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Don’t ban sex education — just do it better

Good sex ed can mitigate harmful messages children may already be receiving from elsewhere. Credit: Getty

May 16, 2024 - 7:15am

Remember child safeguarding? Until five minutes ago, the term was considered terribly passé in certain “progressive” circles. Anyone who used it was bound to be some “won’t somebody think of the children” bigot, clutching her pearls over people just trying to live their lives.

Now, however, safeguarding’s cool again. As the Government today publishes plans to ban sex education for those under the age of nine, we are suddenly learning that sex ed plays a valuable role in protecting children from harm. Without sufficient knowledge, how will a child know when boundaries are being overstepped? (It seems we’re allowed to talk about those again, too.)

For the record, I think an outright ban is an unnecessary and potentially damaging step. Sex education for under-nines need not be focused on sex acts but — at least when delivered appropriately — can instead be based around sharing, relationships and bodily changes. Good sex ed can mitigate harmful messages children may already be receiving from elsewhere. Knowing when to tell children what is not easy — my partner, who delivers it at Key Stage Two, is struck by the vast differences in what some pupils have encountered compared to others. Nonetheless, as adults we can do more than throw our hands up and say it is better for all children to be told nothing at all.

Still, I cannot help finding the horror of many of those condemning the Government’s proposal somewhat disingenuous. “Not letting teachers deliver sex education to children who will encounter sexual content on the internet is exactly the wrong thing to do,” tweeted trans activist barrister Jolyon Maugham, before agreeing that the plans constituted “a paedophile’s charter” (it’s okay to go around calling people paedophiles now, too).

But what if much of what is on the internet has already crept into the classroom? What if some of the most harmful messages about bodies, boundaries and growth were being picked straight off Tumblr circa 2014 and repackaged for children under the guise of sex ed itself? What if the supposed antidote had become the poison?

As feminist campaigners have long been pointing out, some young children are currently being given poor, ill-informed and inappropriate teaching on sex, gender and relationships in the name of “inclusion”. Some have been told that their identities may not match their “assigned sex”, or that they must accommodate boys who believe they are girls in order to “be kind”. Queer theory-infused teachings about fluid boundaries and the unsexed body are wholly incompatible with the kind of sex education that produces confident children who understand their own needs and feel at home in their changing bodies. It is rather galling to see many of those who have aggressively promoted the former now complain that we are at risk of losing the latter.

What did they expect? This is what happens with the kind of forced-teaming in which a certain sector of the “progressive” Left has been engaging. Getting sex education right is vitally important, because potential abusers have always used the line that their abuse is itself “educational”. Yet so many of us were told not to criticise anything at all.

“The invocation of young people in political discourse often serves reactionary ends,” wrote Amia Srinivasan in 2021’s bestselling The Right to Sex. “Calls to protect their innocence are based on a fantasy of childhood that does not and never did exist — a childhood untouched by the world of adults and adult desires.”

One might wonder what Srinivasan means by “innocence”. Is she truly incapable of distinguishing it from ignorance or incuriosity, or of understanding the importance of minimising how far children’s lives are “touched” by certain “adult desires”? Or does she, like the trans activist Alok Maid-Venon, just want us to agree that “little girls are also kinky”? Are there any distinctions to be made? If so, when?

Age-appropriate, relationship-focused sex education could produce a generation of young people capable of identifying predatory behaviour anywhere: in the home, on the internet, on the Right, or on the Left. But unless this is the education the “progressives” are willing to fight for — and if so, I’d join them — they cannot complain if others have heard them say “all or nothing” and taken them at their word.


Victoria Smith is a writer and creator of the Glosswitch newsletter.

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ralph bell
ralph bell
5 days ago

Sex education is now a political minefield used by certain educationalists for their own ends. Young children should not have unmonitored access to the internet via mobiles etc. I would leave sex education and personal and social education for secondary schools. I don’t think scaremongering the majority is a good way of tackling safeguarding.

David Morley
David Morley
5 days ago
Reply to  ralph bell

Has been for decades. But some of the ideologues of yesteryear are unhappy it has now been captured by a new set they disagree with.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

A new set who lie and are intent on harming children both physically and mentally.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago

All ideologues think they are on the side of the saints. They perhaps lack self awareness – but rarely do they set out with the intent of doing harm. If only they did! They would then struggle to get any support. As it is the gullible and well meaning often flock to their banner.

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Who gets to decide who and who is not an “ideologue”?

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  Peter Thompson

That’s a good question. In theory it assumes that we must have some norm with which we compare them. This could be a norm of scientific evidence, or an established social norm.

In reality I think it’s simpler. I think ideologues reveal themselves through their behaviour: total certainty about their own position; factual positions take on a moral aspect; morality based attacks on those who disagree with them; doctrinal rigidity; counter evidence makes them dig their heels in; vehemence, hatred and anger towards those who disagree; concept invention to paper over cracks; concepts which parade as factual but are actually judgemental; pretence of having the interests of their opponents at heart; general confusion of fact, feeling and morality etc.

By their fruits shall ye know them.

Last edited 4 days ago by David Morley
Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
4 days ago
Reply to  ralph bell

Secondary school is too late. Children need to know what is going to happen to their bodies in puberty before it starts happening so 9 is about the right age to start informing them about the biological processes. Prior to 9 teaching kids not to interact with strangers in the real world or online and maybe also something about family members inappropriately touching them may be appropriate if done properly – there is evidence that it has not been done properly as inappropriate touching has been confused with touching they are not comfortable with and is therefore a groomer’s charter.
Whilst this is yet another last gasp doing the right thing by the Tories, it is too little too late from a government which has either been too cowardly or asleep at the wheel for far too long. Rather than just banning it there should be a very clear curriculum with centrally approved materials available for the correct teaching at each age group, but Labour will be in charge by then and is likely to reintroduce all the harmful ideology this measure hopes to start pushing out.
What is happening about drag queen story hour? If that is not a groomers charter I don’t know what is (not saying the drag queens are doing the grooming themselves but they open the door for others like Andrew Miller AKA Amy George).

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
5 days ago

How about we leave it to parents to decide what and when they speak to their children about such things and teachers stay out of it?

David Morley
David Morley
5 days ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

I’d like to agree, but not all parents are capable of doing this effectively.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
5 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

And schools are? Perhaps offering parents guidance rather than just handing parental responsibilities to schools would be more effective? Schools keep proving time and again that they are poor state parents.

Not all parents are fit parents full stop which is why we have a care system, however we don’t take ALL children from parents just incase, so why are we shaping our education system based on that same assumption?

Last edited 5 days ago by Lindsay S
Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
4 days ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

It’s a bit Brave New World

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

If modern parents are better informed about sex, and better able to educate their children, that may be because of sex education in schools and in the media. It certainly isn’t because there is an unbroken line of effective and accurate parental sex education. Kids in the past picked up, or were actually told by their parents, a right load of rubbish!

If that hasn’t simply been passed on, it’s because better sources of information have been found.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

so what is it about teachers that makes them so much more uniquely qualified to discuss sex than random adults known as parents? A lot of teachers are parents. Was there some secret class they attended that was closed off to the rest of us?

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Was there some secret class they attended that was closed off to the rest of us?

Actually I would like to hope so. Just as I would hope geography teachers know more about geography than the average person off the street.

Also I have actually met someone who provides sex education inservice training to teachers. So I guess that’s the secret class.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

That sounds like a great idea or special sex ed teachers that go into schools and teach children. I’m a product of not being taught anything about sex either at home or in school, and I can say that ignorance is not bliss.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Parents tend to know where babies come from, having produced some, which is clearly more than can be said of teachers.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago

not sure if you are saying teachers are all ignorant or all childless. Clearly neither is universally true.

Last edited 4 days ago by David Morley
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

This has often been the argument, but it’s quite condescending and clearly wrong. The “parents aren’t qualified” dismissal by “experts” have enabled blue-haired, pierced-and-tatted-up rainbow weirdos to run the public schools. Those with the lowest SAT scores and grades in any college or university are the education majors. They’re why many of us abandoned public schools for private and home. The very last people who should be talking about sex to our children are people who don’t know the difference between sex and gender.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago

The very last people who should be talking about sex to our children are people who don’t know the difference between sex and gender.

The very last people who should be talking about sex to our children are people who think an easy distinction between sex and gender can be made. We actually don’t know how much “gender” is rooted in sex – but it clearly is significantly so.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Gender doesn’t exist. It’s a made-up social construct used to deconstruct traditional sex roles. As a concept it’s done a lot of harm to Western societies.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Agreed.

We should stop talking about gender, and start talking about sex related differences in personality, behaviour and roles. We could then have a sensible discussion about how innate these are, how flexible and variable they are, how they manifest in different societies etc

Instead we get this silly bleating about gender being a social construct, as if the nature/nurture debate was over and had come down 100% on the side of nurture.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Sex = gender. Synonyms. The rest is made-up to disguise fetishes and paraphilias.

Frank Leahy
Frank Leahy
4 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Sex is a property of living organisms. Gender is a grammatical property of nouns and adjectives. They’re not synonyms. There are two sexes but (in English) three genders, as inanimate objects are usually grammatically neuter.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago

Plenty of parents are weirdos too. They don’t all become teachers! I take your point though. And probably female domination of the profession doesn’t help either.

Last edited 4 days ago by David Morley
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago

So strange to see “blue-haired”used to denote pierced anti-social progressive folk with tattoos. In my day, blue-haired was a conservative old lady with a blue rinse.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yes – they’ve all gone blonde and gone for the Karen cut.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

So the government should? This is how liberty dies and tyranny gets a foot hold. Where does it end? The answer is nowhere. It’s a slow creep that never ends. If the government needs to protect children from their parents, why not protect people from their own bad decisions as well? This is how we ended up with nonsense like cities regulating the size of soft drinks in restaurants and tobacco companies perpetually funding an anti-smoking campaign.
It’s even worse when there’s no commonly agreed upon set of cultural principles upon which to base government policy, because then all the power falls to bureaucrats and ‘experts’ who are just as political, just as biased, just as selfish, and just as prone to error as parents are. Moreover, whatever their failings might be individually or collectively, the application of government power ensures that all the mistakes are spread universally across the nation. Individuals can abuse, hurt, and neglect children. Organized governments and large organizations are capable of far greater horrors. Whatever system exists, it must be directly accountable to the will of the people. I personally favor the American system where local school boards are able to wield considerable influence and the state government is the highest authority while the national government in Washington has no formal authority.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

This is how liberty dies and tyranny gets a foot hold. Where does it end? The answer is nowhere. It’s a slow creep that never ends. 

This is called the slippery slope fallacy. We’re discussing sex Ed in schools, not the end of civilisation.

Accountability – great, all for it.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
3 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

The slippery slope is only a fallacy when it’s incorrect. The process of losing freedoms can proceed a little at a time, slow step by step as people give up a little bit, then a little bit more. It’s simply a matter of deciding where to draw the line. We can disagree about where to draw the line but it has to be somewhere or the slippery slope argument is valid. Given what I can clearly see in the educational establishment today, I question the wisdom of handing any authority over children without some system of strict public oversight in place. I think we agree that transparency and accountability are the key elements here

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
4 days ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Seconded.

David Morley
David Morley
5 days ago

As feminist campaigners have long been pointing out, some young children are currently being given poor, ill-informed and inappropriate teaching on sex, gender and relationships in the name of “inclusion”. 

Which in translation means: based on somebody else’s ideology, and following somebody else’s agenda, rather than their own.

What we need is to purge sex Ed (indeed education in general) of ideologically based teaching which is not based on sound science or other unbiased reasearch. And if that is too difficult, at least present ideological positions as what they are, not as established truth!

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

You’d still be upset if that did happen though because science supports transgender people, and it does show that biological sex is not easily divisible into two categories and that gender identities that rest on top of that certainly don’t fit into two neat categories.
It’s always strange to see people who claim that being transgender is an ideology thinking that science supports their position. Your position is the one reinforced by political bias which is why transphobic viewpoints go hand in hand with claiming climate change doesn’t exist, attacking the concept of vaccinations, believing 5G is harmful conspiracy and a whole host of other crazy beliefs.
Established truth is that transgender people do in fact exist. Education should indeed ensure children understand this.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  Peter Thompson

Are you American?

Peter T
Peter T
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

You’d still be upset if that did happen though because science supports transgender people, and it does show that biological sex is not easily divisible into two categories and that gender identities that rest on top of that certainly don’t fit into two neat categories.
It’s always strange to see people who claim that being transgender is an ideology thinking that science supports their position. Your position is the one reinforced by political bias which is why transphobic viewpoints go hand in hand with claiming climate change doesn’t exist, attacking the concept of vaccinations, believing 5G is harmful conspiracy and a whole host of other crazy beliefs.
Established truth is that transgender people do in fact exist. Education should indeed ensure children understand this.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago
Reply to  Peter T

There are two sexes. Period. It sounds like you are claiming that intersex people are on a spectrum. No. They have disorders of sexual development and are still male or female, just like every animal , insect and plant. There are no third, fourth or fifth sexes. It’s all about gametes, gonads and chromosomes.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  Peter T

You’re attacking a straw man I’m afraid. On top of which you have missed the point of my post. Have a cup of coffee.

Jeffrey Mushens
Jeffrey Mushens
4 days ago

So, what is wrong with the Government’s proposals? Actually?
Up to age 9 I think children should be learning to read and write and arithmetic. I don’t think this should be controversial.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago

Yes, I think 9 is early enough, though I wouldn’t object to something genuinely age appropriate prior to that.

David Morley
David Morley
5 days ago

Age-appropriate, relationship-focused sex education could produce a generation of young people capable of identifying predatory behaviour anywhere

Obviously staying safe is a key part of sex education. But that isn’t its whole purpose. We want our children to grow up with healthy attitudes to sex, and to other people – not with the view that they live in a terrible dangerous world full of predators. Because they simply don’t. And teaching them that they do is itself damaging.

I thought it telling that this was the note the piece ended on.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

It kind of is everywhere. Almost every school preaches LGBQT agenda points to children against their will. As a high school teacher, I’ve had quite a few students come up to me and ask why they are being taught this crap. It is my experience that most children have a natural aversion to homosexuality, yet a lot of schools see it as their job to get around this aversion somehow.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
4 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

” As a high school teacher, I’ve had quite a few students come up to me and ask why they are being taught this crap.”
Our resident fantasist is back – and back with a doozy!

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 days ago

Children are smarter than you give them credit for and often rebel against the dogma of their elders.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
3 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

The kids are fine. Its your ridiculous stories that I enjoy mocking.

John Murray
John Murray
4 days ago

I didn’t have any sex education in primary school (although my mother did at one point explain the process to me). At 11, in first form, we had the full explanation with correct anatomical terms in biology class, and then in R.E. there was some “relationship” education about consent and girls not necessarily having the same outlook on things as boys (it was an all boys school). Honestly, seemed fine to me.

David Morley
David Morley
4 days ago
Reply to  John Murray

My experience was similar. My mother was very enlightened, and told me the basics when I was seven. Even at secondary school other kids were shockingly ignorant.

At school we even got an enlightened view of visual stimulation – with no naughty pictures = evil patriarchy/ work of Satan nonsense.

Point of Information
Point of Information
4 days ago

Kids have questions and if you don’t answer them, as honestly and completely as you think you can, they will make up their own answers (remember some of the nonsense myths we believed as kids).

Also they get “information” from other kids at school which may be accurate and come from parents or may be rubbish from god knows where.

Having a pet which goes into season and (on a restricted basis) reproduces should offer a corrective on the biology, maybe schools should go back to having rabbits? It could also reduce the cost of protein in school meals…

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 days ago

Here’s a radical idea: teach kids to read, write, and do math. In the US, we have quite enough barely literate high school ‘graduates’ as it is. There are entire city school systems in which not a single student performs at grade level. Maybe the fixation on sexuality, gender, and race is misplaced.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 days ago

This takes me back to the 5th grade when one day the teachers separated the girls and the boys. We girls had a presentation called “You’re a Young Lady Now.” Basically, we learned that we were going to have periods any day. We learned that we would bleed for about five or six days every month. I thought, “Gross.” One girl asked if boys had periods, too. No. Unfair! There was no mention of PMS, craps or pregnancy. That was it. We would have to navigate our journey through puberty on our own. (My parents said nothing about sex.) Having a real education about sex and it’s perils would been handy. Kids are lucky now, and also unlucky because they lose their innocence at such a young age. Please spare them the talks about a million genders; about people who literally change sex; about kinky sex and fetishes and gender souls. Let them be children.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
5 days ago

Frankly speaking, sex education in the internet age is like trying to grow potatoes in a salt marsh. Internet porn kills the roots of healthy sexual consciousness. Here it is in song:
The Porn Song (youtube.com)

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
4 days ago

“The invocation of young people in political discourse often serves reactionary ends,” wrote Amia Srinivasan in 2021’s bestselling The Right to Sex. “Calls to protect their innocence are based on a fantasy of childhood that does not and never did exist — a childhood untouched by the world of adults and adult desires.”

As a reactionary, I welcome Amia Srinivasan’s insight and plan to keep my kids as far away from her ideas as possible.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
4 days ago

If there are ‘vast differences’ between children at that age, then maybe it’s better just to leave it to their parents to decide!

Neil Wareham
Neil Wareham
4 days ago

Surely a key factor in what has come to pass is ideological capture. What has been seen as important is not sex ed, but sex and gender indoctrination. No, surely this has not been universal, but it has been far more the case than it ought to have been. A key element of ideological capture has been to preserve secrecy, so that there are things that ought to be kept within the group, including the materials used. Parents have too often been the enemy. When one looks at these characteristics in other fields, it is clear that they are important elements of coercive control and cult behaviour. Parents ought to a much greater degree be back in a cooperative driving seat.

H W
H W
2 days ago

Compulsory school attendance is one of the biggest boundary violations around.

William Brand
William Brand
4 days ago

The lesson not taught is that the vagina is a boy’s playpen but the c******s is the girls pleasure button. Girls must teach their male lovers that the p***s does a poor job of rubbing off the c******s. Its just 1/2 inch too far, and that if a man wants to play in the vagina, he must start with the c******s and after intercourse finish the girl off with either his tongue or a vibrator on her c******s.

David Morley
David Morley
3 days ago
Reply to  William Brand

Presumably you are the CLIT commander!