Sex Education in 2022

Once upon a time, sex education was about not getting up the duff. It was a necessary means to stop teen pregnancy and, ideally, stop a spread of the clap. There was also the informal sex educations: think teenage gossip, a bit of babestation, and the classic filthy magazine in a bush. 

Things are changing. While each generation thinks they invented sex, sex in 2022 is actually, well, different. While the literal ins and outs might remain the same, the internet has completely changed our approach to sex and relationships. There are mountains of pornography on the internet- easily accessible and, sometimes, found without even looking (honestly!). The internet has completely changed the landscape of sex and dating: a picture says a thousand words, and a picture of an erect penis says everything that would ever need to be said. 

Trying to give the talk about the birds and the bees in 2022 is a task that makes me glad I’m not a parent. Where do you even begin? Pop on WAP and hope Miss B can cover the complexities of human sexuality in 4 minutes? 

It’d be easy to bury your head in the sand and hope a poor teacher manages to have a gin after explaining the natural urges of the post-pubescent body. But unless your children live in a internet-free hole, they will be curious- and they will find out about sex.

That’d be okay if the internet was a benevolent place, full of helpful sexologists that answer questions without judgement. The likelihood is, however, that a google search about a phrase overheard on the bus is not going to render results of someone gently explaining that, despite some of those films online, ejaculate does not necessarily have to land on a sexual partners face.

Speaking of those films, porn and the internet go hand-in-sticky-hand. It’s easy to sound puritanical about porn, but the productions getting made today aren’t necessarily just two consenting adults having sex and filming it. More and more, these films are becoming detached from the reality of human sexuality. 

If you can detach a pornographer’s fantasy from the reality of sex, that’s great. If you’re an adult who has had a healthy sex life, you probably know that sex doesn’t look and feel like the way it is portrayed. But in a generation that watches porn like it’s sex education. The result? An expectation that the first fumbles- and all the subsequent ones after- look like the sex they’ve seen in porn.

Because, of course, sex isn’t like porn. The basic bits are all there, give or take a few extra bodies and a complete absence of pubic hair. The element of consent- which is perhaps the most important part of sex, is largely absent- if not completely disregarded. It might seem easily mitigated by campaigns like ‘no means no’: but it over-simplifies what consent is. Consent is not just given before sex- it can be retracted and changed throughout a sexual encounter. Sex isn’t a solo experience: the safety and comfort of the other person is vital- and porn often loses that point. That might be obvious to some- but to others raised on porn, it might seem like an abstract concept when some of the pornography is inherently violent. 

It’s not only the relationships portrayed where issues arise. It’s the sex acts themselves. Once upon a time, wild sex acts were part of the mythos the kinkiest of the Sex and the City characters: some things were to be tried out once the stabilisers of sex were taken off. Now, they’re almost expected. These sex acts might be violent and require a lot of trust in a partner- the sort of things you try out in a trusted relationship, not during the first time with your high school boyfriend. 

Obviously, we’re thinking in terms of heterosexual relationships and sex here. Kids are also learning about non-heterosexual relationships online- which can be just as problematicly represented as heterosexual relationships. If you’re a heterosexual parent, it might seem a world away from your sex life- what do you know about gay sex? But the basics of healthy relationships are the same: be safe, consent matters, etc, etc. As long as you’re supportive and open, you’ll do less damage than not talking about non-heterosexual relationships.

So, what can we do about sex education in 2022? Censorship of pornography has been a talking point for years- with the UK government having proposed age verification measures for entering sites with pornography on them. These measures have the potential to be effective in stopping some young people accessing porn (I imagine a lot of kids are savvy enough to get around it), but it poses huge privacy issues- and a scary precedent for anonymity on the internet. 

Instead, we must accept that sex has changed in a digital age, and will continue to change. Our only solution is to talk about it and learn more about it- no burying our heads in the sand to what the metaverse might mean for erotic encounters. Sex chats are inherently awkward: parents don’t want to think of their thirteen years olds knowing what bukkake is, thirteen year olds don’t want to acknowledge that their own existence meant their parents, at least once, had sex, together. Russell Howard once joked that to teach kids about sex, parents should have sex in front of their children to teach them about intimate sex. Horrific image, but the point remains: kids need to learn that sex is not what they see on porn films. Their education needs to tell them about the things they won’t see in films, and debunk the myths they are seeing. There’s an onus on parents, and there’s an onus, unfortunately, on our school systems and the teachers who are taking on a heroic task of trying to explain 21st century sex to kids. The first lesson for all of us  is simple: communication is key.