Gina Davidson: Sex education is a vital life lesson

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SEX. When and what do you tell your children about the nitty gritty of procreation? Are you an, excuse the phrase, warts-and-all, tell-them-everything kind of parent?

Or do the birds and the bees become the elephant in the room as your offspring grow and begin to notice bodily changes – or indeed start asking particularly awkward questions about slang words for body parts after watching YouTube videos which would have your hugely experienced hair standing on end?

I only ask because the elephant became quite literal for my oldest boy last week when he and his primary six class got the “sex talk” at Edinburgh Zoo – oh what larks we had answering his incredibly forensic questions that evening.

They were introduced officially to the physical aspects of mating by watching a video all about the mighty trunked beasts of Africa. Or they might have been from India. They have smaller ears I believe, but I’m sure that’s not an allusion of any kind.

And when released out into the zoo to look at the animals, the rhinos had apparently been well briefed and put on a bit of a show for them. The appendage in action was, he told me in horrified awe, the same size as his younger sister.

Of course he found it all bizarre and incredibly amusing, as all small boys do when it comes to anything penile. Giggling – of which there was much – was met with hard stares and
frowning from teachers.

So now he knows the hokey cokey and what it’s all about, but has no comprehension, thankfully, of why there would ever be any desire to actually have sex. And that, I do hope, will be the state of affairs for quite some years to come.

The sex education though will carry on in school – and no doubt in the playground – and it will go way beyond the physical. Schools put a lot of emphasis on the importance of relationships, of love and respect – for others as well as for the young people’s own selves.

But there’s also knowing your rights and your responsibilities when it comes to sex – in particular unwanted attention or demands for sex. Children need to know that they should never feel pressured into having sex – by adults or other children. They need to know that they can say no and have their decision heard and respected.

Underlining just how vital that is, a survey of 1400 girls by Girlguiding Scotland published six months ago, showed that one in five girls aged from seven to 12 had experienced jokes of a sexual nature from boys, while 59 per cent of girls and young women aged 13 to 21 had dealt with some form of sexual harassment, with one in five experiencing unwanted sexual attention.

Sadly 70 per cent of these girls said they wouldn’t report sexual harassment as they were too frightened.

Teaching girls this kind of “attention” is never right is essential. Teaching boys that this behaviour is never right is just as fundamental.

Rape is word which feels unfit for children’s ears. For the very young it certainly is, but while we’re teaching our children about sex, it has to be raised. It is far more important to the vast majority of teenagers for instance, than quadratic equations. After all, studies show that between half and three-quarters of men who rape did so for the first time as a teenager.

And surely the importance of dealing with these subjects in school is never more obvious when there’s yet another story about child grooming, abuse and rape by adults, about children being bullied because of their sexual orientation, about kids “sexting” each other and sending inappropriate photos through social media, about the teenage pregnancy rates, which while declining are still among the highest in western Europe.

Sex education – educating children about sex in the round and not just the biology – is all part of making healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally – individuals who have the skills they need to make decisions about sex for themselves.

There may be no examinations or projects to submit, but sex education is more vital than PE or home economics when it comes to equipping youngsters for a healthy life.

If anyone’s a warrior it’s Clare

I WISH I had a hat large enough to take off to my friend Clare Smith. Not only has she beaten breast cancer while working as the government’s top marketing whizz, but she’s now taking on the Total Warrior challenge in East Lothian this September.

She’ll be up to her oxters in ice and mud, be electrocuted and have to leap across flaming logs, all while running the 10k course. Mind you it will be good pre-season training for the hockey. Liberton Ladies HC will expect big things.

Knock-on effect of departure

LIKE Mark Turley before him Peter Gabbitas has left the council building and it seems likely he too will not return.

Whatever the reasons for his departure are, the fact that both these men were overseeing massive departments going through huge upheaval at a time of reducing budgets proves that the constant chipping away at local government finance eventually has an impact.

At the moment it’s been the jobs of directors few people will feel too sorry for as they no doubt will have decent pensions and possibly pay-offs too. But without a doubt the impact will be felt most by those reliant on the services the council and NHS provide.

Cabbies do city proud

WHO needs to see a swallow when you’ve got an Edinburgh taxi cab to tell you summer is here? The sun always seem to shine when it’s time for the annual trip by taxi drivers, their cabs decked out in colourful balloons as they take special needs children to the beach for the day. It’s one of the city’s best traditions.