A spiral curriculum for learning about condoms

At the #ASCL2018 conference this week we spoke with delegates a lot about age appropriateness of different concepts like consent (one delegate was surprised when I said 2 year olds can learn about consent) and a conversation with one colleague got me thinking about a spiral curriculum for condoms. A common criticism of sex education is that a young person may do a annual condom demonstration but not be taught about negotiation, communication, relationships skills etc. This is unhelpful.

If you are doing a yearly condom demonstration without adding any value in terms of knowledge and understanding, values, attitudes, skills each year then you are not delivering good relationships and sex education.


So I thought I would have a bash at setting out what a spiral curriculum for condoms could look like. I am even going to start it from KS1 because I am a bit radical like that but as you will see it doesn’t actually include reference to condoms! It is important to note there is no evidence that RSE hastens the first experience of sex and quality RSE has been found to  delaying the initiation of sex; reduce the number of sexual partners; and increase condom or contraceptive use.

KS1– Learning about hygeine- washing hands with soap and water and using a tissue to prevent germs spreading. Correct basic names for the outer genitals vulva/penis. Some children may also learn that a baby is made by a sperm and egg and grows in a uterus. (This book is my fave).

One of my children when aged about 4 once asked me “Mummy, how do ladies not have a baby if they don’t want one?” and whilst I was wrestling with my options of age appropriate answers around contraception and abortion, she answered her own question: “I KNOW! they stay away from sperm!” Perfect age appropriate (and hilarious) answer and we left it there!

KS2– Building on hygiene knowledge from KS1 children should understand the use of barriers to stop germs spreading eg. latex gloves or face masks. They should also learn more detailed names Vulva/Vagina/Uterus Penis/Testicles/Scrotum. They should also definitely by now understand that sperm plus egg = baby (and for IVF families and same sex parent families the What makes a baby book is excellent for inclusivity).  For Y6 if a question came up from the anonymous question box about condoms I would probably answer it thus. “Condoms are used to help protect people from some infections or pregnancy. They are mostly made from latex (like rubber gloves and balloons) and work as a barrier so sperm or infections can’t pass between people.”. Or I might be tempted to answer it like a child once told Catherine Kirk at the RSE Service  “it’s like the skin on a sausage!” (which is brill!) My rationale is that if they are old enough to ask the question they are old enough to hear an age appropriate answer.

Now in KS3/KS4/KS5 I would break it down by year/age range.

For Y7 (aged 11+) I would definitely mention condoms briefly along lines of the KS2 answer but slightly increasing the complexity. “Condoms are used to help protect people from some infections or pregnancy. They are mostly made from latex and are worn over the penis or inside the vagina to act as a barrier during sex so sperm or infections can’t pass between people”.  When talking about the spread of diseases you can spray some perfume or body spray on the palm of someones hand before the lesson and ask the young people to go round shaking hands. Everyone sniffs their hands at end of activity to see how far a “disease has spread” and talk about protecting yourself from infection (washing hands, wearing gloves, not shaking hands!)

For Y8 (aged 12- 13) I would do the STI practical and I would show them internal/external condoms (male condom and female condoms) as part of object based learning.  I would expect them to be able to describe what a condom is what it is made from and what it is used for.

For end of Y9/early Y10 (~14+ age range) I would do the STI practical (only if they haven’t done it in Y8) and I would do condom olympics if time as well as a standard condom demonstration (ideally with ejaculating function and UV blacklight ) plus an exploding condom demo (blow up two condoms- rub baby oil/vaseline or other oil based lubricant into one and water or silicone based lubricant into another and the oil based one will pop pretty quickly showing which lubricants are safe and unsafe. I would demo dental dams for safe oral sex and internal condoms (Female condom- see pic below). I would signpost the local C-card scheme. I would expect them to be able to explain in detail how and why condoms are used and where they can be accessed as well as describe an overview of STIs and how and where to get tested.


For Y10 -Y11 (~15plus age range) I would only do a condom demonstration if they hadn’t done it previously or if the group felt they needed a refresher (in which case I would expect them to ‘teach’ each other and collaborate on ‘best demo’ rather than another teacher led demo followed by student practice. I would explore condom negotiation using something like “condom excuses/responses” and explore in much more detail what causes condoms to fail . I would explore the context of condom use (types of relationships etc) and what might the barriers be to using condoms. I would also explore more info about STIs and which STIs are not protected for by condoms.

For Y11- 6th form (+16 year olds age range and over age of consent) I would expect them to be critically exploring gendered attitudes to condom use (how society responds to males carrying condoms compared to females and how internal condom use has positives especially for gender equality! I would be encouraging as many to get signed up for a C-card (local condom distribution schemes) around this age. I would sign them up myself depending on the settings policy. I would talk in much more detail about safer sex and how dental dams and condoms use is vital but also how to overcome some of the barriers to their use particularly in the context of negotiating pleasurable experiences. I would talk much more about lubricant and arousal and be directing them to the awesome info found in scarleteen  and Bish

Obviously what I have written above is a tiny part of what an RSE curriculum should be. I haven’t mentioned the detailed stuff I would cover on relationships, sexuality, pleasure, anatomy, gender, mental health, contraception etc. because this is a blog post on condoms and how to build a spiral curriculum using just that one topic. In DO… our awesome RSE materials for 14-16year olds we manage to cover all of this and more in just 6 lessons! (Our condom lesson is here but you really need to teach it in the context of the 4 lessons before it found here)

What would your spiral curriculum on condoms look like? Have I missed anything off? Please do comment below!