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!

A quick recap on this equalities and school policies issue so far.

People are probably getting lost in my many posts on this issue so too recap:

My main issues are

a) I’ve found 100’s of schools with problematic policies relating to the EXACT wording of current DfE SRE Guidance documentation. (DfE whilst mounting a challenge to those include “must not promote homosexuality” are keeping quiet on what they think of those that say “must not promote sexual orientation” given this is in their own current guidance for schools)
b) DfE removed “legalisation of homosexuality and abortion” from previous to latest draft history curriculum.
c) DfE for deliberately removed gender identity from a specific equal opportunities statement from previous draft.

I have real issues with the phrasing of the current SRE guidance and I have been wondering for months if it might be in breach of equality act.  It is very clear schools are confused with their rights and responsibilities on this issue especially given that
one of the schools with a problematic policy has published their equality policy online it states “we do not promote one life style choice over another” (implying sexual orientation or gender identity is a lifestyle choice, sigh.)

Will keep you posted.

Using the “proper words” for body parts- a gendered issue?

A year ago I wrote this for the New Statesman and on Tuesday the Sex Education Forum published this blog.

retweeting them yesterday @itsmotherswork asked in response

Which prompted this post as I needed to write a longer response than twitter allows for.

Personally I wouldn’t ever say any word to describe a body part is improper as it is just not a word I use (sounds a bit Victorian!), but obviously there are correct or scientific terms for body parts (penis) then colloquial accepted terms (willy) then slang or offensive terms (cock). That doesn’t mean the latter two are incorrect (if used about the right body part) but depends on context used in.

I have absolutely no objection to “bottom” being used instead of “anus” or “gluteus maximus” or “tummy” being used instead of “abdomen” as words to describe parts of the body for young children, children can build on the scientific terms for body parts as they grow up and tummy and bottom are widely accepted and pretty much universally known in English speaking countries.

I have HUGE OBJECTIONS to the fact that while “Willy” is a perfectly acceptable universal term to use for young children for the penis there absolutely no universal acceptable term for the vulva for children (terms range from the cutesy Fairy, NooNoo, Minnie, Twinkle*  to the rather cool Yoni (sanskrit for Vagina) frankly ick Front Bottom or Split).  This is about erasure of female sexuality, female identity- we are taught from a young age that our body parts are not even deserving of a proper name, they are either to be cutesey or shameful and mustn’t be discussed.  Have to be honest even I as a sex educator initially I was really not keen on the word vulva for a long time but in the absence of a better alternative**  it is what I use with my children***

Nowadays I am totally comfortable with the word vulva but I am 100% sure that the reason the DfE are completely refusing to specify Penis and Vulva and Vagina in the Science National Curriculum is because of a fear of the word vulva. Penis is not the problem. Vulva (and possibly vagina) is. But in the absence of a universal accepted colloquialism for vulva then vulva is what we must use- to do otherwise is a potential route to confusion, worry, stigma and shame.  It is a safeguarding issue not to have a common language of a body part that might be touched inappropriately****. It is also a health issue to be able to talk about where itches or is causing problems and it a sexuality issue about learning to communicate about your own body so that as a sexually active adult you know your body is not a source of sniggering or shame.

So vulva is a proper word- embrace it, say it with me. vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva, vulva

*Twinkle  always makes me think of the phrase “twinkle in your father’s eye”- Shudder.

** I decided against vagina as not anatomically correct as refers to the internal genitals.

***Whilst being respectful of any made up slang words they choose to adopt for their own body parts – but must admit I did gently steer away from “front bottom” which was picked up at nursery!

**** I read somewhere about a dad investigated at length by social services after a child was crying about “Daddy hurting my NooNoo”- NooNoo being her toy rabbit he had put in the washing machine- maybe an urban legend but makes a point.

Five year olds “marry” in church marriage ceremony

Today I saw a photo on Facebook that unsettled me. It was a photo of a bride and groom and their smiling attendants at their church wedding, except all the participants were in year 2 of primary school.

It was a photo not unlike this one from here:

And I discover this is not an isolated occurrence (worldwide (here, here and in UK here, here, and here and that’s just from a very quick google).

I am genuinely conflicted by this. As a very happily married woman whose wedding day was the best day of my life ever &who would have become a wedding planner if I wasn’t a sex educator, then I think kids playing at weddings is fun after all it is simply children enjoying to learn about something that is a central part to our culture plus it is an example teaching Sex & Relationships Education at primary level (which primary schools don’t have to teach apart from Science NC).

On the other hand it is adults imposing a particular value set onto children. If there are genuine opportunities to learn about marriages and long term relationships (after all marriage is not a mandatory ingredient to long term successful relationships), from lots of different faith or secular perspectives then I think it could be an awesome learning opportunity for children, but likewise I would not want the children to assume that marriage and long term relationships only occur between people of the opposite sex, but how many primary school teachers would be okay about allowing a same sex marriage to occur in their classroom for fear of parental or media backlash? I appreciate that there would be little to add to the learning experience once one “marriage ceremony” has been enacted but at the very least I would expect schools to also read the brilliant and lovely “King and King” as part of their work on marriage (King isn’t keen on any of the princesses the Queen Mother wants him to marry – then he falls for another prince and they all (including Queen Mother) live happily ever after- it’s a cute story with lovely illustrations.)

I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of “a marriage” in the classroom because of popularity/bullying- elevating two children in the class to status of Bride and Groom, is akin to the equally distasteful electing a “prom king and prom queen” which seems to be increasing in the UK. School absolutely should not be a popularity contest- and although I recognize it often is- schools and teachers should not be facilitating that. Likewise adults facilitating such a “marriage” could lead to the children taking such roles far more seriously than they should. I envisage a period after the lesson of the “bride and groom” negotiating their “relationship” in the playground and with their peers once the honeymoon is over. Obviously this would depend on the personalities involved and the teacher drawing names at random out of a hat would mitigate that in some way. Also how far should this role play go? Hen and stag do’s? A drunk best man speech? A honeymoon? A baby? An affair? A divorce? Are they not also common features of many partnership celebrations?

Hosting wedding ceremonies in the classroom is entirely different to children playing at wedding ceremonies in their own playtime- in a non adult directed space you will find the kids want to marry their favourite dinosaur toy or teddy, marry their mummy, marry their best friends, marry about 5 people at once, marry no-one- all an entirely normal and appropriate developmental role play and OBVIOUSLY NOT examples of future bestiality, incest, homosexuality, polyamory or asexuality etc. from these kids!* But when adults take over these role plays we only feel safe if we teach the societal notions of “normal and acceptable”, and I worry about the kids growing up to be gay or trans or who never wants to marry as all this lesson seeks to reinforce is how “not normal” they should feel, even though in according to the laws in this land (Equality Duty 2010 and hopefully soon the equal marriage bill once it finally passes) these kids have the right to be included and accepted throughout their school lives.

One final reason this unsettled me was in a country which has a forced marriage unit and has issued guidance for professionals on dealing with forced marriage including child marriage I am uncomfortable with children roleplaying marrying other children.

What do you think? Is this good practice in Primary SRE or is this an excellent example of Too Much Too Soon and what about letting children be children?










*Note here for anyone stupid enough to think my point there was equating being trans or gay to bestiality and incest. Obviously I wasn’t but those are all genuine examples of people/things primary and nursery kids I know have wanted to marry! Bestiality and Incest are ILLEGAL. Being gay, trans, poly or asexual isn’t. *Awaits DM headline about me trying to “promote” somesuch at primary schools. Sigh.*

N.B. The title of this blogpost is my attempt at a daily mail style headline- out of interest does it instil a reaction akin to “Pupils aged 11 to learn about gay sex? 😉

Puberty is mentioned in the latest draft of Science National Curriculum

So I do believe we are now on Draft 3 of this 224 page National curriculum document.  There is yet ANOTHER consultation on it which ends in August.

The big news is Puberty is now mentioned in Year 5 which is absolutely when it should be at least (not left until last days of Summer term of Y6 which is far too late given many will have started puberty by then) – so I’m really pleased about that.

The other changes we need to see to support young people have not been made. Here are my previous blogs on the issue-

A letter from Liz Truss

A Political Hot Potato

Naming of the Teeth Versus Naming of the Genitals

I also note there is nothing really on microbes, disease and vaccinations in the doc. (Not just for teaching about HIV and other STI’s, and about the HPV vaccine (which most girls have at secondary school now) but also for general health and hygiene- things like Swine Flu and other pandemics are not going to stop happening- we need to teach kids about them.)

So erm this is the document to catch us up with the worlds best, but misses so much crucial scientific info out it is not even funny (I’m speaking with my Science Teacher hat on here). Plus academies don’t even have to follow this document and they now that they make up 45% of secondary schools and since Gove seems to want all schools to become academies, then I’m not entirely sure what the point to a “national” curriculum is any more.

Le Sigh.

There are lots of other issues with the doc which I will link to as the orgs I work for publish their responses. Watch this space.

Naming of the teeth versus naming of the genitals…

Tonight I found myself briefly teaching my three year old, canine, incisors and molars and the difference between baby and adult teeth. Not because I am some insanely pushy mother but because she is always asking and wants to be able to name every part of her body and she can already name all the obvious ones and the less obvious ones (tonight she informed me “my throat is in my neck Mummy” and I don’t remember teaching her throat!)

Recently she has been very interested in nipples and the fact that males also have nipples but don’t have breasts, but she doesn’t have breasts but has nipples but she knows she isn’t a boy. She is aware boys have a penis and that she has a vulva and both have a bottom. She also knows that grown ups have pubic hair. None of this has ever fazed her and has been entirely led at her level when she asks a question (which she does all the time!) she gets an age appropriate response.

I was amused that I was teaching her year4 primary science curriculum in the new draft curriculum which mentions naming of body parts skilfully avoiding mentioning the genitals yet then goes on to specify the exact teeth (and digestive organs etc.) children should know. It also fails to make reference explicitly to puberty (although one might infer from the section on “life cycles”).

I’m a qualified science teacher married to an engineer so it’s a given the littlest Ukations are going to be science geeks, but tonight bought it home to me quite how badly the draft science curriculum doesn’t really meet children’s needs. They want to know what each part of their body does and what it is called. They want to know why their mummy has breasts, and how their baby sibling came into the world, they want to know the differences between boys and girls, why grown ups have hair where children don’t, why mummy sometimes bleeds. They want to know about why people get sick, about blood, vomit, poo and wee and why they need to wash their hands after going to the toilet. This can all be done age appropriately and at a level they can understand. It is basic human biology. Most parents will be happy with these conversations, others might not be/need more support to understand the aims of the lessons, some might need support to gain confidence in these conversations and that is okay and understandable, but I can’t seriously be the only parent who wants kids to be able to name penis/vulva (basic body parts) without shame or embarrassment before they can label a canine, incisor or a sodding molar (more advanced body parts)*!? Or am I!?

*P.S Sorry dear preschooler you may now be very bored in a Y4 science lesson 6years from now given that you know your teeth.
P.P.S Sorry future teacher of my child but I’m available for any SRE support you need 😀