The Telegraph needs a non-sexist approach to promoting sex-ed

Clare Perry's campaign for a porn filter might undermine her support for better sex ed, writes Zoe Margolis.

The Daily Telegraph has today announced a campaign for better sex education in schools. Fronted by Conservative MP Claire Perry, the Prime Minister’s advisor on children, who argues that sex education needs to challenge the “negative impact of online pornography”, the campaign’s objectives are to push for an overhaul of sex education in schools.

As an advocate of mandatory sex education and an ambassador for Brook the young people’s sexual health charity, I support any demands for improvement of sex education.

However, the problem is not porn, it’s the lack of consistent, decent sex and relationships education (SRE) in all schools. Ms Perry states: “…the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s changes to the national curriculum that aim to teach children from primary school upwards how to behave safely and responsibly in a digital world are so sensible and welcome.” It’s utterly insincere of Ms Perry to focus on the supposed threat of online pornography, whilst ignoring that her own party, the Conservatives, in June of this year, actually voted against making personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, including sex and relationships education (SRE), statutory in state schools.

The Department for Education states: “Our recent PSHE review found that the existing guidance offers a sound framework for sex and relationship education in school.” But by voting against Clause 20, which included teaching young people about consent – arguably the most important aspect of SRE – the government has shown that it does not take seriously the need to support young people, or help them make informed choices about their lives.

Given this, David Cameron and the Conservatives pushing for an internet "porn filter" to protect children is totally disingenuous; undermining sex education on the one hand, and limiting young people’s online access to information on the other is not just illogical, but actually harmful.

Of course sex education should be updated to include digital content, and I agree with the NSPCC that it is currently “woefully inadequate”, but we can’t blame pornography for all the misinformation that young people receive: the damage has been done by the vacuum of inadequate, non-statutory SRE in schools and the blame lies squarely with the government.

Responsibility lies elsewhere too. It’s great that the Telegraph placed this story on the front page of the paper and website, where it could achieve maximum exposure, but positioning it in the "Women" section, and then in the sub-section "Sex" immediately ghettoises it and highlights a society-wide sexism and double-standard when it comes to issues of sex and also of children. It’s hard to imagine a "Men" section of the Telegraph (cue jokes that it’s everything bar the "Women" section) which has a sub-section titled "Sex" – and if it did, it would surely be tongue-in-cheek, given men and sex/sexuality are rarely taken seriously by the media; men often get painted as dirty, offensive or seedy when it comes to sex and are rarely seen to be interested in talking about it (as opposed to just doing it, which clearly women don’t partake in).

In addition, by consigning the campaign to the "Women" section (and not, say, "Education") it’s clear that when it comes to any issues involving children (sex education in schools), it’s always assumed that the default interest will be from "mothers" as opposed to "fathers", or even "parents". This is insulting to both men and women and shows just how accepted these sexist gender norms are. But, more importantly, it undermines this particular campaign as a "women’s" issue – because, hey, men don’t really care about sex, right? And if the issue involves kids? Crikey, let’s steer clear of men entirely – and reinforces the disparity between what young people learn (inconsistent information, combined with falsehoods) and what they need to know (consistent informed guidance to help them navigate sex and relationships). We need equality in both the sex education content and also in how we advocate providing it. These things are important.

So, overall I do support the Telegraph’s aims of improving sex education but I would like to see a consistent, non-sexist approach to ensuring this happens. And whilst the Conservatives are bending over backwards to pay lip service on sex education, we can help young people right now, by sending them to this fantastic website (if they’ve not seen it already).

A bucket'o'condoms. Photograph: Getty Images

Zoe Margolis is a journalist and writer, famed for writing the Girl With A One-Track Mind blog. You can find more information about her work, including on sexual health, at her website. She's on Twitter as @girlonetrack.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.