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Andrea Leadsom suggests an age guidance rating for sex and relationship education materials

By Joseph Willits 
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LeadsomIn a Westminster Hall debate on Sex and Relationship Education, Andrea Leadsom MP (South Northamptonshire) has said she would like to see books and videos used in the teaching of sex education, given an age guidance rating. The "perfect template", she said was the system already implemented by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). Despite the need to use sex education to "tackle issues such as teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases", Leadsom said that some of the material used was "completely inappropriate" and "sends out totally the wrong message". When fears of the "sexualisation of childhood" are heightened, she said, "sexually explicit and inappropriate materials in primary school classrooms can only make things worse." 

Leadsom said she had been "shown leaflets given out to primary school children that give graphic definitions of orgasms, masturbation and prostitution" which were being used to educated children as young as 5. There are accounts, she said, of children's "traumatic experiences ... who have been put off having boyfriends", coming to the conclusion that sex "looks absolutely horrific”, therefore having a counter-productive effect. 

The materials uses to teach sex education, she said, were guilty of failing to place proper "emphasis on building relationships", and that children should be taught "primarily about relationships". Children, she said, needed "to understand that sex is almost always better when you are in love, or when you are in a committed relationship". On the issue of sex and relationship education for younger children, "the relationship side" she said "can be separate from the sexual side at a very young age", and that at a young age, a "child is not old enough to conceptualise what the act of sex means". Leadsom used gay relationships as an example, saying it "is entirely appropriate to teach that sometimes men love other men, but it is not appropriate to teach what sometimes men do with other men".

Although schools are often teaching sex and relationship education "with the best of intentions", Leadsom said the issue of teaching sex education is fraught with inconsistency. Having "varying amounts of intervention and careful analysis by schools, parents and governors" justified the need for some form of licensing system. Parents, she said, needed "to be able genuinely to have their say and to be made actively aware of what kind of sex education is being taught to their children". Many parents "had no idea" of the content of sex education, and were "horrified" at what they discovered. It should be assumed, she said, that parents should be given the chance to opt-in, rather than opt-out, which is the current assumption.

Schools Minister, Nick Gibb welcomed Leadsom's comments, saying she was "right when she says that we must ensure that any materials used in schools are properly scrutinised". Materials, he said, must be "suitable for young children" and it must be made sure that they "do not add to the sexualisation of children instead of protecting them from it". Gibb also said that at present, sex and relationship education "is not compulsory in primary schools and we [the Government] have no plans to make it so."

You can watch the debate in full, here.


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