Are you over 14? Having some sex and relationships education at school this year? Play along with this Bad Sex Ed Bingo card and see how good or bad it was.
You can use it to ask for better Sex Ed at your school. Remember if you have any questions about sex and relationships have a look around this website. I’ve also recently done a ‘Teach Yourself Sex Ed’ course, which you can find at the homepage.
Never played Bingo before? Just put a dab or a cross when the square comes up for you. You get points for winning a row or a column, and many many points if you get a full house (all of them). Perhaps play this with someone who had Sex Ed from another school and see how you get on. Maybe your parents / carers want to play along?
Do share your Bingo cards with me on social media and let me know what your Sex Ed was like. As with everything at this website this is for over 14s.
If you’re a teacher, this might feel quite critical about you. Sorry about that. There are lots of reasons for Sex Ed not being good enough and they are mostly not to do with you. Have a read of this about the politics of Bad Sex Ed. I do have lots and lots of free and cheap support and resources for you.
If you want to improve the RSE you offer at your school, visit DO… RSE for Schools for very high quality, and free, resources (I co-wrote them with Alice Hoyle). There’s also a load of free blogs at my website for practitioners Bish Training and resources that you can buy to help you deliver better, more challenging, interactive, and fun RSE (14+). Also your school should join the Sex Education Forum.
Below I’ll go quickly go through the squares and explain why they are bad and what could be done better.
If you are going to do a course of sex and relationships education, it should start with a group agreement. Whenever I do it (with young people or adults) that’s what I do and that’s what teachers should do with you. Why? Because sex and relationships is a topic which can feel pretty big for a lot of people. We might have experienced a lot of shame, harm, bullying, or stigma around some of these topics. Also there’s a lot of shame about talking about this in the culture generally, as I cover in the first of my Teach Yourself Sex Ed lessons.
So we need a group agreement to help us feel safe enough to take part, to know what we are going to chat about, and to feel like we can be challenged and learn.
Fewer than 6 lessons a year
Most schools don’t do enough relationships and sex education – in my opinion. As you can see from this website, it’s a pretty huge topic. Just look at the categories in the menu and how many articles there are about it! Additionally, we need Sex Ed to be there when we need it. So it needs to be every year. Maybe you got taught how to use a condom in year 10, but now it’s year 13 and you’ve forgotten. I don’t think that 6 lessons a year is too much – half a term’s worth.
Not even a mention about how disabled people
When was the last time you saw a sex scene with someone with a disability on TV? It’s not that often right? Similarly a lot of Sex Ed doesn’t really incorporate disability into their programmes. This is often due to the very definitions we have for sex and relationships. But it can also happen when Sex Ed just imagines that society gives everyone the same agency (freedom to choose) as each other.
This also doesn’t mean that you should have a one off lesson on disabilities and sex. I think that it’s better to make sure that every lesson works for all bodies. So for example, we should talk about how we all have needs that might need to be met before sex. That could be related to disability, or not, but if we aren’t having the conversation then we are not giving disabled people agency.
No teaching on how sex might be enjoyable
Young people do have sex. However Sex Ed mostly just talks about how young people should be safe, or minimise their risks from sex. That’s good, there’s a safer sex section here. However, as we’ll see, this ‘risk based’ Sex Ed is just about putting people off from having sex, rather than giving factual information.
Teaching people how they might enjoy sex does not mean teaching about positions or how to do blowjobs. It means talking about communication, the importance of relaxation, what trust feels like, how to do on-going consent, thinking about sex as being about many different things. Here’s my advice on how to enjoy sex more.
Nothing about how inequality affects how we feel about ourselves
Society does not give everyone the same opportunity to feel good about themselves, sadly. This is something which good Sex Ed should specifically try to change, but to not admit this fact is just not helpful.
You might already know that when it comes to Sex and Gender, it’s not as simple as there being one thing, or another. A lot of culture tells us that it is, for example when we are told about how to do masculinity or femininity, but this is something Sex Ed should be critical of and try to change.
This kind of binary thinking also comes up in other areas of Sex Ed too. Like porn being either good or bad. Or something being illegal or not. In consent it comes up when we talk about yes means yes and no means no. Often speaking in this way feels easy (for the teacher) but it often closes down conversations and makes it harder for us to really understand a topic.
Meeting ‘The One’
Here’s a story. Once a 16 year old girl, after class, was telling me about a problem she was having to do with sex in her relationship. A teacher then butted in and said ‘you just need to find the right man for you and everything will be fine’. The teacher’s advice was not helpful / irrelevant to the student, but also not helpful generally.
Relationships with ‘The One’ are often not that great and sometimes harmful. If we believe that there is only ‘The One’ then we might not see the harm that it does to us. Also seeking out ‘The One’ is bad for our other really important relationships too. There’s more than one ‘one’.
STI Scare Stories
People do get STIs, but not as often as people think. Also most cases of STIs either have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. Some are curable and all are treatable. Here’s everything you need to know about sex infections with no close up photos of diseased penises.
If you are shown close ups of diseased genitals, know that this is really not very common. But why are you being shown that? Is it to inform you? Or is it to scare you off having sex?
Mostly about biology
Time and time again people say that their Sex Ed was mostly about biology. Knowing some stuff about biology is useful and important. However all of our bodies are different and we all have a different relationship to our bodies. Sex educators should be more careful about this because sometimes it’s like ‘this is how your bodies work’ and not everyone’s bodies work that way.
Also a lot of people are taught very little about their bodies other than how pregnancy starts. Yes it’s good to know about that, but this shouldn’t be the whole story.
Check out the Bodies section.
Oversimplifying complex ideas
Relationships and sex education has a lot of interesting and complex topics. When people try to over-simplify it to ‘key messages’ or ‘things you should know’ it prevents us from understanding it properly.
For example, and linked to the last square, think about an orgasm. You might think that this is pretty straightforward and easy to explain, and that doing that is pretty important. But if you look at my article about Orgasms you’ll see that a) it isn’t and b) over-simplifying them can make them harder to have!
That we all have the same freedom to choose
Inequality (see above) means that society doesn’t give us all the same freedoms to choose. As I said above, this is called agency. This is important when it comes to consent teaching because there is often a difference in the amount of agency (or power) that people have in relationships. See this article about power in relationships.
That means that it’s easier for some people to ask for their needs to be met than others. It’s Bad Sex Ed Bingo if everyone just pretends that everyone is on the same level playing field. This is what sex education should be trying to achieve, but it’s not where we are now. There’s loads more about this in my book Can We Talk About Consent?
It’s mostly for Cis and Het people
If your sex ed is mostly about avoiding getting pregnant, then who is the sex ed for? So it’s Bad Sex Ed Bingo if most of your sex ed is about that. Also if all the examples or scenarios are about men and women in couples. Or if the teacher says boyfriend or girlfriend, when they mean partner or lover or themfriend. If body parts are always gendered as he or she (without the teacher saying, ‘of course, not all men have penises’) then it’s Bad Sex Ed Bingo.
Sometimes there might be a LGBTQIA lesson to make up for how straight the rest of the sex ed was. But what message does that send out about what is normal or acceptable? What if you are not straight or cis and miss that lesson? Also imagine spending your week being bullied at school for being trans and having to sit through that lesson? It’s better for sex educators to try to make sure all young people are included all the time.
Again, teachers we have advice and resources about how to actually do this at DO… RSE for Schools and here’s a blog I wrote about it too. As you see, I have a lot to complain about, but I also have a lot of free help for you.
Penis in vagina is the only sex that counts
I’ve written so much about this so I’ll be quick. It’s Bad Sex Ed Bingo to teach that the only kind of sex is penis in vagina because:
- Sex is not just about procreation.
- We’ve had at least a thousand years of this and it’s not cool.
- It teaches us a script of what we should do when we have sex (which can lead to non-consensual sex).
- This kind of sex is usually better for the penis than the vagina
- We are basically teaching girls (with vaginas) that it’s normal for sex to hurt (it isn’t and we shouldn’t teach that)
- Most women (with vulvas) prefer different kinds of sex.
- It reinforces really damaging ideas about virginity.
- Anyone without a penis or a vagina is left out. As well as anyone who might find that kind of sex too difficult.
There’s no way for sexting to be good
Because of the law around sending nudes under the age of 18 and because of sexual bullying, teachers might just say that sexting is bad and you shouldn’t do it. Sadly that means that people aren’t taught how to reduce their risks from sexting. Also when we say that all sexting is bad we basically say that someone who shares an image without consent is basically as bad as someone who shares an image with consent. Which I think is Bad Sex Ed Bingo. Here’s more about the law, consent and sexting but also how to be good at sexting.
That if you have sex you will get pregnant
If I could stop people from doing this right now I would. Anyway, try my Pregnancy Likelihood Quiz and see whether what you got taught in sex ed was accurate. If your sex ed has given you a pregnancy panic then check out Am I Pregnant?
Just as with STI Scare Stories, are you being taught this in order to give you accurate information about pregnancy risks? Or is it just to scare you off sex altogether?
Teachers, read this about how this also backfires and can actually lead to unintended pregnancies.
The other thing about this is that it implies that getting pregnant is always the worst thing that can possibly happen to a young person. However that’s not true for all people. Some young people might feel quite pleased, or indifferent, or shocked, or sad. It also creates stigma for people at school who might be pregnant and intend to carry on to give birth. Also young people can get abortions. However you feel about abortions, they are pretty common and certainly one of the options for people. Here’s more about finding your local sexual health service for pregnancy tests, impartial advice, and abortion referral.
Lectures in assembly
If your sex ed is mostly just lectures in assembly then it’s Bad Sex Ed Bingo. Sometimes lectures can be useful if they give useful accurate information (for example, where your local sexual health services are). It also helps if they lectures involve some audience participation, a bit of discussion perhaps. If they get followed up by a series of workshops, that’s better. At the very least a lecture should be funny.
But good Sex Ed is about information, skills, values, feelings, and examining culture. So it should be much more about you chatting with each other (in pairs, and small groups) about really interesting topics. Just being talked at is unlikely to be able to give you the skills to be able to talk with others about relationships and sex. Also lectures encourage the over-simplification of ideas. They also assume that everyone’s experiences are going to be the same. Also they just assume that what you have to say is not as interesting as what the lecturer has to say (which is definitely not true).
Only being taught about the law and not ethics
The law is a pretty low standard for how we should live our lives. If every decision we made was entirely about whether it was legal or not then we really could be making a lot of other people’s lives miserable. Also it’s another example of unhelpful binary thinking – is it legal, or not.
Much more interesting, and important, is to think about ethics. What does it mean to do good when we are in relationships with people? Where do our values come in? How do we get and give trust? What does it feel like when someone is trying to make something as consensual as possible for you?
Boys want sex not love, girls want love not sex
Back to basic binary thinking again! Culture tells us that men should behave in one way and girls should behave in another. This is true for sex and in other aspects of our lives too. It’s Bad Sex Ed Bingo if we don’t get to examine this and think of how we might change it. Try this Teach Yourself Sex Ed about culture and gender.
You had one lesson on consent, and it was the tea and consent video
Consent is an interesting and massively important topic. Just thinking that you can cover it in one lesson is pretty boring and stupid in my opinion. At the very least you should be learning how you can actually practice consent. Either through negotiating choosing a bar of chocolate, or learning how to do consensual greetings, or chatting with each other about agency and who is allowed to have sex.
I really hate that Tea and Consent video. Teachers, please stop showing it to your students. Instead, use the DO… handshake activity or in my Consent Teaching Pack. Also everyone buy my book!
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You could also buy my Sex Ed Activity Book, a fun zine with over 50 worksheets to help you to work out how you can do sex, love, and you.
Not feeling safe to report harassment, violence, or bullying
It doesn’t matter how good your sex ed is if the whole school is unable to support the aims of good sex ed. School should feel like a safe enough space. Where you can report things if you are being harmed. In a place where name calling, shaming, and bullying is taken seriously. Read more about how bullying happens.
Not being taught about feelings
Yes you can be taught about feelings. I’ve done sadness, anger, loss and plan to do more. But also sex ed should be a place where you should be able to talk about feelings. An old (great) sex ed idea is to take a relationship scenario (it could be one in TV, or one you make up) and to ask ‘Feel, Think, Do’. What are they feeling, what might they be thinking, what might they do? Feelings are super important and why do we do relationships and sex if not for the feels? Why don’t we talk about them enough?
Romantic relationships being taught as the most important
Just like with ‘The One’, it’s Bad Sex Ed Bingo when we are taught that romantic relationships are the most important relationship. The way that sex ed (and culture generally) talks about romantic relationships is that they are somehow magical and will make everything okay for ever. They won’t.
It’s much better to think about all the different kinds of relationships we might have. To consider what we can learn from one when we think of another and also to think of ourselves as having a few close people. See this How to Have Relationships guide.
They assume you watch porn
This one really annoys me. I know that not all of you watch porn, but it seems like everyone else thinks that this isn’t the case. In my Teach Yourself Sex Ed – the Sex We See I have a porn statistics quiz, try it!
Also it’s not accurate to say that porn causes harm in young people (or that it cause anything). Teachers, have a read of this blog from me which summarises a lot of the research into porn.
Sex education also has this knack of saying that you really shouldn’t have sex whilst also assuming that everyone does want sex. This isn’t true for a lot of young people. Either because they are just not ready and aren’t interested in sex, or because they don’t experience sexual wishes or wants.
Sex = Embarrassing and Not to be Talked About
I’ve heard people say this! Not exactly helpful is it? If it is true that sex is hard to talk about then we need to examine why and use that to help us learn how we can learn to do things differently.
Even if no-one actually says this to you, this can be the overall vibe that a lot of people get from their sex ed. If the teacher was clearly untrained, not well supported, anxious (and tried to pretend they weren’t) then that’s the message you’re getting. Did you have very little sex ed and when you did it was only in assembly? Then that’s the message you’re getting.
Again, teachers, I know this is hard but it’s also on your managers to support you to do this. They should be giving you support and training and adequate resources to do this. Also the government haven’t helped and years of cuts mean that a lot of the outside experts who were available to do this work aren’t around anymore or can’t offer free support. Your school should join the Sex Education Forum for support and help in developing your RSE.
You got no say in what you were taught
It’s very ironic to teach young people about consent, whether they want to or not. I’m not sure whether relationships and sex education should be an optional subject or not. However I do think that students should have much more input into what they are taught. At the very very least they should be able to have Q&A sessions, or have choices in how they discuss topics. Also the benefits of doing small group discussion work is that students can opt out when they feel like it.
Okay that’s it. If you want an A4 printable version of this just click on the image below, and print the full size version.
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© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.