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Let’s reinvent sex education

Words: Maria Jencel and Johanna Kinnock

Photos: Carol Yepes / Getty Images

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The latest episode of the 5 Podcast asks the question: what would the school of tomorrow look like if we designed it today? And one topic that today’s kids would definitely benefit from learning more about is sex.

Education as we know it today was invented hundreds of years ago. It hasn’t stayed the same since then, of course, but it hasn’t been completely reinvented either.

Well, now’s the time. If we were inventing a school today, what would it be like? The latest episode of the 5 Podcast dives into the possibilities of a school that prepares kids for the challenges of the actual world that is waiting for them (scroll down for the link).

Gender fluidity. Consent. The female orgasm. Body shaming. #Metoo. Sexism. Revenge porn. Self worth. The LGBTQ movement. The list goes on. Sex as we understand it today is about far more than the basics of reproduction and protection that today’s adults learned about in school, and that kids continue to learn.

So modern sex education was high on the list when 5 started planning our New School. We met with Lene Stavngaard, director of the Danish Family and Planning Association, about how to make kids comfortable in their bodies and not feel shame in the modern world of sex.

“Sexual education isn’t just about sex, it’s about life skills”

Lene Stavngaard

“Sexual education isn’t just about sex, it’s about life skills,” Lene told 5. “The link between gender, body and sexuality to mental health is really really strong. Kids who are being bullied are either being bullied about their gender or gender expression, their bodies, or something around sexuality. A lot of our curse words are words that surround sexuality or gender.”

Lene believes we need to be teaching about sex from as early as pre-school. “Prioritising comprehensive sexual education, is tackling some of the very important problems we have in our society. Problems with inequality, mental health, violence, consent, rape, digital violence etc. All of these things would have a much better outlook if we had a whole generation, who had progressive systematic sexual education.”

One of Lene’s key aims is to erase the culture of sexual shame from kids from when they are very young. After all, if shame was not a part of a woman’s upbringing then digital sexual violence, for instance, could not exist. She imagines what a shame-free young girl would say to someone who threatened to share nude photos of her: “Well, you can send it to my parents and my friends. I’m not afraid, I’m not ashamed. But it is illegal. So of course I’ll report you.”

“You would never have cases where people have been pressured and tortured to do a lot of things they didn’t want, if people didn’t have the shame,” Lene says.

5 explores this topic and others on the curriculum – including technology and climate – in our podcast on the New School. We met Lis Zacho, leader of Coding Pirates, which teaches children how to navigate in a digital world, and Phie Ambo, founder of a “green school” that puts climate at the heart of everything it does.

The New School: teaching kids about consent, coding and climate is out now wherever you get your podcasts, and also at the link below.

Lene Stavngaard photo courtesy of the Danish Family Planning Association