Values in Sex Education: From Principles to Practice

By J. Mark Halstead; Michael J. Reiss | Go to book overview
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Chapter 8


Love: the missing dimension of sex education

Nowhere is sex education so out of tune with the thinking of young people as it is on the topic of love. Love is a powerful emotion in the lives of many adolescents. Love is the overarching reason why people in the west-and in many other societies-get married (Gelles 1995:166-7). As we saw in Chapter 3, love features extensively in the discussions of children about relationships, and appears fundamental to their worldview. Yet love gets little attention in government guidelines either on sex and relationship education (DfEE 2000a) or on personal, social and health education (QCA 2000), and little attempt is made to incorporate love as an underlying value into mainstream programmes of sex education. For example, in using a phrase like 'once they [children] are old enough to want to have a sexual relationship', Lenderyou (1993:87) appears to take inadequate account of love as a motivating factor in young people's first sexual experiences. This general neglect of love and the emotions contributes to the frustration felt by many teenagers at the sex education they are offered at school, as noted by several researchers (e.g. Measor et al. 2000:123-6).

It is true that this reluctance to talk about love is not exclusive to sex education, or to contemporary society. Love is equally neglected in many theories of emotion, as Shaver et al. (1996) have shown; one researcher has pointed out that even in the Middle Ages only 2 out of the 25 theological writings he studied on marital sexual activity had anything at all to say on the subject of love (Flandrin 1985). But it is worth reflecting briefly on the possible reasons for this neglect of love in sex education. One reason that may be put forward is that love is not relevant to the key aims of sex education as defined in government planning and legislation, such as reducing teenage pregnancy and STIs. However, it will be abundantly clear from what has been written so far in this book that we do not believe that such aims can be achieved in isolation from a more


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