One area where RSE really sits in the context of the broader PSHE curriculum is in doing anti-oppression work. Inclusive RSE is a really important aspect of this, making sure that everyone feels visible in our materials and resources. It’s also important that we aren’t reproducing a one size fits all version of sex and relationships which is white, straight, cis, and able bodied. To do that I reckon that we should give people the tools to try to figure out how they want to do (or not do) relationships and sex which fit in with their values.
However, even when are giving young people tools to navigate what works for them, we also need to ensure that we aren’t just presenting a level playing field. Oppression is going to make it harder for some people to make their choices around sex and relationships than others. The messages that many of us receive about different (and intersecting) parts of our identity can really do a number on us.
- disabled people being brought up to believe that they can never ‘have sex’ or be seen as sexual
- women who are told that they they shouldn’t ask for what they want from sex lest they be called a s**t (but that they definitely need to be interested in sex)
- people of colour (or BAME folk) experiencing racism and being told from a young age they are lesser, or pose a threat to white people and whiteness generally. Also how some people of colour are hypersexualised and others not
- lesbian, gay and bisexual folk being told that they have to come out at some point and so are not the default ‘normal’ sexuality
- trans folk’s experiences of often violent transphobia in the media and in the street making them feel that they don’t have a right to exist
- poor people, feeling that there can be so much more at stake in a romantic relationship for them than someone who has more money
- asexual folk hearing the messages that romance and sex are interlinked, and so could never really ‘love’ someone
So we need to make sure that RSE reflects this. We do this throughout the DO… resources by talking about how sometimes society gives some folk status and other folk stigma. Lesson one has an activity about how people’s experience of discrimination might make it much more difficult for them to feel okay about themselves. It’s covered in lesson two, where students can learn about an intersectional approach to gender. Lesson four includes how these different statuses and stigmas can make negotiating sex harder and easier for some people. The final lesson has real life scenarios which bring a lot of this out for students too.
The other thing to do here is to make sure that we are advocating for the rights of everyone. By eradicating racism, religious intolerance, sexism, homo/bi/transphobia, ablism, classism then we would be going some way to even up the playing field and to make it easier for people to have the kinds of sex and relationships that feel okay for them. When people/the media whip up ‘debates’ about the rights of and existence of LGBT folk and other protected groups then we are actively making so many people’s lives harder. So good RSE needs this kind of advocacy too.
© Justin Hancock, 2019