Interview With Emily Burt from Fumble
What was your school sex education like? Did your teacher turn bright red as he asked you to put condoms on bananas, or faint while describing a diaphragm? Do you actually remember your sex ed at all?
For Emily Burt, co-founder of sex education website Fumble, Sex Ed at school was comically bad.
“You know that scene in Mean Girls where the teacher is like ‘don't have sex, because you will get pregnant and die, now everyone take some condoms’? My sex education was kind of like that,” she says.
What Is On The Sex Education Curriculum?
We’re not still renting Charlie’s Angels at Blockbuster or listening to S Club 7, so why hasn’t the sex education syllabus been updated since 2000?
New guidelines with a focus on LGBT relationships and mandatory menstruation lessons have been recommended, but protests against the new inclusive curriculum could delay the roll out in 2020.
The state of sex education in schools inspired Emily Burt and her partner Lucy Whitehouse to create Fumble, an online sex education platform for informative content about sex, relationships, identity, health and pleasure aimed at teenagers and young adults.
“I know people in their twenties who have never had sex ed,” Emily says, “also, with the current syllabus, schools and teachers are only required to teach the very basic biological mechanics of sex – you're only talking about penis in vagina intercourse and what that results in.”
How Should We Approach Sex Education In School?
If your sex education just covers basic biological, heterosexual penetrative sex, you’re not going to learn about most forms of contraception, or other types of non P in V sex.
Focusing on biology and pregnancy also misses the reason many people have sex in the first place, i.e. because it feels good.
“Understanding what feels good and feeling like you can talk about that is a really key part of having healthy, consensual relationships,” Emily says. “If you’re taught that it's okay to understand what feels good for you and to communicate that, it can also empower you to say ‘actually, that doesn't feel good for me.”
It is important that young people don’t grow up feeling ashamed of their sexuality or are made to think that sex is dirty or wrong.
By talking openly about sex and sexual pleasure in sex education, we can help lift the taboo and encourage the next generation to feel comfortable talking about sex, both in terms of their own pleasure and to empower them to feel comfortable saying no.
“'I’m talking about de-stigmatising the taboos around sex and relationships,” Emily says, “it's very important that young people understand that it's not wrong for them to have these natural curiosities about their bodies and to want to explore them. They need to be taught that it’s a very natural and normal part of growing up.”
“It all needs to be underpinned by this idea that this is normal and it's absolutely natural to have conversations about sex,” she continues, “It's okay for us to talk about this, it's okay for us to normalise this, and it's okay for you to have questions.”
How Should The Sex Education Guidelines Be Updated?
According to a survey carried out by the National Union of Students back in 2015, only one third of students felt they could relate their sex and relationship (SRE) education to real life, while 60% said they had turned to porn to find out more about sex.
The last sex education guidelines were published in 2000, so they have not managed to keep up to date with all the technological changes that have happened over the last 19 years.
2000 was a world without gifs, garlic bread memes or dating apps. Myspace and Bebo (remember that?) hadn’t even been invented in 2000, let alone Instagram, Snapchat or Tinder.
How can we teach young people to navigate their world with information that is completely out of date?
“I think we need to see the challenges of digital age factored into sex education,” Emily says, “that's things like understanding porn, learning how to navigate it and being able to tell the difference between stuff which is generated for fantasy and the realities of sex.”
Porn is all over the internet whether we like it or not. We can choose to ignore it, or we can talk about it and explain that, while it’s okay to enjoy watching porn, there is a big difference between fantasy and real sexual experiences.
Inclusive Sex Education
Can you imagine having to sit in a classroom while a bunch of teenagers discuss whether or not your sexual orientation is ‘wrong’? This was a reality for LGBTQ+ teenagers not so long ago.
“The biggest thing that I remember about my sex education at school was the really damaging attitudes towards LGBT issues,” Emily says, “at one point we were allowed to debate about whether it was right or wrong to be gay.”
“There were some PSE facilitators that came in and they said to us ‘you can choose what you want to debate about’ and one of the kids said ‘can we debate whether it's right or wrong to be gay?’”
“The facilitators said yes and you can choose which side of this debate you would like to be on,” she continues, “there were a lot of kids who got up and said ‘it's wrong, it's disgusting’ and these sex educators allowed this and said: ‘that's a really interesting point’.”
Emily was at school in the early 2000s. Whether the facilitators were biased or simply out of their depth, it’s shocking that this happened in the UK less than 20 years ago and, unfortunately, it probably wasn’t even that uncommon.
Why Is There A Stigma Around The Morning After Pill?
Why is there a lingering stigma against people who seek emergency contraception?
“For years there have been lots of half-truths and misconceptions about the morning-after pill because of a lack of education, including beliefs that it’s similar to getting an early abortion (it’s not), or that it’s something only ‘careless’ women who don’t take care of themselves during sex use. We need to work to banish those stigmas,” Emily says.
“Very recently, we've seen the first TV ad for the ellaOne emergency contraceptive,” she continues, “ and I think that is brilliant progress. I hope we see many more things like this coming forward in the future.”
If you have taken the morning after pill, share your story below or on social and help us end the stigma. #MyMorningAfter.
ellaOne® 30mg film-coated tablet contains ulipristal acetate and is indicated for emergency contraception within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Always read the label.
Words: Sophia Moss