Revised U.K. Sex Ed Guidelines Now Address Pornography, Sexting

Newly released government-endorsed report addresses sex education in a modern, virtual context.

In the U.K. new guidelines for educators deal with 21st-century sex ed issues such as 'sexting.' (Photo: Pro Juventute/Creative Commons)

Mar 2, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Liana Aghajanian is TakePart's weekend editor. Her work has appeared in ForeignPolicy.com, BBC.com, Los Angeles Times, and TheAtlantic.com.

The U.K. is looking to revamp its sex education for a new generation, and with the help of a study released Friday, government-supported advice for educators covers issues like sexting, exploitation, and abuse from a more realistic and updated point of view.

Yes, that also includes porn, which teachers are advised to discuss, emphasizing that pornography is "not the best way to learn about sex because it does not reflect real life." The report recommends that young, compulsive watchers of porn should be referred to a trusted, nonjudgmental adult, while the discussion should be taken as an opportunity to talk about distorted images, including "perfect" bodies and the media's influence.

What about "sexting," a 21st-century term explaining the act of sending sexually explicit messages via mobile phone? Schools should be addressing privacy and boundaries from an early age, the report says, while also making sure students understand that it's illegal to "produce, possess or distribute" an indecent image of a person under the age of 18, even if it's a self-portrait.

A collaboration among leading sex education charity Brook and several other groups, the supplementary advice to Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century, or SRE, has been made available to schools and teachers free of charge. It is the first time in 14 years that sex education guidelines have changed in the country.

With the rapid changes that have occurred at the intersection of sex and technology, the update is being welcomed by the government. "It is vital that we safeguard the health and well being of our young people to help them get on in life," said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in a statement released by Brook. "That's why we need all schools teaching sex and relationships education that is up to date, particularly when teenagers' lives are so dominated by advances in technology."

The 19-page study outlines that high-quality sex education in all schools, "including those with a religious character," will include medically and factually correct information, treating sex as a normal and pleasurable fact of life and also one that includes the actively sought out views of young people in lesson planning and teaching:

Children are naturally curious about growing up, how their bodies work and how humans reproduce. Their questions need to be answered honestly, using language and explanations appropriate for their age and maturity, thus avoiding unnecessary mystery, confusion, embarrassment, and shame.

The guide also outlines greater inclusion of children and young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, advocating for sex education to tackle prejudice, including homophobia. In particular the SRE says that teachers should never assume all intimate relationships are between opposite sexes. In this regard, the report was called "groundbreaking" by Pink News, Europe's largest gay news service.

While sex education, including information on HIV, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases, in the U.K. is compulsory for secondary education, in the U.S. it varies by state.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education, while only 19 require that sex education must be "medically, factually or technically accurate," according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, a bipartisan nongovernmental organization. Thirty-five states, however, allow parents to opt out on sex education on behalf of their children.

"As the debate over the relative merits of abstinence-only-until-marriage versus a more comprehensive approach has intensified," states have enacted speciic content requirements, says the Guttmatcher Institute, a nonprofit institute working to advance sexual and reproductive health, in a policy brief on state policies. In 2014, twelve states have pending sex education legislation.