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Zoella's sex toy scandal highlights the inadequacies of sex education

Implementing more positive attitudes towards sex and sexuality early on is essential for promoting healthier and safer sex lives

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Zoe Sugg was recently dropped from a GCSE media studies course, following an article published to her Zoella website reviewing the best sex toys going into 2021. Astonishingly, Sugg was completely unaware that her website had even been incorporated into the curriculum and was shocked to hear of AQA’s choice to remove her content after parent and teacher concerns that her most “recent content is aimed specifically at an adult audience and not suitable for GCSE students”.

Taking to Instagram, Sugg explained that Zoella is a team of women creating content for women-related subjects; their main demographic being females aged 25-35, not teenagers. Yet despite the fact that GCSE students were not the target audience in the first place, Sugg also drew attention to the taboo subject of female pleasure, questioning why it is “absolutely disgusting that 16 year olds should even be graced with such horror.”

The article in question, titled ‘The Best Sex Toys to Spice Up Your Life in 2021’, reviews a range of sex toys, focusing on masturbation and livening up your sex life in lockdown. Sugg comments that although the content wasn’t aimed at teenagers, it is important that this information is available for them to read, especially when the media perpetuates the idea that “female pleasure is something that we should feel ashamed of.” She ends her post stating “we will continue to write about these things on @zoella and prove that WOMEN DO MASTURBATE & FEMALE PLEASURE IS A THING (even if we’re shamed and “dropped” for speaking about it) 🙌🏼💪🏼.”

The recent ‘Zoella Scandal’ is a direct example of how society has conditioned us to be ashamed of female pleasure. It has raised important questions regarding sex education and how it still has a long way to go. When I started thinking back to my experience of sex education, my memories are vague. I remember in Year Six, the girls were taught about periods and we watched as a tampon expand in a glass of water, (of course this would have been too much for the boys, I mean, why would they need to learn about periods, it’s not like 50% of the population menstruate each month!). This in itself maintains the idea that periods are something which should be hidden and kept secret. Everyone should learn about periods. The biological female body is incredible, so why do we conceal it, covering it up with code names like Aunt Flow and Time of the Month?

From what I can remember, sex education at high school was primarily focused on STI’s and contraception. I went to an all-girls school where the focus was very much on not getting pregnant. After learning about all the different kinds of contraception, I specifically remember our sex education teacher saying, “but the best form of contraception is not having sex.” Whilst there was an important focus on consent, masturbation and female pleasure were never mentioned.

If teenagers were provided with the information they need in school, we would be able to implement healthy, positive notions towards sex, and how to stay safe, ensure consent, and receive pleasure.

Even more concerning is the lack of knowledge surrounding female genitalia. According to statistics from YouGov , 59% of men and 45% of women could not label the vagina. The most commonly identified part was the clitoris, yet still a third of both women and men did not know what or where it was. These statistics are shocking; how are we supposed to understand our bodies if we don’t even know their parts? We learn where the heart, the brain and the liver are, so why not the labia? This is another aspect vital to sex education.

Zoe Sugg refused, and quite rightly so, to remove the article from her website, stating that “if we think 16 year olds aren’t already exploring their bodies, we are entirely mistaken”. If teenagers want to find information, they will find a way. They’ll hunt for information online, often turning to pornography for answers. Cyber Experts reports that “When a teenager is first exposed to the concept of sex via pornography, they begin their education and experience with a total misinterpretation of reality. The representations of sexuality, relationships and sex acts in pornography are fabricated to appeal to an adult audience.” Furthermore, a lot of porn centres around male pleasure, suggesting the female role is purely to pleasure the man and that sex is not a two-way relationship. If teenagers were provided with the information they need in school, we would be able to implement healthy, positive notions towards sex, and how to stay safe, ensure consent, and receive pleasure.

Sex and pain is another topic that needs to be broached in sex education. As a female, there is the notion that sex is expected to hurt for girls and you will bleed. Hannah Witton is a Youtuber who creates content surrounding sex to open up the conversation amongst women, she says “The reason that a lot of women have painful sex isn’t because sex is inherently painful- it’s because we’re not taught how to have good sex.” Men report orgasms in approximately 95% of heterosexual encounter, but for women figures range from 50-70%. This shows how women aren’t fed the narrative that they deserve good sex, and many accept that it will continually be sore. Conversations need to increase in relation to the importance of female pleasure, allowing women to speak up during sex and find out what is comfortable for them.

LGBTQ+ relationships is another avenue that was not explored at all during my experiences of sex education. There was no mention of non-heterosexual sex, yet with the new regulations for teaching Relationships and Sex Education which states children must now be taught about sexual orientation and gender identity, things are moving somewhat in the right direction. Same-sex relationships will now be discussed, and hopefully this shall extend into the realms of sexual education to increase inclusivity.

The British are notoriously embarrassed about sex, but if we want to break taboos we need to talk, and these conversations need to start early. We should be able to label both male and female genitalia, everyone should understand periods, sex education should be inclusive for all sexualities and gender identities, and female pleasure should be encouraged. I fully respect Zoella’s decision to keep the article online; this is how we create change and a more open and safe sexual space for future generations.

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