Goedele Liekens: Sex In Class
Channel 4, 9pm, Thursday 6 August 2015
Sex Education in the United Kingdom has often been under scrutiny. Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens reckons her approach to the subject – teaching 15 and 16 year olds about sexual pleasures and pornography – is the way forward.
Lots has been written and said about the British approach to talking about sexual intercourse – or, as the case may be, not talking about it. This time, the focus is something a little different. We’re looking at how we teach our children about it.
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens takes a slightly different approach to most. While most would advocate schools doing their best to shield children from sex toys, sexual images and other associated ideas in the ever-growing social media world, Liekens idea takes the polar opposite approach – show students everything.
With a high teenage pregnancy rate (although it has dropped to its lowest in 46 years) and prevalent levels of sexually transmitted infections (more here), the way to tackle both – for many – is through education. The late Ulrich Beck said that we lived in a ‘risk society’ and Furlong and Cartmel realised that there are now more ‘risks’ to ‘negotiate’ as a youth (perhaps health risks). They were writing in 1997, but the sentiment still stands. The journey into adulthood is different now and some fear that children are growing up too fast – and this includes having sex at a young age, or engaging in sexual activities if not intercourse. A damning statistic at the beginning of the show says 83% of children have seen pornography by the time they are 13 – a worrying exposure rate. It isn’t just watching, though. It’s learning.
Children are learning about sex through pornography but pornography often offers distorted views of sex ranging from unrealistic body images to, in some cases, violence. Dangerous. Poisonous, even.
A secondary school in Lancashire called in the use of the Goodwill Ambassador to take over a class of thirteen 15 and 16-year-old’s – in a country Liekens reckons is the worst for sex education. They have since incorporated her lesson plans into their curriculum and rolled some areas out across the whole school and I hope that every secondary school will show this episode as a start of something new in our education system on the matter.
Over the two week experiment, pupils were encouraged to explore their own bodies as homework, watched different types of porn in class and discuss sexual pleasure. A long way away from condoms on vegetables and drawings of genitalia. The teachers were not welcoming of the idea – at first – but the children taking part seemed refreshed at the openness of the discussions (although still overpowered by the male voices, in parts).
What was worrying was the admission from individuals that they had extracted their knowledge from pornography and the vitriolic tone in which a couple of them dismissed the idea of relationships with women with pubic hair, for example, highlighting the deep need for more education. Female students were not confident in talking about the vagina when alone with Goedele and even less confident when given homework to look at their own body with a mirror they suddenly appeared ashamed. Pleasingly, by the end of the show, the girls’ were standing up to their male counterpart who felt that consenting to sex was a free pass for any other sexual act in the world. Lessons on consent are the thing with the most urgency to be mandatory.
A worried parent questioned the sexologist on her homework assignment for his daughter while another parent laughed when talking about acts of oral sex. Sex education doesn’t just stop at the school gates and I think Liekens approach would need to extend beyond the classroom for it to work. Let’s not focus all our attention on children – don’t forget the adults.
Goedele is right – we do need to talk about sex and we don’t. Perhaps it is this reluctance to talk about sex that is driving those frightening statistics on pornography use.