Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) for Primary Schools
This proposal for teaching sexuality differs from previous approaches as it takes cognisance of recent developments in neuroscience[i], it underlines the necessity to understand the conflict between instinct and intellect.
The submission consists of:
Introduction, Poster and Lesson plans, Support evidence, References and BRAIN PARTS sketch.
Hundreds of recent revelations of child abuse and the historical treatment of women with unwanted pregnancies indicate our failure to deal with these issues comprehensively. The most recent publications [ii] from the Department of Education Ireland are helpful but over-cautious, lengthy and vague. This proposal is to inspire a sharper debate on the subject and ascertain a response from persons involved in the parenting, protection and education of children. I am prepared to meet any local group to explain the logic of this proposal.
No parent wants to think about their child viewing pornography, but it will happen, the average age of first exposure is now less than 11 years old [iii]. It is our responsibility to ensure that children understand what a respectful, mutually-agreeable, sexual relationship is, BEFORE the beginning of puberty and BEFORE exposure to pornography. While children need to understand the instinctive pleasure that gives rise to eroticism, they should also appreciate how pornography can create unrealistic sexual expectations and could become a driver of exploitation, intimidation and assault.
Family and school roles; involvement of parents and carers need to be considered, and a consensus needs to be agreed with the objectives and content of the RSE scheme. Parents and teachers may have to explore views and opinions that are not usually held. It is important that teachers can achieve a confident, factual and compassionate approach to the teaching. While most parents will be supportive, it is unlikely to be universal.
Morality and regulation; Mutual respect, consent and a full understanding of pregnancy, should be the basis for the moral regulation of sexual activity as children grow into adults. Discussions on postponing sexual activity might be worthwhile, but inculcations of shame prove counterproductive. The enormous power of the sex instinct will overcome inhibitions. Alcohol and other mind-altering substances will be used to suppress inhibition and shame, sex in such circumstances is much more likely to be careless and unprotected, resulting in unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted disease (STD).
High-quality, honest dialogue within RSE will develop transparent relationships and behaviours where children can assess and manage risk. The mature confidence of an individual’s sexuality is a vital component of self-esteem in all aspects of life. It is essential that RSE be inclusive of gay relationships and reach out to those not confident in their gender identity, as any mental isolation on these issues can lead to tragic consequences.
Context; The teaching of RSE needs to be within the context of who we are as humans, our evolution, and our two most powerful instincts, survival and replication. It needs to be about human intimacy, happiness and its contribution to mental and physical health. Sex is the essential mechanism for the survival of our species, it can be exciting, pleasurable, fun and it colours our entire life. It is the basis for human perceptions of beauty and almost every drama of humanity; it is the engine of emotion and love, it is the lyric of every song and the goal and triumph of our existence. Unfortunately, it can also be a driving force of disrespect, exploitation, jealousy and hatred.
EXPLICIT QUESTIONS: The Department of Education and Skills (IRL) states that: [iv]
“It may not be appropriate to deal with some explicit questions in class. Teachers may choose to say that it is not suitable to address that question at this time. When deciding whether to answer questions the teacher should consider the age and readiness of the students, the RSE programme content and agreed policy”.
The concept of what is ‘Explicit’ may pose more difficulties for adults rather than children. The advent of neuroscience with its understanding of the segmented brain structure (see BRAIN PARTS sketch) explains the embarrassment humans have with Sex and Sex education. The ancient instinctive brain together with Amygdala and the Hippocampus, are the drivers of sexual reproduction and have no embarrassment with explanations of sex or nakedness. The more modern thinking brain and the social order tries to control this instinctive force. This conflict between the instinct and the intellect is the human condition and is the story of the ‘fall’ in the garden of Eden, “having eaten from the tree of knowledge they saw they were naked and covered themselves”.
CONTENT; Relationship and Sex education begins with friendships, feelings and families, proceeding to puberty, relationships and reproduction. There is, no inappropriate stage to start these discussions, children do not have the inhibitions of parents and teachers. Preserving the innocence of children is akin to preserving the ignorance of children which facilitated so much historical child abuse.
RSE is to become compulsory in all UK schools by 2020. In the Netherlands[v], sex education and information about sexual diversity are already compulsory in schools. As a leader in the field, the Netherlands have shown that an open sexual climate, comprehensive sex education and a non-judgmental attitude toward young people’s sexuality contribute to the postponement of intercourse, low rates of unintended pregnancies and the lowest level of abortion in the world. It also scores as one of the happiest countries in the world.
POSTER AND LESSON PLANS
- The most important thing in any person’s life is their body. A vital part of a child’s education is to understand how its personal biological machine works and how to enjoy, protect, and take good care of it.
Children need to understand their bodies and have the resources to deal with puberty, pornography and the power of sex as part of a regular RSE programme. The age for puberty appears to be lowering[vi], and the average age of exposure to pornography is now less than 11 years old[vii]. It is our responsibility to ensure that children from a young age understand how their bodies work and what a mutually respectful, joyful, sexual relationship is – before these events occur.
TO ACHIEVE THIS;
Build RSE, not as an isolated programme, but holistically integrated with evolution and as part of the whole biology of body and brain. It should be normalised and not dealt with by one-off ‘specialist’ discussions.
- Children need to understand the reasons for and the power and nature of attraction.
- They need to understand how the forces of instinct acting on them can dominate their mind.
- Children need to understand female menstruation and male ejaculation before they occur.
- Children need the resources and confidence to discuss the nature and the extent of any unwanted sexual encounter, or any future desired sexual encounter.
- They should be free of inhibitions that in the future will need screening with drink or drugs to permit them discussions within relationships or sexual activity.
- They should acquire the resources to control their growing sexuality through empathy, consent, respect, and understand the consequences of any sexual act through critical thinking.
The poster below should be displayed in schools to normalise sexuality and RSE and assist in its demystification; it would break away from the concept of the occasional ‘sex talk.’ Open familiarity with the body would enable ongoing normal discussions on the subject.
‘OUR BRILLIANT BODIES,’ shows the common and different parts of both sexes in Irish and English. The poster also indicates associated Lessons: 1. Survival, 2. Intellect & Instinct, 3. Reproduction, 4. Why two Sexes?
(This poster arose from observing a similar, but clothed poster in a school naming body parts but not referring to any genitalia, an approach that associates these unnamed body parts with shame and embarrassment at a vital time in a child’s education.)
The poster and studies need to be enlivened by a teacher in class. Lessons which integrate evolution, biology and fun would negate the embarrassed obscurity in which this subject is often held. (NOTE: the subject matter is vast, and under constant scientific review thus the study explanations and the BRAIN PARTS sketch are greatly simplified and abbreviated)
The objective of these lessons is that children in primary school; are helped into adulthood confident in the knowledge of their bodies and with the resources and skill sets to achieve happy and fulfilling consensual relationships. Also, that they will be prepared for the challenges of puberty and pornography. (see BRAIN PARTS sketch)
Survival is our most powerful instinct. We need food, both solid and liquid. In front of our Brain, are a mouth, nose and eyes, these are grouped specifically in this position and order to check out what we eat. A lesson on this major survival function: (fun!) Request a volunteer, a child to lie face down on the ground. Place an apple, perhaps covered, 2 meters in front. Ask the child to put its arms behind its back and with their legs bent forward from the knee and wriggle on their bellies to the apple. Their eyes will scan the food, looks OK, then their nose will smell – OK, then bite and taste – OK. The brain has used the eyes, nose mouth and taste to check out the food for consumption.
As the food passes through the machinery of the body, its energy is extracted. At the bottom of the body, the waste, both liquid and solid are dumped. If the forward moving child were to come across this deposit, it would not look or smell good – they would never get to the tasting stage. Then ask the child on the floor to crawl on hands and knees, then on its hands and feet, then stand and walk.
As well as explaining the energy gathering – survival mechanisms of most animals and fish, the child altering its forward movement from slug-like slithering to walking on two legs, would demonstrate about 500 million years of evolution.
This lesson can expand in many directions;
- How should we care for our bodies, discuss the quality of the food we consume?
- How the intake of food should balance with the energy, we expend.
- Breastfeeding, why is it a good baby food, does it also build a bond with the mother and provide an inheritance of love and empathy in the child, why is breastfeeding seen so rarely?
- Addictive foods, pleasure rush! Sugar, salt, alcohol, gambling, gaming, drugs, smoking.
- Instinct & Intellect
A lesson on conflicts within the brain. Ask the children to stop breathing; this will demonstrate how the mind cannot control a powerful instinct. What part of the brain tried to stop breathing and what part ensures you breathe? Likewise, explain how the instinct of fear protects you from dangerous situations, for example – falling into water, climbing too high. What part of the brain brings fear? What part can overcome fear by thinking?
Intellect; overcomes the fear of water by learning how to swim or wearing a life jacket. It can overcome a fear of heights by learning how to navigate in the mountains or learning rope technique to overcome difficult obstacles. What part of the brain does this thinking?
After survival, our second most powerful human instinct is to make other humans, this strong gene-based instinct emerges as puberty approaches, it brings a growing desire to interact with the opposite sex. These events will trigger concerns with body image and status amongst peers and a pervading desire to fit in and be accepted; it will also bring a curiosity to see and understand the naked human body. The nerve-based intellect and the social order attempts to control this instinctive force, a conflict that can lead to psychological distress. An understanding of this conflict is a pathway to its solution.
Lesson; Discuss; attraction, fashion, hairstyles, clothes, makeup, status. Conflict; “I’m going to the disco”. “NO, you are not – and certainly not dressed like that”. Biological and emotional drives and conflict brought to the surface with humour would be very beneficial. Discuss; respect, safety, consent, sexting, pornography. Discuss attraction; male-female, male-male, female-female, the high emotions, pleasure rush – dopamine, expectations and disappointments connected with first love. What part of the brain drives the sex instinct, what part might decide to use contraception?
- WHY two SEXES?
Most creatures use sex to reproduce. If they reproduced themselves continuously by cloning, they would pass on parasites and mutations which would accumulate in every generation, stunting and perhaps destroying the species. Sexual reproduction provides for a healthier variation by mixing the genetic material at each mating. The human female has a fixed number of eggs – about 500 which will ovulate during her reproductive lifetime; unfertilised eggs will pass out the vagina at the end of each menstrual cycle. From puberty, the male continuously produces millions of sperm, tiny compared to the female egg, when It fertilises a female, it determines the sex of the potential child and adds the father’s genetic information. Lesson: discuss; spontaneous male erections, wet dreams, female ovulation, periods and hygiene protection, tampons and pads, virginity, masturbation.
General; encourage class discussion and organise anonymous written questions on an ongoing basis. Children’s curiosity must be answered with honesty and openness.
SUPPORTING EVIDENCE AND REFERENCES.
Some of the notes are derived from the Relationships and Sex Education program at Cale Green Primary School, UK[viii] endorsed by the Office of Standards in Education (Ofsted) as an example of effective RSE.[ix] Reference is also made to the UK introducing a compulsory programme in 2020, the Netherlands, the guidance document from UNESCO[x], and points arising from my life observations. REPORT FROM CALE GREEN PRIMARY SCHOOL;
Teachers and parents articulated that, although they sometimes found the content of the RSE programme challenging, they fully understood its importance and supported the scheme. They expressed the need for more RSE, information, support and guidance, particularly on talking to their sons about puberty, the changes that boys experienced, and their responsibilities.
In response to this desire for more information and guidance, the school set up a lending library of resources to help parents understand the issues their children are facing and to reinforce at home the learning which is taking place in school.
NOTE: In some other schools surveyed, the biggest difficulty in implementing the program appeared to be the unwillingness of teachers to engage with the course.
- What the children say about RSE at Cale Green
‘If you need to ask a question, but you don’t want to say, you know you will get the answer when the teacher has thought about it.’
‘Everyone is given a chance to ask questions – even silly ones!’
‘It is still really important for boys to know what is going to happen to girls and the other way round.’
‘My mum said it was good I was learning because I needed to know all the facts for when I’m older.’
‘It would be worse to learn it at high school when things were already happening.’
‘The teacher told us about puberty factually and calmly.’
‘We were allowed to laugh but had to use the proper words which were a bit embarrassing.’
- What the parents say about RSE at Cale Green
‘When we hide something from them, they become more curious.’
‘This meeting is good for parents to know how to start a conversation with our children.’
‘It’s made me think about what and when I will say to my daughter. I understand now we need to talk about this before she starts her period. It’s not enough to leave it and let her find out from her friends as I did.’
‘I didn’t know you talked about feelings and things. It’s good to speak of this especially for boys because they keep things to themselves.’
‘It’s changed my thinking. We need to talk to our children before they ask us.’
‘This has been good. I have learnt about how important this is when you teach my child about these things. I want to know the words I need to use now.’
The following very simplified sketch of human BRAIN PARTS is to demonstrate the evolutionary time difference and conflict between Intellect and Instinct.