“It’s 1pm and already we’re talking about masturbation,” declares pint-sized bodybuilder Antonietta Moch, with a broad smile across her face.
“Masturbation is very private,” she hollers across the classroom. “Masturbation is about having sex with yourself. It’s about pleasuring yourself.”
“Don’t put it on Facebook,” she says, to uncomfortable giggles from her audience. “And when it comes to having sex, that’s private too.”
Moch is giving a sex and relationships tutorial to teenagers at a college near Milton Keynes. She is honest and informative and everyone in the room leaves having learned something new.
Under current arrangements, not all children get sex education at school. Free schools and academies, which are not obliged to follow the national curriculum, can opt out and the pressure on the curriculum at other schools means provision is patchy and in some places non-existent. But momentum is growing for change.
On Friday MP Caroline Lucas’s private member’s bill to ensure that sex education is a statutory requirement in schools will get its second reading in the House of Commons. The personal, social, health and economic education (statutory requirement) bill will make PSHE, including sex and relationships education(SRE), a compulsory part of all state education. It also requires PSHE to include teaching on ending violence against women and girls.
This week MPs on the education select committee, who are considering the effectiveness of current PHSE and SRE, were told that the quality of sex education in schools was a postcode lottery. Some youngsters were growing up not being taught even the most basic information about their bodies, while others had no understanding about rape and sexual consent. In the absence of a comprehensive sex education, young people were relying on myths from the playground and increasingly on pornography and the internet to fill the gaps.
Before the tutorial she holds a drop-in session in the student common room where she sits surrounded by condoms and leaflets on oral sex while girls question her. “Why can you get married at 16 but you can’t watch porn until you’re 18,” asks one. Another asks about the anatomy of the clitoris; there are discussions about smear tests (“That’s disgusting, I would never do that,” says one girl) and chlamydia tests, and more talk of the impact of porn, which seems to be a big deal. Boys watch it on their phones in the common room, says Moch.
“Boys try and become like the porn stars,” says one young woman. “They say they are going to ‘beat’ or ‘bang’ a girl. When you begin to do it, they get quite aggressive and put their hands round your throat.”
So do these young women feel well equipped to deal with this? Some say they didn’t get a great deal of sex education at school and welcome the opportunity to talk informally with someone who is not their teacher. “That’s just embarrassing,” says one 16-year-old. “You have to see them every day afterwards!”
One of the workshops today will challenge so-called ‘sex positive’ thinking, the idea that all sex that isn’t obviously coerced is good, that ‘sexual liberation’ can only mean saying yes to any and all sexual activity. I ask you to take that critical thinking and apply it to the sex industry.
To be truly positive about sex is to say that sex actually matters, that being forced, directly or indirectly, into sexual activity you don’t want is wrong and is abuse, that the right to be able to say no to sex is just as important as the right to be able to say yes.