One of my jobs involves providing pastoral care in a college of Further Education. I’m responsible for two courses made up of around a hundred female students, two thirds of whom are under nineteen.
When they were eventually brave enough to ask if I was pregnant a couple of them took the opportunity to ask questions about pregnancy, and even though they’d had a sexual health session with a nurse earlier in the year it soon became apparent that they didn’t know the very basics.
I thought sex education was part of the national curriculum but more than half of these girls had never had any formal education and most admitted they get their information from their friends.
I was asked such gems as “can you get pregnant from oral sex?” (followed by the now-immortal – in my house – “if you can get pregnant when it goes up you why can’t you get pregnant when it goes down you?”) and “if they do it up your bum can it swim to your womb?”
It’s amazing that these girls don’t know what they’ve got between their legs. Most of them didn’t know there were three holes down there, and when I asked what they knew about their internal reproductive organs their faces were blank. They knew they had a womb and “philip tubes” but little else. They didn’t know why they had periods or how that related to pregnancy.
The next week I delivered a sex education session beginning with some basic anatomy for two of the classes. They were interested, engaged and willing to participate. The idea that you can’t talk to teenagers about sex because of mutual embarrassment is ridiculous. They want to know and they need to know. Young women need to know the facts to be able to make decisions. If young men are telling them “you can’t get pregnant if we do it like this” they need to be able to say “that’s because we won’t be doing it” with confidence. If they’re not sure of the facts how are they going to have the strength to say no? Or the strength to say “yes if…”?
So, Mums, it seems that the power is in our hands. It might be awkward and embarrassing and we might wish their teachers would deal with it so we wouldn’t have to but if you want to know they’ve got the right information you need to be giving it to them.
Ted might want to listen to anything but his Mum telling him how women’s bodies work as well as his own but he needs to know about respect and I’m going to make sure he knows where to go for the answers even if he doesn’t want to ask me the questions.
But honestly, I’d rather give sex ed talks to a thousand teenagers than even consider Ted growing up enough to ask me where babies come from…