A sex educator’s role as a “role model”

So with a week to go until I give birth, this week I got myself into a bit of of a situation from a somewhat sarcastic tweet I wrote on twitter about  being a “role model” for the “importance of marriage for family life” (referring to the DfE Sex & Relationship Education 2000 guidance which until it is finally updated is still what we have for schools as “guidance” (albeit totally out of date and useless guidance!).  This has given rise to me needing to write two blog posts on this! This one about “A sex educators role as a “role model” and another about “A sex educators role in reducing unplanned pregnancy

Anyhow my tweet was sarcastic as the phrase “importance of marriage for family life” has always rankled with me in the 2000 Sex Education Guidance (for a start it shouldn’t it be Marriage, Civil Partnerships and stable relationships maybe!?)- and Education for Choice have written the perfect blog post about Teaching about Marriage which I agree with totally so don’t need to replicate my rant here.   So I was being sarcastic as technically I am a “good role model” for the DfE’s 2000 guidance utopian vision (and Gove’s current Free School and Academy Vision) of everyone being happily married and planning their families, even if this isn’t how life works out for everyone and the notion “superiority” of this position is  flawed and not one I am comfortable with.

Unfortunately a particularly vitrolic tweeter decided to make baseless assumptions about my marital status and whether my pregnancy was planned or not and therefore my abilities as a sex educator!? (as apparently an unmarried woman with an unplanned pregnancy could not possibly be a good role model or a good sex educator!? Say what!?).  Humph. I don’t feel that anyone’s personal circumstances have any bearing on their abilities as educators other than to maybe contribute life experiences (and I tried to unpick this more in a previous blogpost on being a “pregnant sex educator”! ) but as always this goes back to the  SRE golden rule of not answering personal questions but using general situations as examples- this keeps everything safer for the educator and the learner.  So yes my personal circumstances and experiences may contribute in some way to my abilities as a sex educator but they are NOT relevant or necessary to my role as a sex educator because my role is to support young people to explore options open to them and help them developing the knowledge, understanding and skills to make the best choices for them. It is not about getting my students to “do as I do” or “don’t do as I did” as for a start that isn’t effective teaching and learning!

Technically the one role sex educators should have in the classroom is NOT to be a role model- that’s not what effective sex and relationships education is at all.

Rant over.

A Sex Educator’s Role in reducing unplanned pregnancy?

Okay so my twitter conversations this week yielded two blog posts- One “A sex educators role as a role model” and this one ” A Sex Educator’s Role in reducing unplanned pregnancy?”.

Apparently a sex educators main job should be reducing unplanned pregnancy (especially illegitimacy) according to one particular tweeter (I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist). I disagreed somewhat but in 140 characters it can be difficult to explore properly so I decided to write this blogpost to help me clarify my own feelings on this as a sex educator.

Firstly let’s think about what unplanned pregnancy actually is- it’s a sperm meeting an egg, being fertilised and implanting in a woman’s womb and developing. It may be caused by a failure of contraception (product failure or user failure)  or lack of contraception (which maybe an “accidental consenual type action” eg. getting carried away, lack of knowledge and understanding etc) or a deliberate non-consensual action- ie. coercion or deceit by one partner or rape).  Unplanned pregnancies happen. ALOT.   Virtually anyone who is sexually active with someone of the opposite sex is going to be running a risk of an unplanned pregnancy every single time they have sex. After all THERE IS NO METHOD OF CONTRACEPTION THAT IS 100% EFFECTIVE (but there are some pretty good ones out there with very low failure rates and you can find out about them all here ).  In fact given that in a lifetime 1 in 3 women are likely to have an abortion it suggests that unplanned pregnancy is incredibly common (and that obviously that figure doesn’t include stats for unplanned pregnancies that are born or miscarried- In fact judging from this report from U.S I’d estimate that maybe 1 in 2 women will have an unintended pregnancy in their lifetime).

Now let’s consider why society might want to reduce unplanned pregnancies?   (I asked Twitter #Hivemind for reasons and these are some of the things we came up with- many thanks to @Edforchoice, @Caught_intheAct, @Johnny_Rat)

  • To reduce number of abortions?
  • To meet government targets? (eg. Teenage pregnancy strategy)
  • To reduce population rate?
  • For societal benefit- eg. reducing cycle of poverty?
  • Because actively choosing to be a parent is potentially more positive than passively/accidently choosing to be a parent (also in terms of impact on relationships)
  • To fit into some moral or value judgement? (eg. teenage mothers are bad)
  • To support people so that they don’t have to go through the potentially difficult pregnancy decision making process which could be mentally traumatic

N.B. Shouldn’t  it be more about reducing unwanted pregnancies  rather than those that were technically unplanned but continued as was the right choice for them?

Now looking at that list of reasons I need to think carefully about which ones I would ascribe to as a sex educator? Personally  I see my role as supporting people with knowledge, understanding and skills to make informed positive choices about their own lives, and to be  honest the notion of “reducing unplanned pregnancy”  maybe imbuing sex educators with some powers I don’t think we necessarily have!? Let me explain further:  I feel a sex educators role should obviously focus on general education about fertility, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, contraceptive choices etc. as well as support with contraceptive decision making and pregnancy decision making in cases of unplanned pregnancy (be it have the baby, adoption or abortion).  Imparting this level of knowledge, understanding and skills, may lead to a reduction in unplanned pregnancies but equally it may not- simply due to the way life works- fate or whatever (it’s not like my role is swooping in and stopping the condom from breaking at the crucial moment like some kind of Contraception Guardian Angel!) .  I think the main thing is we do educate about unplanned pregnancy to empower people with knowledge, understanding and skills to deal with the situation in a way that is best for them. Proving whether this has an effect on reducing unplanned pregnancy is obviously rather hard to do given the myriad of situations that can give rise to an unplanned pregnancy, which is why I wouldn’t necessarily say it was explicitly in my job description.  (Although I would probably say my job description includes educating about ideas that could potentially contribute to reducing unplanned pregnancies.)

Personally the notion of society planning on reducing unplanned pregnancies is one I can be a little uncomfortable with in the way it is carried out even with the best of intentions.  I used to sit in on teenage pregnancy partnership board meetings and one issue bounced around was:  “meeting targets to get “LAC’s onto LARCS” (Looked after children onto long acting reversible contraceptives)”, because as a demographic Looked After Children are much more like to face an unplanned pregnancy and this was seen as a way of reducing that.  This made me feel quite uncomfortable- it felt somewhat dictatorial or even smacked slightly of eugenics? , I was worried about what free choices these young people were being able to make if people supporting them were pushing an agenda onto them to meet a target. What these young people really needed was proper support, housing, finances, education etc. as well as proper informed consent for their contraceptive choices.  As it happened those interventions were also being put into place for these young people and this “LARC’s for LAC’s” target. was a a small part of a whole range of strategies aimed at supporting young people to meet the ECM agenda,  but as a strategy it was one I felt somewhat uncomfortable with (not least because LARC’s don’t protect from STI’s and the focus was all about the pregnancy prevention seemingly rather than the mental and physical health of the individual.)  But then that’s targets and local government for you, but it clarifies why I personally am uncomfortable in being cast as having a “role in reducing unplanned pregnancy” as I am not entirely sure  that is really should be explicitly my role!?


P.S If I don’t reply to comments immediately it is possibly because I am giving birth/looking after a newborn! Haha

On being a pregnant sex educator.

“Miss are you pregnant?”  (unfortunately occasionally I have had to snarl back “no I’m just fat”- disclaimer -there were pies and water retention involved)

But occasionally (not that often -mind!) I get to respond with a smile “why yes, yes I am”.

Then you see their brains whirr.  They want to ask more questions but they also know you are quite strict about your ground rules and the no personal questions, and then the penny drops. ….

……it dawns on them- THERE IS UNDENIABLE EVIDENCE YOU HAVE HAD SEX. LIKE AT LEAST ONCE.  EWWWWWWW  (technically I reserve the right to maintain I may not have had sex.  This bump may be an immaculate conception or IVF you know? Or I may lie about the pies because its too early to tell the general populace about the bean)

The students are desperate to know more- (not about the getting pregnant part- hopefully I have taught them enough about that already and they appreciate that its personal) but they want to know about how it feels, what its like, what’s going on at each stage and what the baby looks like and so on.  They may even want to know about the birth and life with a newborn.

And suddenly I become a perfect teaching resource.  I am my own guest speaker.  I am a visual aid, the kicking bump is kinaesthetic learning at its best, me wittering on for the auditory learners. Brill!



…what about my ground rules….


….the no personal stories or experiences?….


…surely I musn’t break that?


I ponder and then I negotiate this arrangement with the class- Personally I am happy to talk about my pregnancy and answer any questions they may have.  If they ask any question I am uncomfortable with I won’t answer it and will let them know that I find that question too personal. The class are more than happy with this and our class boundaries are maintained. In the event they never did ask a question I felt crossed the boundary and was too personal.

I am also keen to reinforce that this is MY experience that I am sharing to help them learn about pregnancy but it isn’t necessarily going to be the same for everyone, as everyone is different (and some are lucky not enough not to puke their guts up for the first 17weeks like me whereas others more unfortunate may be sick all the way through!).

It was a fascinating experience being my very own teaching resource but am not dedicated enough to do it on a regular basis for my classes! Hehe.  Any other pregnant sex educators got stories to share?

P.S. I haven’t yet taught a lesson about childbirth or abortion since being pregnant/having a baby and I think that will be an interesting challenge for me as an educator- after all your personal experiences do colour the way you impart information and its important to be mindful of that so you remain an unbiased evidenced based source of information as much as possibly (although I still inappropriately joke that I can single-handedly sort my borough’s teenage pregnancy issue out simply by telling them my horrific birth story!)