Parents who want their children to opt out from sex and relationships education (SRE) lessons should have to go into schools and “physically” remove their child from each lesson, according to leading human and LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
The activist told the Festival of Education that new compulsory sex and relationships education lessons, which are supposed to come in next year, must happen at least once a month and start from the first year of primary school.
Although he said schools should give parents “reassurance that the priority of these lessons is to protect their children”, he insisted parents should not be allowed to opt out of the lessons on behalf of their children – just as they cannot remove their children from maths or history.
If the opt-out must be enforced, parents should be made to come to the school and “physically” remove their child from each lesson, he said.
Tatchell said schools should teach pupils about all aspects of sex, including how to do it well and information on preferences and fetishes. He has also created a 13-point list of things schools should teach pupils, and believes teachers shouldn’t be afraid to tackle tricky issues.
“Young people complain that relationship and sex education is woefully inadequate and doesn’t address many of the issues that concern them,” he said.
“It’s so vital that schools fill the void. If teachers don’t provide this information, kids will pick up often partial, inaccurate or sensationalist information from social media and porn sites.”
Mark Lehain, director of the Parents and Teachers for Excellence Campaign and interim director of the New Schools Network, said Tatchell’s points are a “solid starting point” but warned SRE should be covered “in a sensitive manner in order that parents are comfortable with the approaches taken and messages communicated”.
“Parents have ultimate responsibility for their children’s education, and effective SRE involves a strong partnership between a child’s family and their school,” he said.
Peter Tatchell’s 13-point guide to what schools should teach about sex
1. Sexual rights are human rights
It is a fundamental human right to love an adult of either sex, to engage in any mutually consensual, harmless sexual act with them and to share a happy, healthy sex life.
2. The right to sexual self-determination
Young people should be taught to assert their right to determine what they, and others, do with their body – including the right to abstain from sex, say “no” and report abusers.
3. A new ethical framework: mutual consent, respect and fulfilment
Mutual consent, reciprocal respect and shared fulfilment apply universally, regardless of whether people are married or single, monogamous or promiscuous, and whatever their sexuality.
4. Promoting safer alternatives
If schools are serious about cutting the incidence of teen pregnancies, abortions and HIV infections, they should highlight safer, healthier alternatives to sexual intercourse, including oral sex and masturbation.
5. Sex is good for you
SRE lessons should acknowledge that sex is natural, wholesome, fun and (with safe sex) healthy, and can have a very beneficial effect on our mental and physical wellbeing.
6. Give kids all the facts
Sex education should tell the truth about every kind of sex and relationship – including sexual practices that some people find distasteful.
7. All sexualities are equally valid
Schools should encourage understanding and acceptance of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual orientations, and transgender and intersex identities.
8. How to have good sex
SRE for 16+ pupils should include advice on how to achieve mutually-fulfilling, high-quality sex.
9. Live and let live
Providing behaviour is consensual, between adults, where no-one is harmed and the enjoyment is reciprocal, schools should adopt a non-judgemental live-and-let-live attitude to sexual preferences.
10. Education from the first year of primary school
SRE should start from the early years of primary school by talking about puberty and, to tackle abuse, inappropriate touching. It should become more detailed and explicit at secondary level.
11. Respect for sexual diversity
Teachers have a duty to validate the diversity of adult sex and relationships that fall within the ethical framework of mutual consent, respect and fulfilment.
12. Overcoming sex shame to tackle abuse
SRE should encourage pupils to have more open attitudes towards sex so that they are more likely to disclose abuse.
13. Mandatory lessons and a revised parental opt-out
SRE should be taught at least monthly all throughout a child’s school life, and parents who want to withdraw their children should be required to come to each lesson and physically remove their child.