With a increasingly sexualities society (Mulligan, 1994; Kumar, 2013) and the influence the media has over young people (Slough, 1995), it mess pertinent to ask the question why as a nation, are we not more clued up in preventing rather than recovering from such tragedies? A noted aim of Sex and Relationship Education (SERE) is to teach about awareness, knowledge and correct actions related to sexual abuse (Lobber et al, 2010) to ensure the learner has the best chance of societal integration and healthy sex life (Lobber et al, 2010).
Herein lies the concern, differing societies engage differently, leading SERE to assume many guises (Lobber et al, 2010; Fontanne et al, 2012). The dichotomy for policy makers and Laotians concerned is that relevant and appropriate content has to be offset against the fear of public outcry (Consoled, 2012; Chou, 2012). Sex and the surrounding paraphernalia is still seen by some, especially parents or those involved in the education of children, as taboo (Former, 2011).
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It is a subject that evokes an unusually deep emotional response in a wide demographic of people (Vassar, 2011), perhaps because sex and relationships are something we all feel a connection to. Perhaps then surrounding such controversy it is little surprise that there is elegance to update national policy (Evans and Trip, 2006; Confined, 2012), indeed there has been no major update to any government guidelines concerning SERE in 13 years (Evans and Trip, 2006; Holly, 2012; Sex Education Forum, 2013).
Invariably this has led to schools and educators hesitant to deliver any form of SERE (Former, 2011) explaining the comment of the Sex Education Forum’s claiming a one in three reply of ‘poor’ or Very poor’ amongst respondents concerning their experience of SERE (Sex Education Forum, 2013, p. 4). Initially this echoes the contention we know surrounds SERE, however the Sex Education Forum is an independent body, even advising government policy, adding validity to such statements.
The previous two and the current government have come under criticism (Evans and Trip, 2006; Former, 2011; Holly, 2012, Sex Education Forum, 2013) about failing to enact meaningful change in support of schools in this clearly vital area of education (Lobber et al, 2010; Fontanne et al, 2012). There is an assumption that governments would wish to enact decisive and lasting policy change after weighty social change is promised, yet Evans and Trip (2006) have suggested that more radical policy is necessary than has been thus implemented. Such policies may even go as far as introducing pornography within the classroom (Holly, 2012).
Marled (2012) suggests the current Coalition Government has already hastened and strengthened reforms and guidelines in the wake of recent abuse tragedies such as those in Recordable and Exosphere (Marled, 2012; BBC News, 2013; Burke, 2013). One must be wary to believe such rhetoric in light of these circumstances, as it is common practice for such vague press releases to appear, simply to soothe public fear and discontent. This may be cynicism on the writer’s part though and the current Coalition does intend to release a new curriculum for schools in 2014 (Great Britain, Department for Education, 2013).
It was hoped by pupils in particular that SERE would feature strongly within the revision (Former, 2011) yet it seems that the trend of ambivalence towards SERE continues. Even with an extended consultation period on the curriculum, both pupils (Former, 2011) and advisory councils (Sex Education Forum, 2013) feel that their views or recommendations have been ignored. The position of SERE within the curriculum was meeting all parties wanted to see reinforced with the Sex Education Forum calling for SERE in the form of Personal, Social and Health Education (SHE) or better, standalone to be made statutory (2013, p. ). The proposal curriculum (Great Britain, Department for Education, 2013; Sex Education Forum, 2013) will not however, be making this so. This course of action is analyses by Even and Trip (2006) as predictable, claiming that despite valid and objective support, orthodoxy persists in education. Perhaps disappointing as if there can be a shift in orthodoxy regarding SERE, profound social and demographic benefits may be seen.
Sweden has had a strong form of SERE embedded in practice for over fifty years (Lobber et al, 2010) and enjoys a high standard of social stability and new from the current Coalition Government (Analysis: Cameraman’s Swede Dreams, 2012). It is dangerous to make broad sweeping statements from limited sources, especially of those with a distinctive demographic difference to the I-J. It is usually agreed though that SERE should learn from those with best practice globally (Livingston and Haddam, 2009; Chou, 2012), perhaps lessons may also be learnt from the Finnish model.
Having had tooth statutory and non-statutory shapes of SERE, Lobber et al (2010) surmises that it is the statutory model that returns the cohesion and essential improvements to sexual health political leaders crave (Evans and Trip, 2006). Instead of taking the opportunity to make SERE statutory content, this Coalition Government has drafted a proposal that has elements of SERE embedded within the new science curriculum (Great Britain, Department for Education, 2013). Science by nature is objective and if for this reason SERE was amalgamated then it is commendable, combating bigotry and misunderstanding (Chou, 2012).
As Lombardi (2012) helpfully reminds us, humans the world over reproduce in the same way and so taking a scientific approach follows. These laudable reasons for merging SERE within a broader science curriculum appear not to be the motive though. Nearly twenty years ago Slough (1995) instructs how children should be aware of basic reproduction biology and yet this is not stipulated for today’s learners. It would appear SERE is once more regressing to a state of UN-objective and UN-founded content (Hess, 2010; Former, 2011; Lombardi, 2012; Sex Education Forum, 2013).
It is difficult to tell if this slide is uh to bad advice or simply to be purposefully uncontroversial (Vassar, 2011; Confined, 2012). It is unlikely that poor advice is the primary reason as there were both lengthy consultation periods on the draft curriculum (Great Britain, Department for Education, 2013) and extensive data from numerous reputable studies (Evans and Trip, 2006; Livingston and Haddam, 2009; Lobber et al, 2010; BC Council for Families, 2011; Former, 2011; Channel 4, 2013; Sex Education Forum, 2013).
These aversions to objective SERE is unhelpful to learners who are understandably worried about hangers happening during puberty (Former, 2011; Sex Education Forum, 2013) and have a right to know (Mulligan, 1994). These learner responses are supported by More (2012) who asserts learners are inquisitive for biological reasons. Questioners do not simply stop questioning Just because they are ignored (Lobber et al, 2010). Instead they seek answers from other sources (Slough, 1995; Holly, 2012) with Hess (2010) commenting that these sources should be UN-ambivalent as possible to reduce over simplicity.
It is crucial that correct answers are given as The Framework for Sexual Health (Great Britain, Department of Health, 2013, p. 2) states that an average of ten sexual partners is common in men today. The theory is that if quality SERE sessions are in place, with appropriate answers available, then wider social and sexual health risks can be avoided (Mulligan, 1994; Holly, 2012; Sex Education Forum, 2013) and some, such as the curtailing of the uneasy truth that the I-J has the highest rate of unwanted teenage pregnancy in Europe.
This alarming fugue only worsens when realizing that the I-J is second only to the United States of America in terms of developed nations (Evans and Trip, 2006). This should be qualified however tit the Framework for Sexual Health (Great Britain, Department of Health, 2013, p. 2) and other parties (Holly, 2012; Sex Education Forum) quick to point out that these pregnancy levels are at a multi-generational low here. Ignorance is another principal reason for high quality SERE to be delivered in schools.
A Sex Education survey of over 2000 young people, one of the largest of its kind in this country, found that seventy four of sexually active fourteen to seventeen year olds had sexual experiences under the age of consent and that twenty percent of these had these experiences under the GE of thirteen (Channel 4, 2013) It is easy to let emotion override at this point and this is a danger faced at policy level too (Combo, 2012; Holly, 2012).
Instead compare these fugues with the six percent from the survey (Channel 4, 2013) who said they would wait until marriage before engaging in sexual experiences. On a personal note, regarding ignorance, the author was surprised to see that ‘Setting (Combo, 2012, p. 28) carried a custodial sentence of up to four years (Crown Prosecution Service, 2012) for the creation and distribution of such images. This is because often those reading are underage and although (hopefully) unaware of it, they are distributing ‘Indecent Images of Children’ (Crown Prosecution Service, 2012; Holly, 2012).
Evans and Trip (2006) warn that once experimenting in sexual experiences under the age of sixteen (consensual age in the I-J) becomes the norm, it is far harder to prevent unwanted sexual health related issues. This a common counter to allowing overt SERE within education today, as parents, educators and wider societies believe exposure to SERE automatically correlates to a rise in sexual experimentation (Mulligan, 1994; Fontanne et al, 2012; Chou, 2012). The results from the Sex Education survey (Channel 4, 2013) counter this however, showing that the mean age for first consensual experiences is seventeen in both male and females.
Certainly, wider evidence from across Northern Europe, a good comparison to make with the UK due to similar socio- economic patterns, show that the greater the liberality with engaging children in SERE, the lower the risks (Evans and Trip, 2006; Lobber et al, 2010). There is a third dimension to the debate of SERE, that of abstinence. Abstainers argue that it is the only scientific method that is proven to completely eliminate all forms of sexual health risks (Hess, 2010) such as those outlined by Fontanne et al (2012).
Lombardi (2012) argues that this is in fact counter productive as it provides a dichotomy to learners to choose either protection or abstinence, leading to a drop in quality of SERE. The abstinence method does carry weight and is enjoying increasing support globally (Confined, 2012), in terms of the benefits of sex in good relationships. Alongside having the worst sexual health in teenagers in Europe, the I-J also boasts a higher bevel of marital breakdown and single parent families than found on the continental mainland (Evans and Trip, 2006).
It is argued that by teaching sex as something to be enjoyed once firm commitments have been made to one another, the bond between couples is stronger thereby reducing breakdowns (Hess, 2010; Bloom, 2012). It is also worth noting that Hess (2010) and Bloom (2012) acknowledge the abstinence approach has much ground to cover in terms of accessibility to those who do not see or desire a loving marriage as standard (Evans and Trip, 2006; Comb’, 2012). Lobber t al (2010) and Milkshakes (2011) both produce a damming testimony of the abstinence approach.
This is not surprising as SERE as a topic does carry strong emotions (Former, 2011). By providing historical contexts and citations in both counters it does however help to remove the personal emotive element often seen in this area of discussion. Such emotions are very apparent in both Hess’ (2010) article and the demonstrations reported by Vassar (2011). A final thought for the abstinence methodology is that of the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LIGHT) learners. The Sex Education Forum (2013, p. Rightfully highlight that these people are equal in need to heterosexual learners and the dangers an evasive traditional hetero marriage’ approach to sex and reproduction may have on their education and sexual health. By looking to educational theory, we may hope to provide a consensus for SERE. Evans and Trip (2006) note the link to quality SERE with social learning theories. The Social Cognitive Theory (ACTS) established by Bandeau (1986) is a respected and time-tested model to use.
Linked to the findings of the Sex Education survey (Channel 4, 2013) and the findings of other noted projects Livingston and Haddam, 2009; Former, 2011; Sex Education Forum, 2013), the ACTS model requires an understanding of current trends of the behavior of society in conjunction with the goal that society is hoping to achieve. The abstinence approach would argue that to achieve the goal of a society having minimal unwanted teenage pregnancies and a majority of stable relationships, it is the attitude of young people that needs to change.
This is not the simple fix that may have been hoped for though. The Framework for Sexual Health (Great Britain, Department of Health, 2013, p. 9) tresses that currently around eighty five thousand females are the victims of rape or assault by penetration annually. It is very difficult for even die-hard abstainers to argue that if these victims had different attitudes, they wouldn’t have been assaulted. Indeed, the attitudes of young people and parents are reflected in Livingston and Hadrons report (2009, p. 6) showing that twenty percent were worried about viewing inappropriate sexual content. Using the ACTS, it would seem then that it would be beneficial to more learners if quality and objective SERE sessions were available. This old allow the continuing motivation of society to reduce the spiraling sexual health issues (Evans and Trip, 2006; Great Britain, Department of Health, 2013) whilst simultaneously progressing education appropriate to the young people. It is clear that young people want answers (Former, 2011; Sex Education Forum, 2013).
By providing them through quality SERE, it reduces the risk of obtaining spurious answers such as questions regarding genital size and shape (Channel 4, 2013) from dubious sources such as pornography. The same survey (Channel 4, 2013) found that more than a third questioned rely on pornography for their information. For the educators then, it is clear that emotion and embarrassment needs to be laid aside once more in favor of providing better sources (Barker, 2012; Comb’, 2012).
It is pertinent then to question who takes on the role of the educator, parents or the school. With the draft curriculum (Great Britain, Department for Education, 2013) it is obvious that some responsibility does lie with schools. Fontanne et al (2012) would support this decision, finding that with experienced educators schools provide ideal environments for SERE as they can reach the majority of children instantly. Former (2011, p. 166) does end a counter, suggesting that from his research, sixty seven percent of SERE sessions are not taught by classroom teachers.
Fontanne et al (2012) retorts with the idea that this is not a bad thing as often teachers resort to passive learning in SERE and not memorable experiences, provided by external sources, something which Former (2011) agrees is more effective. Chou (2012) comments that teachers should not be expected to deliver high quality SERE as it could involve topics of anatomy and physiology knowledge beyond that of most teachers, yet it is arguable that most parents would fall under this category also.
Chou (2012) counters himself too, commenting that in Chinese society, sex is not a topic of conversation traversed by most parents, leaving the question of responsibility unanswered. A common reason for teachers reluctance is being stigmatize as Holly, a leading expert in SERE, found herself (Robbins, 2011) or finding themselves in compromising situations (Knows, 2012; Vaughan, 2012). In actuality the most common reasons cited for hesitance or refraining from delivering high quality SERE is actually identical between parents and teachers (Livingston and Haddam, 2009; Hess, 2010; Former, 2011; Chou, 2012).
Lobber et al (2010) does offer consolation to this conundrum, stating that with training, teachers’ attitudes reversed dramatically. It is vital that this happens as it necessary that some sort of service is available outside of the home (Livingston and Haddam, 2009; BC council for Families, 2011; Barker, 2012; Children, 2012). As with many quality strategies in education, it has been proved that the most successful SERE occurs when schools and parents cooperate fully (Baldwin and Abrasions, 1990; Evans and Trip, 2006; Barker, 2012; Fontanne et al, 2012; Marled, 2012).
With the continuation of findings as outlined in the Framework for Sexual Health (Great Britain, Department of Health; 2013) and truly shocking reports across the UK (summers, 2007; Marled, 2012; BBC News, 2013;) and beyond (Burke, 2013), it must be seen as vital from schools, parents and politicians that the issue of SERE needs addressing. From these brief research findings it is clear that no universal solution has yet been tailored to fit all needs.