HAI Summer School 2014 : Workshop with Ann James

Workshop — Devising a Humanist Ethic in Sex Education

Ann James chaired a discussion which ranged over the cultural objectification of young women, young men’s low self-esteem and early awareness of gender preferences and sexuality and the influence of single-sex and co-ed schools. At times the discussion provoked the thought that, just as secularists are keen to suggest that religious people should confine their teaching to periods outside school hours, so secularists should develop their own programme of relationship education to be given outside school hours!

The main points of the discussion are outlined below.

1. Sexuality and relationships are a most important part of the fulfilled life for most people and need to be properly covered in preparation for life in all forms of education.

2. Observation of good relationships is most important as exemplars of satisfying behaviour. Ideally, parents would provide such role-models, but the presence of a ‘secure, attached person’ is extremely helpful as a guide through relationship difficulties.

3. Religions are malign in relation of sexuality, being largely concerned with restricting sexual activity in many ways and inducing guilt. In general, religions are opposed to a sex education outside their own narrow world-views. It is probably a waste of time to try to influence their views and practices. Instead, it would be more useful to develop programmes of relationship education which reflect reality and humanist ethics.

4. Sex and relationship education should be appropriate to the target groups in respect of age, disability, needs etc. It should be continuing and should be part of a programme of personal development education which would include philosophy and morality. (By ‘morality’ is understood the means to work out a personal morality and not indoctrination with a fixed code.) Other countries’ experience of secular relationship education could be explored and adapted to our situation.

5. Some useful sources to serve as the basis of discussions are: a) Paddy McIvor’s Humanist ‘Catechism’ for Young Thinkers (6 eBooks) and The British Humanist Association’s Young Atheist’s Handbook.