There’s nothing wrong with sex education, even for quite young children, as is now being proposed. It’s understandable that we don’t want to invade their innocence, but they’re going out into a world where they need to be informed and forewarned.

Children who grew up on farms were introduced to what was called “the facts of life” naturally. They knew all about bringing the filly to the stallion (and thus had few illusions about how fierce a shot of animal testosterone could be). I remember a farmer’s daughter telling me about “lesbian cows”, which, me being city-bred, came as a surprise to me. Yes, there were indeed cows who sought intimacies with each other rather than respond to the bull (bulls were not known for their finesse, anyway).

But when it comes to humans, much depends on just how the sex education in question is imparted. Valerie Riches, who founded The Responsible Society (it later became Family and Youth Concern) was very critical, in the latter years of the 20th century, of sex education being recommended for schools and elsewhere. She characterised the prevailing value as “anything goes – just so long as you use a contraceptive”.

Valerie was experienced in this area and she felt that some of the sex education was over-sexualising children, rather than arming them with biological knowledge and moral discernment. She was particularly critical of a textbook called Make It Happy, which was supported by the Family Planning Association and other lobbies, including the BBC. The Gillick Ruling, in 1985, which effectively allowed sexual activity among underage girls, was one outcome, in Valerie’s opinion.

So, yes to sensible sex education; but schools and parents should be allowed to examine and question what kind of material is being used.

Yet let’s honestly admit it can be an embarrassing subject broached between the generations. A friend of mine, who as a young teenager was involved with radical left-wing politics, was told by her mother, as she was leaving home on a trip, that they needed to have a serious conversation. “Please don’t let it be about ‘the facts of life’ – please!” my pal silently prayed.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection