The bygone era, when ‘Health and Efficiency’, ‘Painting Nudes’, and page whatever-it-was of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, epitomised a boy’s sex education is long gone. Jokes like, “I’d been having sex for three years before I found out you could do it with someone else,” hold little resonance today. Girls learned from best friends in the playground or from that Wednesday morning when they had to stay behind after assembly. The modern equivalent – ‘Sex Education’, taught in Personal, Social and Health Education or alluded to in Science lessons – although more preferable to the Baby Boomer approach – struggles at times, perhaps understandably, in its efforts to deal with the emotional content associated with sex.
Google your adolescent query and you’re liable to find yourself in a quagmire of unsafe, illicit and sometimes just plain wrong material. We know this only too well and various organisations are attempting to give a little more than mere lip-service to addressing this.
There are children who can talk freely and openly with responsible parents but not that many. Some relate better to their teacher or another trusted adult but it is important that questions and discussions are handled with care and sensitivity. Objective information sharing is one thing; talking about physical and emotional feelings and then linking these to ‘private parts’ can be difficult for all concerned. Why has it taken so long then for someone to flag up a literary approach?
She’s not been in the job long but characteristically, Malorie Blackman, the recently appointed Children’s Laureate, has already created a stir. She said that young people should read about sex within the ‘safe setting’ of a book rather than learning about it through, ‘innuendo and porn’. She was saddened and upset by an article she had read, ‘where this teenage girl was saying everything her boyfriend knew about sex he knew from porn. He was brutalising her, because that’s what he thought sex was about from watching online.’ (Daily Telegraph http://tinyurl.com/q5yc686)
I would like to add my voice to those who think that no subject should be off limits to children. Teenagers especially need the reassurance, the education and the guidance that can be presented in fiction. Literature is one of the main routes to our understanding of the world. Sympathy for another’s plight, the empathy and compassion that can come from identifying with this or that protagonists’ situation, are invaluable assets to anyone’s grasp of life. Understanding feelings and developing an emotional literacy is crucial to the well-being of the next generation. It shouldn’t be underestimated. In my own writing I allude constantly to the importance and impact of emotion on lives. I must admit however that I tend to avoid direct or lengthy physical detail when it comes to sex. Its not because I’m prudish, I just think it’s rarely done well and I’m aware that I can’t do it.
I know how well received Malorie Blackman’s book, ‘Naughts and Crosses’, was with the teenagers I’ve taught. Her new novel, ‘Noble Conflict’ is already receiving great reviews. (http://tinyurl.com/pmr7hxu)
It is her book, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ that deals with the areas above in a poignant and meaningful way. (http://tinyurl.com/oz5m24l). Malorie Blackman isn’t simply suggesting writers should deal with these issues; she’s done it.
Let’s hope more writers and publishers do the same.