When I was at school sex education was rudimentary. In first year of secondary school, as part of biology class, we went straight from pollination of plants to human reproduction. So it was shorn of context like relationships, responsibility and intimacy, far less the complexities of sexuality. In education terms it was the equivalent of Wham Bam, Thank You Mam.
Girls went to an additional class called, mysteriously, “APH” but boys were not allowed into that.
It is not an approach that has served Scotland well, with our unenviable record of early teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. That is why I am glad to be a member of a party with a pragmatic and very liberal approach to sexual relations and sexual health, jettisoning some of the baggage and hypocrisy which has attended these issues in the past.
That is why I am also glad that my own children are taking part in a programme at primary school. My oldest son, in primary six, will be looking at sex in a whole-class programme this autumn. I have heard some parents think that it is too early, but, for me, it is important that information is provided – in a context of people’s relationships and of personal wellbeing and self-esteem – well before the changes which accompany puberty. Besides, these young people already negotiate a world full of sexual reference, as the playground chatter about the reprehensible Jimmy Saville attests.
So I went along to the school last night with all the other parents to preview the programme which is about to be delivered. I am not quite sure why we give this special treatment to sex education and not to other projects in schools but, in general, I think it is a good idea to get parents involved in what is being provided in class so I was happy to go. And I can report that things have indeed moved on since the late 1970s when I started secondary school. The programme looked very good to me.
But I was surprised that in a room of around 30 parents or carers I was one of only two men. In that way, 1977 still seems pretty close.
To be fair, in that school year group two-thirds of the classes are girls so it may well be that mums feel more comfortable in talking to daughters about sexual health and relationships. But still the dad-deficit felt odd, especially when a key theme of the educational programmes we were looking at was the need to engage boys and young men as 50% of the solution.
As a member of the Council’s Education Committee, I’d welcome ideas as to what to do about that. Maybe today’s dads – mostly in their late 30s or 40s are part of a lost generation from which our sons will have moved on. Or maybe there is still work to do on getting men equally involved in sex.