Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century

Posted on: 24th May 2012

If you’ve ever been in a sex and relationships education (SRE) class, odds are you’ve seen a movie about puberty, reproduction, STIs (STDs) or relationships.

You know the one: a girl is at a slumber party and goes to the bathroom- she’s gotten her period for the first time and is horrified. She calls her mom who picks her up from the party and takes her to the drug store, where she and the pharmacist explain all about puberty and menstruation. Relieved, the young girl quickly resolves her insecurities and is confident about this exciting new chapter in her life. Thanks, Mom!!!

Most videos about SRE can be summarised in a few short words: outdated, improperly pitched, condescending, and just generally cringe-worthy. As someone who has worked in sexual health and taught SRE for over 10 years, I have seen my share of really awful films that are supposed to engage young people in a relevant, appropriate way with the basic information they need to be sexually healthy. Unfortunately, a lot of these videos tend to completely miss the mark.

There are numerous examples of ineffective public health materials. For example, in the US the largest drug education programme, DARE, has been shown to actually encourage drug use amongst participants- a fact which is well known. Even though police officers run the DARE programme, they are still statistically more likely to search a young person or the young person’s car for drugs if the young person is wearing a DARE shirt or has a DARE bumper sticker on their car. Basically, the same people who deliver DARE (police officers) profile people based on their knowledge that it doesn’t work.

That being said, it is incredibly important to incorporate different teaching methods into SRE, and using videos can be an incredibly effective way of engaging disinterested audiences. When I run SRE workshops, I tend to avoid most “educational” videos, opting instead to use clips from TV shows (ranging from The Golden Girls to The Inbetweeners, from My So-Called Life to Embarrassing Bodies, to music videos and videos found on MTV and SBTV) to try to stimulate conversation or introduce a topic related to SRE.

Another successful series is the Intersexions series, a South African drama aired nationally and designed to teach audiences about sexual networks. I also use plain-language science videos, such as those which would be found on Discover or a similar channel. It can always be a challenge finding the ‘right’ video clip, but it’s well worth it if a young person (or adult) can actually sit through the class interested.

The kind of film that I ideally incorporate into SRE is the kind of film that you would actually want to see in the cinema. I’d want to incorporate the kind of film that you would later on find yourself thinking about, and that you would not hesitate to encourage your friends to go see.

What if SRE films were like the kind of films you could see at a major film festival?

UNDEFEATED, the short film affiliated with the Life in My Shoes Campaign is just that type of film. The fact that it will premiere this week in Cannes is proof that it is not ‘just another SRE film’. UNDEFEATED will be used alongside the Life in My Shoes curriculum (to be distributed across the UK and internationally starting Fall 2012) and will reinforce the key lessons of Life in My Shoes in a way that is sensitive, compelling, honest, and downright engaging.

Because young people living with and affected by HIV have been engaged in every step of this project, the tone of the film connects with the young people, rather than condescending to them.

As someone who works at Body & Soul, but more importantly as someone who has worked over a decade in SRE, I am beyond excited to see the incredible impact this film is bound to make, and will use it (along with Body & Soul’s educational animations and spotlight films) to engage students of all ages to improve their knowledge and empathy around HIV.

Regardless of whether you are likely to see the film at Cannes or at your local secondary school, check out UNDEFEATED in the next couple of months- it’ll change forever how you feel and think about HIV.

Thanks to Alison, Body & Soul’s Health Outcomes Manager, for this post.

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