“Sex education should feel like an exhilarating adventure rather than a boring lecture… We may be just beginning our education or filling the gaps at a late age. But learning is always best nurtured through encouragement, kindness, support, stability, appreciation, and healthy boundaries that engender trust – many of the same quality that make for a healthy sexual relationship.” – Mirror of Intimacy by Alexandra Katehakis and Tom Bliss (2014)
What were your sex education lessons like at school? Go on, cast your mind back and think. Were they held in a dingy room just off the maths block, or maybe a sports hall with strip lighting? How embarrassed on a scale of one to one million was the poor teacher who’d been roped in to adlib over a video called something like, ‘A Sperm’s Journey’? I went to secondary school from 1998–2003 in a small town in Devon, and if your sex ed was anything like mine, it was lacking to say the least. My main memory is one afternoon of lessons which were, incredibly, run by the Sixth Form students as part of their PSHE training. They were barely two years older than us and it was as awkward as it sounds. A girl in my year was going out with one of them! Not cool, my school, not cool.
Now think about the content. Did you learn about consent, pleasure or why people have sex other than to make babies? Probably not, since pleasure isn’t even on the curriculum now in 2021. Did anyone mention the clitoris, masturbation or the prostate? God no! No one even told me there were two holes in a vulva, or even that it was called a vulva and not a vagina. I’m also going to take a wild stab in the dark here and presume that no one told you how to talk about sex or demonstrated any language that you might find useful in a sexual context. If there were any conversations about boundaries, I’ll fall off my bloody chair.
Isn’t it interesting then, when wholly unequipped by our threadbare sex ed, our teenage selves were expected to become adults who understand their sexual desires? Instead, and unsurprisingly, we’ve turned into a generation of adults who feel they lack the comprehensive tools needed to understand what we want, let alone the ability to articulate that clearly to partners. This lack of education and consequent communication breakdown leads to a lot of people having sex that they just don’t enjoy. To be clear, I’m talking about consensual but disappointing sex here, not abuse.
Yes, good sex is a fun way to pass some time, but it’s also fundamental to your wellbeing: sexual satisfaction, sexual self-esteem and the experience of sexual pleasure all positively impact both physical and mental health. It’s also worth noting that people who communicate their desires are more likely to experience pleasure and have higher levels of satisfaction. In other words: talking about sex is good for us.
But in the absence of an open dialogue around sex, certain myths have lept in to fill the void. So. Many. Myths: ‘the bigger the better’, ‘orgasm is the main objective’, ‘you won’t need to talk – you’ll just know’. The depictions of sex and relationships we so often see in TV and film hardly help. The stilted conversations, ill-defined boundaries and creepy grand gestures are not things to aspire to, but they are shown to us time and time again.
With all this in mind, I decided to set up the The Candid Collective in 2018. Candid is a small organisation which facilitates open, honest and straightforward conversations about sex, bodies and relationships. We collaborate with inspiring speakers, academics and creatives to create fun and informative workshops which thrive to be the sex ed you should have had at school, with lots of extra stuff thrown in! We’ve hosted events on the benefits of nakedness with a lecture by Dr Keon West, body positive life drawing classes with RubyRare and vulva model making workshops with Gashtrays. Since July 2020, we’ve also been running virtual workshops with Almaz Ohene on developing sexual expression and understanding intimacy. Working with such an amazing range of experts means we can create unique events as well as provide bespoke workshops for a wide range of audiences.
As well as running Candid, I work for School of Sexuality Education, providing sex-positive sex ed to young people all over the UK. Through non-judgemental, research-led workshops we encourage feelings of agency and openness, and enable students to make informed decisions. Young people are calling out for reliable information in the same way that we were, and they’re sick of myths and misinformation. Sex education really is improving and, while it’s been slow going, maybe this generation will be able to look back at their sex ed and think, “Hey, that was actually alright!” I truly believe that learning about sex, bodies and relationships (whatever your age!) leads to healthier and happier lives, and surely that’s something we all deserve.
To find out more about the work that The Candid Collective and School of Sexuality Education do, and to book a workshop, visit:
– Website: www.thecandidcollective.com. Instagram: @the_candid_collective. Email address: [email protected].
– Website: www.schoolofsexed.org. Instagram: @school_sexed. Email address: [email protected].
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