Sex education and digital civics

There is a problem with sex and relationships education in schools. School require all maintained schools to teach about human growth, reproduction and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); any further information is provided at the discretion of individual schools. Echoing earlier prohibitions on the “promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” – the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which was finally repealed throughout the UK in 2003 – this guidance requires that schools avoid the “promotion of early sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation”. A written policy must be produced and made available to parents, and parents are permitted to withdraw their children. Moreover, private schools, alongside newly instated academies and free schools have no obligation to teach any sex education. Therefore, sex education in the UK is effectively optional, and young people are not required by law to have any knowledge about sexuality.

Disturbed by this state of events, Laura Bates and the End Violence Against Women Coalition are putting pressure on the government to make sex education compulsory in all schools in England, setting up an online petition. We, alongside this movement, argue that a compulsory, comprehensive sex education should focus on consent, young people’s rights to their own bodies, be inclusive to LGBT populations, and feature a much avoided “discourse of desire”. Yet, for some it still remains contentious, or maybe just uncomfortable, to even talk about sex with young people.

Why is this? In my project, we are looking to answer this question through digital civics. We have attempted to counteract the adult opinion and debate that dominates this area through engaging young people in a process of ‘user centred design’. Through this, we have explored young people’s perspectives on sex and sexuality, and ‘talking about sex’ more broadly, and explored how we might incorporate these ideas into the design of new digital technologies.

‘Talk About Sex’, one of the outcomes of this process, is a turn based mobile game designed to promote discussions about sex and sexuality. Through this, we are exploring ways to promote ‘positive’ discourses about sex and sexuality on young people’s own terms through lightweight mobile play. But we are also looking at further ways to extend these discussions. How might conversations about sex and sexuality extend to the home, with children’s parents and guardians? How can we make sex education suitable for younger children, so that sex education isn’t merely ‘fire-fighting’ after it’s too late?

For more information please contact Matt Wood.

Author: Matt Wood

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