Let's talk about sex - Show and tell with a difference takes hold in top schools

26 May 2019 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER

Flavoured lubricants and condoms, dildos, a penis made of play dough and even small vibrators have made their way into the classes of some top schools - all props for sex education workshops.
Two of the country's top private schools, Michaelhouse and Kearsney College in KwaZulu-Natal, are among the schools that have been using sex education provider Sexy Smarts to conduct workshops for their senior pupils on comprehensive sexual and relationship education for years.
A few former Model C schools, including Pretoria High School for Girls and Parktown High School for Girls in Johannesburg, have also used the Pretoria-based organisation, which was founded by Ruth Loubser, a nursing sister.
Tim Jarvis, senior master for pastoral care at Michaelhouse, said pupils showed increased knowledge as a result of the workshops and also displayed better awareness.
He confirmed that Sexy Smarts would be holding a workshop for all grade 9 boys next month.
Kearsney College did not respond to e-mailed questions.
The course content also includes discussions on relationship development, values clarification, dating, understanding sexual practices, touch and the setting of touch boundaries.
Loubser said her passion for comprehensive sexual and relationship education comes from a deep compassion for children's holistic wellbeing.
"I want to create safe spaces for their questions to be heard and answered honestly and accurately."
She said visual aids were useful to maintain pupils' attention.
"But we emphasise that access to these [such as vibrators] is limited to those over 18 years of age."
Loubser's team uses stuffed toys to demonstrate certain sexual positions.
Eugenia Russell, former head of life sciences at Pretoria High School for Girls, informed Sexy Smarts in a letter dated January last year that she found the programme for matrics "to be an incredible supplement to their syllabus on reproduction".
Anthea Cereseto, Governing Body Foundation national CEO, which represents the governing bodies of 625 schools, said that hiring external providers to hold sex education workshops was a good idea as they were qualified to answer questions honestly.
She confirmed Loubser had provided sex education workshops to pupils at her former school, Parktown Girls, when she was headmistress.
"Just as maths teaching needs a qualified teacher, I think sex education needs a person who is qualified and an expert in teaching it well and at the appropriate level."
She said parents were sent a letter informing them of the sex education workshop and had to either give their consent or not.
"As far as I can remember, I don't think anybody didn't consent."
However, there have been mixed reactions to the practical demonstration and the showing of condoms, lubricants and vibrators to pupils.
Sex therapist Marlene Wasserman, widely known as Dr Eve, said she would not bring in vibrators or speak about sex positions.
"I am opposed to showing people sexual positions as this sets a norm of how sexuality should look for everyone. In other words, it shames people and pressures those who do not enjoy those positions."
She said she was not in favour of condom demonstrations unless it was accompanied by a conversation on consent.
Educational psychologist Melanie Hartgill said: "Some things like flavoured condoms and vibrators are not considered the 'norm' in terms of sex education and I'm not sure they have a place in the classroom.
"If I had a rand for every teenager who asked for practical demonstrations in sex education, I'd be rich!"
But Frederick Sylvester, an educational psychology lecturer at the University of the Western Cape, said he had no problem exposing grade 11 and 12s to sex toys.
"This I use with my teachers during my training as a means of desensitising them to the topic and, in this way, they will hopefully become more confident in speaking about sex and sexuality."
Said Sylvester: "[Sex toys] also expose the learners to alternative sexual practices."
The issue of sex education at schools came to the fore earlier this month after Wasserman - who was commissioned by the basic education department to give input on sex education for the updated life orientation textbooks for grades 4 to 12 - told the Sunday Times that masturbation would be included in the new grade 4 textbook that will be rolled out next year.
The department has since vehemently denied this, reportedly saying that masturbation will be mentioned briefly in grade 7.

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