Monday, August 15, 2011

Relationship Ed.

I'm glad schools teach Sex Ed, even if they do make an awful mess of it; knowing how your sexy parts work, what risks sex carries, and how to use contraception are important life skills. They're skills the kids may need right away, or may not need until they're married, but either way, they're safer and better prepared.

But one of the things I'm realizing lately is that for all the drama and angst and danger it can entail, sex is easy. Love is hard. So here's a message I wish kids got:

"Our society sends a lot of confusing messages about love, and you may feel pressured to fall in love. And that's a natural urge; it's okay. But you have to be careful. Make sure you're ready for love. Make sure you're doing it with the right person, and for the right reasons. And above all else, make sure you're being safe."

Of course, I would never advocate abstinence-only Relationship Ed. So here's some other things I'd like to see on the curriculum:

-The different types of relationships that you can have. This would include mention of sexual orientation, but wouldn't mainly be about that. It would be about the spectrum from a casual date to a lifelong love commitment, and the many, many options in between. We'd talk about how one relationship script--even an "enlightened" one, Science Club members, I'm on to you--can never work for everybody and there is no "ideal" relationship.

-How to negotiate, communicate, and argue with your partner. The biggest focus here would be on the difference between "an argument" and "a fight." You know the way you talk to a guy talking shit about your mom, or the way you talk to a customer service agent who's not giving you what you want, or the way you talk to a cop who's pulling you over? None of these are how you talk to your partner when you disagree.

-How to identify a destructive relationship. This would include a lot of discussion about abusive relationship dynamics, but not only that; it would also go through the warning signs of a relationship that's turning to crap or ruining your life even if there's no abuse involved. If it was me teaching the class, I don't think I could get through this unit without a screening of Twilight.

-How to not abuse someone. "Don't hit them" would be mentioned but wouldn't be the focus. The focus would be on "don't try to control them." We'd talk about the fears relationships can stir up--fear of cheating, fear of losing their respect, fear of losing the relationship--and appropriate and inappropriate responses to these fears.

-How to end a relationship. Students would be given a script for ending a relationship peacefully, if not painlessly; for separating from someone even though they don't hate them. Maybe more than anything, they'd be told that it's normal and okay for a relationship to end, and that a relationship can be meaningful even though it's temporary.

-"It's okay to be single." This wouldn't be pushing singledom, but it would be destigmatizing it. Now, class, let's talk about some bad stereotypes of people who are single, and why those are wrong. Let's talk about how a romantic relationship can be a good thing, but it can never complete you. Let's talk about how whether you're a "real" man or woman is defined by you, and not by the relationships you have. Let's talk about why--especially at your young age, but really any time--it's better to be single than to be in a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship.

These are all crucial skills, yet they're ones that most people have to learn by trial and error, from the dubious and pseudoscience-ridden mess of self-help books and websites, or when they're already in therapy. If we really want to prepare kids for the adult world of sex, dating, and even marriage, teaching them how to put on a condom is the very tip of the iceberg. Teaching them how to say "I don't agree with you and I'm not changing my mind, but I still love you"--now that's a life skill.

This isn't just fuzzy stuff. It's public health. Good relationship ed could cut down massively on teen pregnancy, STI transmission, intimate partner violence, suicide, and sexual assault. Knowing how to have a respectful relationship isn't just about self-help. It can save lives.


  1. Teaching them how to say "I don't agree with you and I'm not changing my mind, but I still love you"--now that's a life skill.

    A thousand times yes.

    And it won't just help teen health - divorces are one of the most stressful things an adult person can go through, and we all know what that does to health. teaching people healthy relationships can literally save lives.

    (er. not that I'm saying healthy relationship = married forever. but relationship stress is one of the worst kinds of stresses, and if education can help eliminate it that would be awesome.)

  2. Great post. Out of everything you mentioned, I'd say that relationship violence is probably the only thing that really gets talked about, but even then only in a "if you've been attacked dump him [always a him] and call the police immediately" sort of way.

  3. An excellent post. You have definitely brought up an issue that needs much wider attention. My life would have been so much better if I had had this kind of education, even if they'd messed it up as badly as they have done with sex ed -- at least I'd have given it more thought at that age. And I bet I'm not the only one.

  4. Actually, my grade 8 sex-ed class covered abusive relationships- not just physical abuse, but verbal, emotional and financial abuse. I still don't remember how to label an internal diagram of the female reproductive system, but I remember my young, beautiful teacher telling us that we all had value and not to stay in a relationship with somebody who didn't see that or tried to tell you otherwise.

  5. Teazombie - That's awesome! Mine had a little bit of "if he hits you get help," but it was barely grazed over, and had absolutely no allowance for "if she hits you" or "if he doesn't touch you but makes you feel like crap."

  6. I think about half my dating problems would have been solved if someone had taken me aside and said "'he's nice' is not enough of a reason to date someone."

  7. I was only halfway through this post and already hitting the Share button on G+. Very good post, Holly.

  8. I have to say, the worst thing about my sex ed was the complete lack of discussion of how to do casual or friends-with-benefits relationships safely or healthily--and this would definitely correct for that.

  9. CAN you teach that class? Please? Because I really need a relationship ed class. And I'm over 30, so clearly some people are more successful at figuring this stuff out for themselves than others.

  10. Seriously Holly, I know a of lot people have told you they think you should write a book (and I agree with them), but have you ever considered giving seminars or something along those lines? You seem well qualified for that sort of thing.

    Short version: What Vicky said.

  11. Yes, very much needed and very much not likely to happen in much of the US alas. People want to be seen to be 'moral' and to shout about 'morality' much more than they want to actually help the young.

    And I very much agree with the 'living alone' header. "You don't die from celibacy!" (Trust me on this one...)

    That said, 'living with others' is also a skill, whether it's sharing a flat or marrying someone and raising children together. Let's just get 'doing your share of the housework' and 'not being a selfish dick' into the heads of as many people as possible and we might stave off a few percentage points of divorces a year. Maybe even do something for the murder rate....

  12. Yes. Please, yes. I would enroll immediately.

    Another thing to add might be how to safely extricate yourself from an abusive relationship. Most of the violence happens after the person leaves, and the police can do so little, and most don't want to involve themselves in domestic disputes because they're so messy and dangerous. It can also include stuff like "how to help someone who needs it" and "how to talk to someone you expect is being abused about the situation".

    For singles: "if you're single and don't want to be, how to deal with it" and "if you're single and like it, how to tell other to fuck off--it's none of their business".

  13. "CAN you teach that class? Please? Because I really need a relationship ed class. And I'm over 30, so clearly some people are more successful at figuring this stuff out for themselves than others. - Vicky

    Where do I sign up?
    Also, if you have a time machine, I could have done with knowing a lot of this stuff a good 20 years ago. Not that I know it now, of course, but it's a bit late to do me much good.

  14. Yes! I think all of that should be part of sex-ed. Or maybe the whole thing needs a new name, but they absolutely belong together.

  15. Yes, this. No-one tells kids this stuff, so you have to kind of piece it together from sitcoms. (As a side note, Roseanne has some great examples of how to argue with a partner while still being clearly in love.) Some other things I'd like to see:

    * You don't have to get it right the first time. If you go through a breakup, from an initial crush to a major traumatic divorce, it doesn't mean that you'll never have another fulfilling relationship. Or that you screwed things up with The One. (The whole The One thing is kind of ridiculous in any case.)

    * People grow and change. Your partners may grow with you or away from you, and this can cause tension between you, potentially leading to fights and breakups. Remember that it isn't anyone's fault, they didn't lie about who they were, they just changed what they want. You probably did the same. You need to learn to discuss your needs and goals as they change; and to listen to your partner's. (Or partners', as the case may be.)

    There's some other stuff as well, but I think Holly captured the core gaps.

  16. The only one I'd add is

    "Relationships are not a zero-sum game. If someone is winning or losing, something is wrong."

    Ozy- I had the same problem... took me two perfectly nice and attractive-in-their-own-ways-but-not-attractive-to-me boys to figure this out.

  17. I can't like this hard enough. Seriously.

    Sure, you can fuck up a lot when it comes to sex. But I think it's a lot easier to learn how to have physically and emotionally safe sex than it is to learn how to have a physically and emotionally safe relationship.

    ...I would be a lot better off if someone had sat me down when I was 15 or so and said "And this is what a healthy relationship DOESN'T look like!" and "Here are bad reasons for getting into a relationship."

    (apologies if this double posted, my browser is acting funny)

  18. I find myself needing to give props to my high school sex ed teacher constantly - she covered a lot of this! And she showed us Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask.

  19. Sure, you can fuck up a lot when it comes to sex. But I think it's a lot easier to learn how to have physically and emotionally safe sex than it is to learn how to have a physically and emotionally safe relationship.

    Emotionally safe sex took me a long time to learn, and wasn't covered in school. But I'd agree that emotionally safe relationships are even harder.

  20. We need to get the post into the hands of every college student, every high school student--every person, everywhere.

    Very insightful.

  21. I had something like this through my church when my age cohort hit 7th/8th grade. Granted, my (Unitarian Universalist) church is vastly open-minded and rents out space to Buddhists and lets the Pagan group conduct services on their sabbaths. But health class in public schools only grazed the subject of relationship abuse, much less anything having to do with your heart.

    Have you considered adult ed as a venue for this?

  22. This is epicly awesome!! I would absolutely sign my kids up for this if it were taught in schools!

  23. Definitely took me til I was about 35 to actually sit down and figure out what I wanted from a relationship, and what I was capable of bringing to one. Finally, I'm in a healthy, communicative, fulfilling relationship that seems to have every chance of lasting

  24. This kind of education is desperately needed, I concur! Maybe starting to hear some good advice like this as a teenager would also plant some seeds that would pay off in adulthood in avoidance of bad relationships or getting out of them sooner.

    One huge thing I wish someone would have told me is that lack of sexual compatibility is a perfectly valid reason to break up with someone...if your sex drives are completely mismatched or you have very different values attached to sex or very different needs to the point where compromise is not going to work, then just break up and avoid the inevitable resentment, discomfort, hurt feelings, and lost opportunities. Sex IS important in a relationship and good sex is a really good bonding activity to have with your partner, even when things are rough outside the bedroom.

    I also wish that "abuse" was covered more fully outside of violence. Emotional abuse, emotional neglect, manipulation, etc. can be like a slow death not only for love, but for your own self-worth and your ideals. And sometimes you are the only person that sees that side of your partner, so it's hard to justify leaving to others outside the relationship and without that support, leaving is harder, so it's a vicious circle.

    Humans: we make everything harder on ourselves...yeesh!

  25. Awww, damn, I could have done with this ooo, ten years ago, before I started dating? Saving this and printing it out, because there's stuff in here that I still don't truly know-know.

    *Gives Holly chocoloate*

  26. @Dolbia - I wasn't trying to imply that emotionally safe sex was a breeze, so I apologize if it came off that way. Just that (as you said) emotionally safe relationships are even harder for a lot of people, myself included, yet there's less of a cultural script for sitting down with a kid and giving them the relationship equivalent of "and here's how to have healthy safe sex" talk.

    There is an assumption that sex is a big dangerous thing and there are loud public dialogues about how to best educate kids about it. But no one really spends much time talking about how damaging a bad relationship can be and how to teach kids to appropriately navigate the relationship waters.

  27. The only thing like this I ever got in high school was "If a guy says he'll leave you unless you have sex with him, he was going to leave you anyway because he's a total scumbag."

    I learned about there being different forms of abuse in 11th grade health class--which seems a little bit late, IMO. By that point, hitting had been pretty firmly entrenched in my mind as the Point of No Return, so when I got into a relationship with a controlling, manipulative SOB, it took ages for me to realize that whining "I trust you--I just don't trust your platonic male friends!" is just as bad as hitting.

  28. @goth-is-not-emo:

    I trust you--I just don't trust your platonic male friends!

    A friend tried to explain to me the reasoning of this. It took me ages to realize why the sentiment creeped me out so bad: it completely disregards the woman's consent. It sorta relies on the assumption that if a man wants he'll take, and what a woman wants isn't really important.

  29. A course or textbook sounds awesome! Self help and advice sites seem to address specific problems - where building a structure of learning about relationships broadly seems important.

    There do seem to be bits and pieces here and there (tv shows, stories, churches, marriage courses, planned parenthood relationship course [I remember one being created many years ago], and some smattering through sex ed)

    I wonder if there isn't a specific *relationships* course because there is some assumption that relationships are naturally developing (sufficiently) through normal classroom/playground interactions???

  30. The biggest focus here would be on the difference between "an argument" and "a fight."

    Couldn't agree more, but I also think it's crucial to teach people how to fight. In my experience, when people think that fighting is unequivocally bad for a relationship, they don't never fight. They try to suppress their anger until one day they can't any more and they yell every horrible thing they've wanted to say for 6 months. Then both people conclude that the relationship has a deep dark flaw, otherwise one of them wouldn't have a laundry list of angry things. When they fight, the whole relationship is on the line.

    But if you accept that you will sometimes be angry and fight, it's a lot easier not to put the relationship on the line in a fight. Yelling, and being yelled at, and still listening when you're angry, and then saying you hate yelling and of course you love the other person and let's make some tea and I'll try not to roll my eyes at your mother any more is a lot better.

  31. Emma - I don't know about that, actually. I've read that "catharsis" is a myth and that the best thing for anger isn't to express it but to let it go. (This isn't the same as suppression; if you're acting nice but feeling furious, you have not let it go.)

    I think it's a useful skill to be able to say that you're unhappy--and sometimes even to say "I'm unhappy and it's not really rational or something that you can fix, but I had to tell you"--but I think you can have a relationship without actual yelling.

  32. Added on to the single unit. How to deal with not being able to get into a relationship.

  33. Anon - "Not able to get into a relationship" is kind of a meaningless phrase.

    "Not able to get into the relationship that you want" makes more sense.

  34. I guess to you it would be meaningless.

  35. No, I mean that getting a relationship that you don't want is exactly as bad--or worse--than no relationship at all. And there is no such thing as literally wanting any relationship, or at least not if you have full knowledge of what "any" really includes.

  36. P.S.: Please note that if you look through the blog archives, I've been single for year+ stretches. I'm a sex writer, not a sex goddess to whom all things are given.

    Unless you just mean that I've had relationships, which I guess I can't argue with.

  37. @Holly,

    I can't defend that kind of pop-freudian emotional hydraulics where everything adds a tick to the pressure gauge, so scratch the suppression part. But I still think fighting lovingly is a good relationship strategy.

    Actually letting go of anger would be optimal. However, I don't think that's what most people do when they say they won't/don't fight with significant others. Instead, in my experience, people don't raise issues that are bothering them or don't press them because they feel that the only way to bring attention to them is to pick a fight.

    Fighting sucks and people who communicate 100% perfectly might never do it. But I think that if you only communicate 97% perfectly, it's better to be willing to fight every once in a while than to treat fighting as a relationship destruct button. In my experience, people who pride themselves on not fighting aren't somehow perfect at having relationships, they're holding themselves to a destructive standard of how easy relationships with other humans are. Also, I've seen people try to trump arguments too many times with "I'm arguing but you're fighting! You're definitely the bad one here!" to want to give that validity.

    I also think there's a big difference between knock-down drag out fights, and fights where both parties are angry and might yell, but want to resolve the issue and know their love is uncompromised. I would emphasize this in relationship ed, because I think it's a valuable life skill!

  38. Emma - Never really fighting is my relationship style (sometimes painfully so), because even "gentle" yelling tends to scare the crap out of me.

    But this probably isn't the case for most people, so yeah, you have a point.

  39. Can't argue with what works for you :)

  40. Hello! I'm a fellow sex-positive/BDSM/poly type who just stumbled upon your blog via a link from a friend's FB post. Nice to meet you.

    I've always felt the same way. I would've loved to have had such an education as a child. Instead, I got a late start to relationships because the only model I knew of was the vanilla-monogamy-marriage-children-death model, and I knew that model didn't fit for me.

    Fortunately, college and the growth of the internet helped me discover new worlds and ways of thinking.

  41. Re: Emma/Holly and fighting

    In my previous relationship I dated the guy for 5 years, and we screamed at each other nearly every day. And then say we'd talk about it in the morning. But then we wouldn't, and the issue would hide under the rug until the next fight. We got pretty explosive, petty, and I became somewhat physically abusive - I'd push him if he came to close, or throw things at him sometimes.

    When I got into my current relationship some months over two years ago, I was taught that yelling does not get your point across any better. I was taught that bringing up petty things irrelevant to the argument does not have to be standard. I was taught that you can argue, even fight, without raising your voice or swearing. Doesn't mean that my feelings don't get hurt, or that I don't at times feel distant or even resentful towards my partner, but I know that if he or I brings up something that makes us unhappy, it doesn't mean that the relationship is at risk or that we are a bad couple.

    We fight very, very rarely. We don't even argue often. I can remember THREE times in our relationship where we had yelling fights, and two were in the beginning, the third a few months ago. We have been able to work out a pretty good system of simply stating our issues. It's not perfect - I bottle things when I think I'm being stupid about something, such as being jealous or thinking I'm doing too much around the house - but I guess he's sensitive enough to my feelings and cues that he can say, "I know something is bothering you - what is it?" without it being a personal attack or having annoyance attached to the words. I think THOSE kinds of skills should be taught in schools, because it took me a long time to even be exposed to that.

    Because of the way my life has been with him, I am now incredibly sensitive to yelling, whether it be at me, another couple, or parent-child interaction. It's so unfamiliar to my ears that it sends my body into a reactive state where I think there's some sort of emergency.

  42. Re: arguing vs. fighting

    Arguing, as I see it, is a part of most healthy relationships. You're not going to agree on EVERYthing, because that's pretty much impossible. Arguing involves talking about the things on which you disagree, and yes, voices get raised and people get angry. But it's pretty much under control, and afterwards, both parties are able to calm down, agree to disagree, and the relationship is still just fine.

    Fighting, on the other hand, tends to involve dirty tactics and/or a disregard for the other person (again, this is my opinion based on what I've seen). If you're bringing up old wounds, disregarding what the other person says, trying to tear down the other person's self-esteem, and/or engaging in violent physical behavior (hitting, throwing things, etc., even if you don't actually hit the other person zirself), then you are no longer arguing, you are fighting. Fighting is bad for relationships; arguing is good for them.

  43. I like how you explain it, Goth :)

  44. Love this post, Holly, and I agree it's totally necessary!

    I think a lot of adults and such assume that children pick this stuff up by osmosis or something, when in fact explicit teaching is much better.

    Re: arguing vs fighting
    I think that arguing is better than fighting, but that people *do* fight sometimes, and it's also important to teach people how to make even bad fights non-violent, and how to make up after fights. Fighting sucks, but it's going to happen, and teaching people how to deal with the aftermath of a fight is useful as well.


  45. Not just non-violent! Fighting on-topic and
    and in a way that doesn't burn bridges and makes resolution easy is worth a lot, even if not fighting would be preferable.

    Especially because, re: Goth's point, there are some issues you can't resolve by agreeing to disagree, like where you live and what you do about a partner's creepy uncle hitting on you (yes, this has happened to me. No, "I don't know what to do, just ignore it," isn't something I can agree to disagree with.)

  46. If only those teachers demonstrated that they didn't need someone else to negotiate, bargain, and fight for them. I completely agree that this is something that needs to be taught, and I'd be surprised if a refresher wasn't needed every few years. I know I could use that class.

  47. Part of this class should also be how to apologize and not be defensive about it-- "I'm sorry, I didn't want to do [x], and I love you and value your feelings."


  48. Unless you just mean that I've had relationships, which I guess I can't argue with.

    For people who have never ever in their life been loved or even desired by anyone at all, "any" relationship may seem preferable to nothing. Because their "nothing" isn't the same as normal "nothing". It's when you could only get off to noncon porn because the possibility of consent required just too much suspension of disbelief, that sort of thing.

  49. Holly, you're awesome. This is why I'm kind of glad that I've made it to 19 a virgin with minimal relationship experience, because it's given me the opportunity to get the theory-learning from places as awesome as this. And whether or not my singleton circumstances ever change, this is all valuable material for fictional relationships I might write. :P

    This sort of thing should definitely come up in health class; nothing of the sort was ever even mentioned through middle and high school, and I think it could have been really valuable... and possibly more likely to be taken seriously than sex ed, but I think its benefits and lessons would cover the lessons from sex ed - 'respect your partner' = 'no means no' and 'take care of each others' health and safety' and 'consider the consequences, risks, and precautions.'

    A+ post, would nod sagely and comment approvingly again. :)

  50. Anon - What you're dealing with isn't something to be covered in a class but really does fall under needing therapy if you're able to get it. Unless you're still in your teens or early twenties, that's not a normal feeling.

  51. @Holly: things changed almost completely for me after my first relationship, but perhaps because it happened fairly late I can still remember a little how it was, and how there was a big difference between before and after "any relationship" so I can sort of see where the other anon may be coming from.

  52. @Holly - This curriculum does exist! It's called Our Whole Lives and was (interestingly enough) created by the UU and UCC faith traditions. It's completely secular - and quite literally life changing.

    I took the 7-9th grade class when I was younger and I credit it with my ability to have safe, consensual, healthy relationships - we literally had 'how to break up with people' workshops.

    Its amazing - if you'd like to know more, or talk more about it, my email is

    On a different note, I cannot thank you enough for this blog.

    You give me hope.

  53. Anon @3.41:

    I think that that's a fairly common stage to go through for people who were bullied or lonely as kids - I've seen so many people (yes, including myself) come to university, join my geeky social circle, and immediately jump into a relationship with someone that they weren't actually at all well suited for past the fact that the other person is the first in their lives to show an interest. It usually ends badly, but with the person realising that they *can* be loved, and can seek out a better relationship armed with that knowledge.

    (The trouble with being severely bullied is that everyone else keeps their distance for fear of getting shunned as well - so no-one is willing to /show/ that interest, even if they feel it.)


  54. I completely agree. Also on the Twilight part. No young girl should read Twilight without a guide to help discover the dangers in the relationships portrayed.

  55. Hershele OstropolerAugust 19, 2011 at 10:14 PM

    I've been with someone who would justify fighting a lot because, after all, healthy couples fight. It took me a while to realize that doesn't mean "couples who don't fight aren't healthy" but "couples in which one person simply gives in to the other on everything to avoid fights" are profoundly dysfunctional. Merely not (yet) having found something you disagree on is fine.

    My parents never argued in front of me, and while I recognize that's better than the opposite, I've had no model for expressing anger or disagreement within a relationship.

    Arguing, as I see it, is a part of most healthy relationships[...].

    Fighting, on the other hand, tends to involve dirty tactics and/or a disregard for the other person

    In other words, you argue about something, you fight with someone?

  56. LIKE.

    If they did this in schools, I probably wouldn't have had a controlling HS bf. I wonder what my psyche would be like if that hadn't happened...

  57. Here's a story about teaching kids how to break up. It's called 'Face it, don't Facebook it.'

  58. >How to not abuse someone. "Don't hit them" would
    >be mentioned but wouldn't be the focus. The focus
    >would be on "don't try to control them."

    I beg you, tell this to my parents, please!

  59. "We'd talk about the fears relationships can stir up--fear of cheating, fear of losing their respect, fear of losing the relationship--and appropriate and inappropriate responses to these fears."

    I have a lot of trouble with this sort of thing. What would you say are appropriate and inappropriate ways to respond to these kinds of fears?

    If you want to link me to any resources that cover this, that would be great, but I'm also interested in your opinion.


  60. (expect language oddities in here, English is my second language)

    I fail to see how it's something that shouldn't be covered in class. If you mean the noncon porn thing, of course. That DOES sound like something that needs therapy, but being unable to get into a relationship? Definitely something that needs to be covered. I don't know how it should be covered, but it should be covered.

    I'm sure the problems are fairly individual, but basic communication with the opposite gender is a good start. General social behavior (teaching kids that everyone isn't interested in star trek as they are is an example). Of course I think this is something that should be handled individually with the students who might need it but then again I don't see how THAT can be handled without them feeling like freaks for being singled out.

  61. Hi, I'm reporting from Arkansas (part of that wonderful region known as the 'Bible Belt') and I'd like to point out that most schools here don't even offer basic sex ed. I just graduated from high school and we just covered the basic biology in sixth grade. Just sixth grade. There wasn't even enough conversation about sex to call it abstinence-only. I'm a little unsure if this is the right place to make this point, but there's this big swath of people (myself included) that aren't receiving any information at all, much less the 'relationship ed' that you're advocating here.

  62. Excellent post!
    I'd like to see one more bullet point (possibly before the 'different relationships you can have'): some people don't experience romantic attraction/want a romantic relationship ever, and that's ok. And some people are sexually attracted to one gender and romantically attracted to anther. That's ok too.

  63. I was lucky enough to have an amazing homegroup teacher straight out of uni when I was in years 7-9. While the health and PE teachers were supposed to teach us about STDs and contraception, she ran workshops getting us to think about what we actually want and care about in a partner, about the importance of being comfortable with each other and each others bodies and about what sex and what consent should actually mean. I'll never forget this 4"1 flaming-haired and long-trusted woman exclaiming to our year 8 class that "Consent isn't just about her lying there and accepting, you should both be screaming "fuck me!" before either of you do anything." We talked about fuck buddies and we talked about pressures and expectations that school kids have at different ages; we ran role plays to explore a range of accepted and valid opinions on sexuality, religious, moral or otherwise, and did it all with trust and albeit somewhat blush-inducing humour.
    The problem is that this kind of thing, like pretty much everything in high school, relies so hugely on the teachers, and most teachers either are or feel the need to act like prudes when they're teaching kids and that means these kinds of open and important conversations just don't happen. I think we need to work on the teachers, either by including these sort of soft subjects or life skills as a bigger priority in teaching degrees, or by putting emphasis on creating organisations well trained and staffed in this sort of important stuff that could run the workshops.

  64. Please write a book! I would love to see these things clearly discussed by a reputable source.

    ...or, failing that, can you recommend one?