwear rule, that no one ever has a right to touch them beneath their underwear. The charity even has resources that are age-appropriate and designed to help parents have this conversation. In fact, their website also explains very neatly why it’s vital that children are taught how to talk about their bodies and what inappropriate touch might be like from a very early age. One of the things that abusers often rely on is shame and secrecy—giving your child the language to describe their own body and teaching them they do not need to be ashamed of their genitals is a powerful tool to help protect them from those who might abuse.

As you can probably see from these examples, these lessons are relevant and important long before a child reaches the age of 9. You can give your child a brilliant grounding in consent and bodily autonomy by modelling consent culture, teaching them accurate language, and encouraging them to ask questions and open up to you without the risk of being shamed for it.

Throughout school

Naturally once children are at school some of their sex education will come from teachers: in biology classes they’ll learn the basics, and in PSHE they will be taught about some of the important broader topics that are so vital for everyone to understand. Things like consent, personal identity, gender and sexuality. However, funding for sex education for children is and always has been patchy and is very dependent on school resources as well as the outlook of the school.

If you’re in the UK, you can check on the Family Planning Association website to see what your child should be learning in sex education classes, but there will always be more that parents and carers can teach them. If you aren’t sure what your child is learning, ask the school! In the best-case scenario, they’ll likely have a wide range of topics to explore and plenty of support to ask questions, but in the worst case, they may be being given abstinence-only education (which we probably don’t need to tell you on a porn site is definitely a bad way to go!) or no sex education at all. The most important thing for parents and carers to do is to pay an active interest in your child’s sex education, the way you would with the rest, and help to fill in any gaps or answer questions to suit your child’s needs as they grow up. If you need help, sites like Scarleteen and Bish have a wealth of resources that you can lean on.

Sex education as an adult

This is, naturally, where you come in! No matter how good or bad your sex education was at school, you can still continue learning long into your adult life. And the great news is that as an adult, sex ed can be way more fun because it can include things like ethical porn and erotica. Moreover, because it’s self-directed education, you can choose what you want to learn. The down side of this is that there’s so much information online, and you don’t have directed learning, it can be hard to know which sources you should trust. Hopefully, the following can be a useful starting point for you to explore adult sex ed for yourself!

Blogs + Podcasts

This is naturally a huge category, and not one I’ll be able to give a comprehensive list for. But there are plenty of bloggers, podcasters and other influential folk who offer great sex advice and often give a really fascinating insight into sexuality as a whole. The best way to find what you’re after is to follow some influencers you trust, then broaden that over time by picking up recommendations from those people too. You might want to give you a few to start from: Hannah Witton gives fabulous advice over on YouTube, Dirty Lola is a US-based educator who runs live Sex Ed events in NYC, Dr David Ley is a clinical psychologist specialising in sex who has written a number of books including The Myth of Sex Addiction. Which brings me on to

Books

Likewise with books, it’s impossible to give a comprehensive list, but I always recommend ‘Enjoy Sex: how, when and if you want to’ by Justin Hancock and Meg-John Barker which gives a fabulous (and caring, easy-to-access) intro into not just sex but desire, identity and consent as well. ‘Come as you are’ by Emily Nagoski is a classic, and it’s a classic for a reason—many people find her advice on desire really resonates with them as they’re trying to articulate the way their own desires work. If you want to get philosophical, I recently adored ‘Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again’ by Katherine Angel, which is a really interesting exploration of sex after #MeToo, and made me reconsider the ways in which we talk about consent.

Porn as sex ed

It wouldn’t be ethical to show porn to anyone under 18, but now that you’re old enough to watch it yourself there is lots that you can learn. Whether it’s picking up new tips on how to give a blowjob to learning all about tantric sex. There’s also plenty you can find out about kink—adult producers often get access to cool kink spaces with equipment you probably don’t have at home, and seeing new ideas in action is a surefire way to get your own creative juices flowing!

Sex therapy

If you are looking to explore a particular sexual issue, there are many trained therapists who can help you work through it one on one—or as a couple, if you want to explore with your partner. The UK Council for Psychotherapy allows you to search for providers who specialise in sex, or you might find the person for you

Talks and workshops

Of course there are online talks such as the TED sex ed series, but it’s also worth exploring events in your local area. If you’re in or near London, the Vagina Museum offers regular talks and workshops on everything from flirting/dating advice to information on the AI and other tools that sit behind sex tech.

If you’re not sure where to start, sites like Fetlife can be a great source of info – they offer events listings with education being a key category. Definitely one for the kink-curious, though there are offerings at the vanilla end of the spectrum too (whatever your flavour, enjoy!), a quick browse at the time of writing shows sessions on rope bondage, impact play or tantric massage as well as longer weekend retreats where you get to explore a variety of different kinks, tricks and ideas.

Sex education never stops!

Hopefully, this article has given you a useful overview and some nice springboards for continuing your own sex education. Still, I’m going to conclude with what I think is the best way to educate yourself about sex and pleasure: talk! Talking to partners, friends, and anyone else who’s up for chatting is a way to keep you healthily interested in sex, and get perspectives from people who have different experiences to you. As a professional sex writer, I’m often the one people come to with questions (or fun stories!) about their own sex lives, and one of the things that stands out most clearly is that the more comfortable people become articulating their needs and desires, the more they seem to enjoy sex. Treating it like a fun hobby (which it often is for many of us!) and giving it the space and time that you’d give any other passion in your life. So: educate yourself, communicate about sex, and if possible challenge the government whenever they try to remove vital sex education for children from the curriculum. We all need sex education—and it can be tailored to every age!

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