Feminist Fightback is conducting research about Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and the effects of changing political structures on women’s reproductive services and SRE resources. This text is taken from a recent leaflet.
It was clear from discussions of our experiences that provision was patchy — people got different amounts of SRE at different levels.
All of us felt we were missing the same things: discussion of sexuality; relationships; non-reproductive, nonheterosexual sex; self-pleasure; and, in some cases, any discussion of sex outside marriage.
The neglect of pleasure in SRE, or the “missing discourse of desire” has particular consequences for young women.
This is because they are already socially constructed as having lower levels of sexual desire and being able to experience sexual pleasure less easily than young men.
The image of women as passive recipients of active male desires is reinforced through curricula that mean that girls are taken off to learn about periods and sanitary towels while boys are free to ask questions about erections and wet dreams. Male orgasms are present in the curriculum, while female orgasms are not.
In this way, SRE fails to convey a sense of empowerment and entitlement to sexual pleasure for young women. At the same time, for young men, although SRE is more likely to consider ideas around male sexual desire, it offers them limited ways of understanding their sexuality, as well as suggesting that male desire is almost uncontrollable.
As dominant expressions of male sexuality require young men to exercise power over women, such discourses limit alternative expressions of male sexualities.
SRE lessons are only one of the many sources that young people learn about sex and relationships with peers, TV/films, the internet and social media playing a much more prominent role. Without addressing erotics, SRE cannot contest ideas of “erotica” in mainstream pornography, which present often women as objects of male desire rather than subjects of their own.
What we would like to see, and what we are working towards, is a curriculum that: discusses sexuality and different kinds of relationships; considers the reasons why people choose to have sex; interrogates sex morality and taboos; confronts prejudices around female sexuality; provides opportunities for students to engage critically with societal myths and media messages about sexuality — including pornography.
It should also allow space for young people to set the agenda.
Full text here.
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