Sex Education From Five Years Old: Preserving innocence or ignorance?

There’s a lot of things I expect a five year old to learn at school. The alphabet. Some basic maths. And that launching booger missiles is a big unhealthy, finger-wagging, “no”. So when this article came to my attention, “Sex Education should start from Key Stage 1”, I was more than lost for words. Are we forcing children to mature before their physical and mental age? How could kids who have just grasped how to spell their own name, have the mental and emotional capacity to understand the concept of puberty, relationships and intercourse?  The last thing on my mind over primary education were five year olds’ drawing what’s underneath Mummy’s skirt or Daddy’s pants. Describing the differences between a penis and a vagina. Let alone, find out how babies are really made. To feature and normalise these Sex Ed activities under “Childhood” feels somewhat, unsettling.

Disney Stars: Ariana Grande's retracted controversial album/ Fans emulate Miley Cyrus's 2013 MTV Awards performance

Disney Stars: Ariana Grande’s retracted controversial album/ Fans emulate Miley Cyrus’s 2013 MTV Awards performance

Yet our society is saturated with sexual images and messages.  From tabloids and magazines of scantily clad women openly displayed on supermarket newstands, to the border-line soft porn “music” acts and videos on TV and Youtube,  it’s difficult to argue that this growing myriad of hyper-sexualised content has no impact on the pre-maturation and development of children. Certainly, age restrictions exist and that, as American Apparel knows all too well with it’s latest seedy, Back to School campaign focus on “up skirt” shots of crotches and underwear, overtly explicit material is stringently monitored by regulatory bodies.

But here’s a slight problem. Sex sells. It’s attention grabbing and demands instantaneous reaction. It’s powerful because it draws on an intimate part of our lives and people are naturally curious, children more so. The effects of cumulative exposure from seemingly playful and subtly sexualised material (advertisements,  video games, toys and even songs) ingrains strict gendered roles where the masculine “Adonis” like figure dominates weak and permissive women. What’s worse is that this glorified bias and objectification is increasingly prevalent amongst children and young people in social practices like sexting. A study by NSPCC found girls, when solicited by boys, send explicit photos of themselves and or at least parts of themselves bearing a boy’s name in black marker pen. Collecting these images becomes a form of social currency, a way for boys to negotiate popularity in a competitive “lad” culture. Claimed “ownership” of a girl’s body served as proof of sexual activity in a society that markets and elicits a nonchalant attitude towards sex and relationships.

NSPCC Transcript with a schoolboy

NSPCC Transcript with a schoolboy

The heightened glorification of sex in popular media creates and reinforces a warped environment where recognition and self value is measured on sexual desirability and a narrow standard of physical attractiveness. The worrying consequence is that children, without guidance, gradually internalise these fictional representations as reality or at least how it should be anyway. In fact, a 2013 survey, supported by the Southampton Rape Crisis, found that the average age that children first started watching porn was only 11 years old. Sex appeal and desirability are accelerated into ideals to be emulated. More critically though, it’s delivered as a shortsighted end and isolated from the wider context of relationships, consent and protection. As Pope John Paul II aptly highlights, “the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it show too little”. The failure to show and properly inform children of these major factors leaves them vulnerable to the lopsided realities, which are constantly presented to them through popular media. This is why unfolding Sex Education from an early age, beginning with very basic anatomy, is imperative in modern society. The rose tinted glasses of preserving childhood is not only untenable but harmful for children in the long run. If we don’t overcome this stigma to socially discuss and teach sex, puberty and relationships, this role is left to a biased and over glorified media.


Public Health England


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s