MPs swamped with Valentine's cards in favour of Sex & Relationships Education
Who’s top of your Valentine’s list this year? Could it be your MP? The unlikely objects of our affections are today opening their doors to piles of Valentine’s cards from LGBT students – and it’s in aid of Sex and Relationships Education.
MPs have today been flooded with over 400 Valentine’s Day cards from LGBT students and supporters of Terrence Higgins Trust - but instead of romantic musings, these ‘secret admirers’ are asking for MPs to back mandatory Sex and Relationships Education in every school.
Hundreds of MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, Iain Duncan-Smith, Chuka Umunna and Education Secretary Justine Greening, were on the receiving end of the hand-made Valentine’s cards.
The mass card campaign is the result of a partnership between Terrence Higgins Trust, National Student Pride and the NUS LGBT+ campaign, which aims to end the silence on Sex and Relationships Education (SRE).
Explaining why she is backing the campaign, 23-year-old student Angie Normandale, said: "My SRE had no relationships, no consent, no gender, and no pleasure. It was scaremongering, and only talked about periods and hormones for two hours.
"My poor SRE contributed to body shaming and poor mental health. Thanks to Privilege and the Queer Youth Network, I received a lot of extra help, but prevention is worth more than cure."
20-year-old Charlie Mathers, currently studying at Westminster University, had a similar experience: "My SRE was the stereotypical split-up of boys and girls, where we all watched the same video of how babies were made. There was also an awkward picture book. That was it.
"I think that fear comes from not understanding, so inclusive sex and relationships education could help with prevent things like homophobia. My life would have been better with more SRE."
A worrying 95% of young people were not taught about LGBT relationships, and 75% were not taught about consent, according to Terrence Higgins Trust’s recent report ‘Shh... No Talking’ [PDF]. Meanwhile an overwhelming 99% of young people surveyed thought SRE should be compulsory in every school.
LGBT students, along with campaigners at Terrence Higgins Trust, have now expressed dismay at how MPs have repeatedly passed up opportunities to ensure every young person is taught SRE, wherever they go to school. So the campaigners joined forces and devised a plan to get their MPs’ vote.
"Valentine’s Day has very little to do with real relationships," said Alex Phillips, Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer at Terrence Higgins Trust.
"Today more than ever, people are saturated with impossible ideals about romance, but because of poor or non-existent Sex and Relationships Education, they are completely unprepared for the realities of sex and relationships in 2017.
"A few weeks ago, MPs missed a vital opportunity to introduce compulsory SRE as part of the Children and Social Work Bill. We must not let this happen again - the Bill could represent an end to the silence that has left so many at risk of poor sexual and mental health. MPs cannot miss any more chances to safeguard young people."
LGBT students from universities and colleges across the country joined the charity for a series of card-making sessions last week. Each of the Valentine’s cards carries a rainbow heart, and a personalised message about SRE, ranging from the hilarious to the heart-breaking.
Jamie Wareham, Communications Director at National Student Pride, said: "The tradition of sending anonymous Valentine’s cards seems to have disappeared over time, but today, hundreds of MPs across the country will be opening their doors to piles of cards. And unlike most, these Valentine’s cards actually mean something.
"This month, MPs have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make SRE mandatory in every school in the country. If these cards can persuade MPs to vote for mandatory SRE to be included in the Children and Social Work Bill, this could transform the experiences of young people everywhere, as they grow up and navigate their own sexuality."
National Student Pride weekend takes place Friday 24–Sunday 26 February, and this year’s theme is Sex and Relationships Education.
It’s not too late to back the campaign for SRE. Find out how you can help end the silence.
Full case studies
Bethany Glover, 19, who is bisexual and currently studying at Westminster University, said: "My SRE was pretty bad. Teachers were cringing and everyone was laughing, thinking it was a joke lesson where everyone could mess around. We learnt how to put condoms on bananas, and we did have some people come in to teach us about STIs. But there was nothing at all about LGBT relationships.
"At the time I didn’t realise anything was missing, but when I came out I realised I hadn’t been prepared about how to talk being bi. We’d been taught about 'normal sex'. People reacted to my sexuality thinking it was how they had seen on the internet. I know I would have been more confident if I was told being bi was normal.
"It’s ridiculous LGBT inclusive Sex and Relationships Educations isn’t a thing. It needs to happen now so I’m sending my MP a card asking him to make it happen."
Jamie Wareham, 24, gay, studying at University of Westminster, said: "Awful, limited and awkward – that’s how I’d describe my SRE. I think if I’d had better SRE my first time would have been about love, instead it was just about having 'it', and I regret that.
"I remember my teacher told me about her gay friend and how they had come out for the better. I came out a few weeks later. I’d never heard a good story about being LGBT before then.
"My Valentine’s day message for my MP is: liberate a whole generation of young people and enable the sex and relationships education they deserve."
Emma Costello, 21, gay, studying at UCL, said: "My SRE was not comprehensive at all. I had one class on reproduction where boys and girls where separated. Girls were taught about periods and I have no idea what the boys got taught. In secondary school I again had one session on condoms and STIs. That was it.
"There was no mention that LGBT relationships even existed, and when condoms were mentioned it was all about pregnancy, so LGBT people wouldn’t have realised it applied to them. Lesbian contraception was never discussed and I didn’t know it was a thing until I saw a BuzzFeed video about it!
"I’m supporting the campaign to make SRE mandatory because young people who might be questioning their sexuality need a safe space. We also need to teach young people what abuse is and understand that consent isn’t just a given, it needs to be taught.
"I’m asking my MP to vote for LGBT-inclusive SRE and make it compulsory in every school. It’s crazy that schools aren’t expected to deliver it!"
Thierry, 21, gay, originally from Canada and now studying at UCL, said: "We had one month where SRE was taught once a week in year 7. We learnt about different types of condoms. But it was very heteronormative, very mechanical and biological, talking about how babies are made.
"I had to use the internet to counteract my lack of good SRE. We were taught how it easy it is to get an STI but not how easy it is to prevent it. SRE could help remove stigma and build understanding around STIs and HIV.
"Another thing I think is important to teach is how to recognise patterns of emotional abuse. We need to focus on consent, as too many young people do stuff out of pressure. I’ve studied consent in law, but never been taught about it in a practical way before.
"I’m supporting the campaign to make SRE mandatory. My message to my MP this Valentine’s day is teach about relationships and love, not just biology. We need inclusive and mandatory SRE."
Filipe Esteus, gay, alumni from Birkbeck University, said: "My SRE was done over one term. It was not memorable at all. To last in your memory into adulthood, and to give time to properly discuss a range of issues, we need to have regular SRE over many years – you just forget all about it, if it’s only taught once.
"It was only about straight sex, and was entirely negative, about how to avoid something. There was no mention that people have sex for pleasure. Abstinence was the take home message. No mention of consent or gay sex. If you don’t talk about gay sex in SRE, young people are only getting opinions from people who might be against it.
"This Valentine’s Day I’m asking my MP to focus on love and healthy relationships. SRE should be compulsory."