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Why is the British Museum staging a kids’ sexhibition?


WHEN Conservative commentators started to challenge the presence of relationship and sex education in schools, I wondered what they were worried about. What could be the harm, I thought, in older kids learning about the basics of sex?

And if schools could have conversations with kids about how to establish warm, loving, and lasting relationships – surely that is all to the good. Finding out about homosexuality in a respectful and tolerant environment – yes. Most of us older people know gay friends who suffered in fear and loneliness and shame when they were young.

Bring on a kind and tolerant and open approach. After all, I found out about sexual intercourse via a Penthouse magazine that my friend found stuffed into the rafters of her father’s shed. We pored over it. It was grim and soul-destroying stuff for young girls. There had to be a better way. But it did not mean coming full circle and forcing very possible dehumanising aspect of sexual activity on kids.

But how naive some of us have been. I don’t know when it started (it would be wonderful if someone could write up the history) but a transgressive lobby has taken over the sex education push in the UK. Teach kids about porn? Bring it on. Want to be on hormones for the rest of your life because you might be in the wrong body? Learn about it in school!

Here is the British Museum joining in. Aimed at kids from 11 years old and up (that is key stage 3, 4, and 5) the British Museum offers Relationship and Sex Education. The themes of their sessions are:

  • Pornography and consent – Japan, ancient Egypt and ancient Greece.
  • Body image – ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.
  • LGBT – India, ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and Rome.
  • Gender and transgender identity – Africa, India and the Aztecs.

You can see the details here:

You know, I might not mind these four bullet points so much if they were four bullet points amongst, well … other bullet points. Perhaps things like:

  • First love – Egyptian reliefs
  • Exploring the joy of parenthood across cultures
  • The Mother – through the ages
  • An exploration of tenderness between couples in long-term relationships
  • Finding humour in growing old together – art from ancient Greece…


Why are we normalising porn? All those years ago, when I looked at those images of pornography as a young girl, the degrading impact was instant. Today, 40 years later, I could still tell you what I saw in the pictures and what I read on the page. The graphic depictions etched into the brain, because it was transgressive and dehumanising.

Humans treat sex as private because, if we don’t, our focus will be back down at genital level, instead of, at least sometimes, up towards the heavens. Oscar Wilde said: ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ We need to keep our heads up…

I know kids are at risk of seeing pornography every day now, online. I read a thread on Twitter recently from a young woman who said, when she was a teenager, she and her friends watched porn at sleepovers. It was degrading and obscene.

We need to explain why, not normalise. We need to help our kids to be strong enough to reject it – to leave the room. A British Museum blog about its sex education offer, with its depiction of extraordinarily beautiful objects, normalises and whitewashes what, outside the walls of the museum, is about degradation and violation. 

And then why are our cultural institutions actively promoting to kids the idea that you might be born in the wrong body? That your life could be better if you start taking hormones which you will require for the rest of your days?

Again, the museum puts it so delicately: ‘We discuss the difference between biological sex, gender identity and gender expression and compare what we assume are “female” and “male” attributes in objects to challenge perceptions of gender norms.

It might feel brave to discuss gender norms while looking at extraordinary art. Not so wonderful, when you are the mother of a perhaps autistic spectrum young girl who ends up removing her healthy breasts to better express the gender identity she discovered she (came to think she) had at school. Or if you are the young woman herself and you end up spending your adult years in profound sorrow and regret.

It is not too late to row back the cultural transgression that has spread throughout our institutions. We have to. A Conservative Education Secretary at the very least should start by getting this stuff out of our schools and putting responsibility for such matters back into the hands of parents. Who better, family by family, to prepare their children for our bewildering modern existence; for getting their children away from the gutter and aiming upwards towards the stars?

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Caroline ffiske
Caroline ffiske
Caroline ffiske is a former adviser to the New Zealand Government, served two terms as a Conservative councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham and is currently a full-time mother. She tweets as @carolinefff

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