There is an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which Bart is told the facts of life in characteristically clumsy fashion by his father as the camera then pans away to an aerial view of Springfield whilst Homer’s son and heir criss-crosses the landscape, running to and from the homes of each friend to pass on the news; upon learning the truth of what their parents did, Bart’s pals react in identical fashion – with utter disgust. My own awakening was less dramatic, provided by the BBC in its most benevolent mode. Thanks to my personal Radio Times archive, I can narrow down the day to May 3 1977, when the Beeb’s schools & colleges service screened the first episode of ‘Merry Go Round: Sex Education’.
Hearing words such as penis and vagina in a non-playground context provoked the odd snigger in the little library where we normally viewed less revelatory schools broadcasts, but all my memory can recall from the transmission is film of a baby being born. Back then, of course, fathers – let alone children – were effectively barred from being present at the moment when the latest addition to the family arrived; Frank Spencer’s weird request to attend the birth of Betty’s baby was met with hilarity by the audience viewing ‘Some Mothers Do Ave Em’ in 1973, so seeing this on a schools programme was quite an eye-opener.
I honestly can’t remember if I knew where babies came from at the time I watched ‘Merry Go Round’, but I don’t think it was something I was that curious about. My mum had one when I was five, and I never once asked her how it had ended up in her stomach. Yes, I was aware that women had sex appeal courtesy of the culture, whether Benny Hill, page 3, the ‘naughty cinemas’ in the city centre, or what my dad referred to as the ‘lorry drivers’ magazines’ he sometimes kept stashed in the shed. But I don’t think I equated any of that with babies. Sex itself was merely a rude word associated with tits ‘n’ bums, and being a child in the 70s was sometimes akin to living in a saucy seaside postcard. Other than the naked breasts that caught my prepubescent eye in the Daily Mirror’s comic strip, ‘Garth’, I don’t recall being that interested.
Backtracking to when I began school at the age of four-going-on-five, I’d honestly never heard the word sex. All I was interested in was comics, fantastical monsters, and the nascent Glam Rock scene; one of my earliest school memories is singing my own interpretation of ‘Blockbuster’ with my first bezzy mate in the playground the day after The Sweet had performed it on ‘Top of the Pops’. What did I care about sex education then? Were I undergoing the same process today, I’d find that sex education was part of the infant school curriculum and the mysteries of reproduction wouldn’t be withheld for another four years; they’d apparently be there straight away, alongside learning the rudimentary basics of maths, English or geography. No longer prolonging ‘innocence’ (for want of a better word) may be deemed the sensible approach, but is it the right one?
I don’t know why I had a soft spot for certain girls in my various classes during the years leading up to May 1977, but I would claim them as ‘my girlfriend’ as a consequence; merely causing my embryonic heart to skip a beat was enough justification for the label, even if the unfortunate maidens were unaware of it. I won’t name any of them on the extremely rare off-chance they may stumble upon this post, but they were no more girlfriends of mine than any of the TV Goddesses who had a similar effect on me through this period, whether Susan Dey in ‘The Partridge Family’ or Katy Manning on ‘Doctor Who’. Sorry to use the same word again, but it was all extremely innocent. Sex didn’t come into it. I simply warmed and responded to feminine beauty.
Yesterday, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced that sex and ‘relationships’ education will be compulsory in all English schools from the moment schooling begins. Ms Greening said that children will be taught about ‘safe and healthy relationships’ as soon as they are indoctrinated into the system. I have no qualms with children receiving such lessons when they’re on the cusp of puberty and are potentially poised to encounter sexual intimacy; the high teenage pregnancy rates in this country make such knowledge essential if they’re to be reduced. But four-year-olds?
What the hell does a four-year-old know or want to know about ‘safe and healthy relationships’? Most four-year-olds are still prone to going to the toilet in their trousers. They eat their own bogies. They bite their toenails. They think ‘poo’ is the funniest word in the English language. They can barely read or write and don’t know how to tell the time. They’re still working out how the world works, and that doesn’t include ‘safe and healthy relationships’ – or, as described by Russell Hobby, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT – ‘appropriate relationships’. Exactly how is an ‘appropriate relationship’ defined to a four-year-old?
Fair enough, if we’re in the Paedo Park, warn them against talking to strangers; I had that courtesy of ‘Charley Says’ when I was a kid and I also received the same advice from my parents. I didn’t need a union leader to tell me what was appropriate or inappropriate, and being hounded by dirty old men promising puppies hardly constitutes a ‘relationship’ anyway.
Perhaps this is a knee-jerk response to the so-called scourge of internet pornography; but though the theory goes that porn is accessible to any age-group in 2017, porn was equally accessible forty-odd years ago, albeit in different forms. No off-school roam around a playing field or woods was complete in the 70s without stumbling upon a discarded copy of some gentleman’s magazine; generally soft-core, of course, but still highly visible. It maintained its mystique then because we had to wait until we reached the age of nine before the great mystery was unveiled.
I don’t personally believe that, by the time I was old enough to act upon my natural impulses, I’d been held back because I hadn’t been taught about either ‘safe and healthy’ or ‘appropriate’ relationships as a four-year-old. Looking back, it’s nice to think I was spared all that shit for so long.
© The Editor