“Like many, my sex education at school was woefully inadequate and reflected an outdated mindset towards sexuality and our bodies. However, my sex education wasn’t thirty years ago – in fact I only left school this year and was educated under the old sex education guidance from 2000.
Following years of campaigning, last year sex education was finally made compulsory in all schools in England from September 2020 and a draft curriculum was produced, which is now out for consultation until early November. These draft guidelines are certainly a step in the right direction but present major gaps such as anatomy, pleasure and LGBTQ+ issues. That’s why The Eve Appeal are campaigning to Put Cancer on the Curriculum.
Young people deserve to be given the information they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Basic anatomy is still not a requirement under the sex education curriculum, resulting in adults who cannot properly name their own body parts and are embarrassed to use words like ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’. In our attempts to avoid our own embarrassment we end up creating fear and shame in the minds of children and young adults who become afraid to talk about their sexual health, creating a cycle of misinformation and sexual health problems in the future.
Sex education is a valuable resource for starting conversations about sometimes difficult or embarrassing subjects, with gynaecological health being a major aspect of this. Whether parents like it or not, children and young people are already having conversations about sex and their bodies in their own time, often without the right information, which can result in funny anecdotes such as a girl who told me that “You don’t get a vagina until you turn five”, but can also provide potentially dangerous misinformation such as “You don’t need a smear test if you’re a lesbian.”
Sex, and unfortunately sexual health problems and cancer are facts which almost all of us will deal with at some point. We have the opportunity now to educate future generations about cancer, knowing their normal and being comfortable to talk about sexual health, which would be a major step in the battle to prevent late cancer diagnosis and end the taboos around gynaecological health.
As much as the home can be a valuable source of learning and open conversation, we cannot simply rely on parents and carers to teach children and young people their relationships, sex and health education. Nearly a third of parents do not feel knowledgeable about the symptoms of gynaecological cancers and many parents do not feel comfortable enough or have the time or resources to be able to have these important conversations.
From September 2020, all primary schools will have to teach the sex education which is included in the science curriculum, which “includes teaching about the main external body parts and changes to the human body as it grows from birth to old age, including puberty.” However, this is about as far as the guidance goes in relation to anatomy at present.
If we don’t use sex education to teach young people about the signs and symptoms of cancer and help them understand their own bodies, how can we expect them to know when or where to go for help if a problem does arise in future? Prevention is always better than a cure and sex education and health prevention certainly go hand in hand, which is why we need to Put Cancer on the Curriculum.