Sex acts for money in the playground
Chloe Combi says the problem is rife and argues we need to build students' self-esteem
The most shocking revelation at the beginning of my teaching career (in a pretty posh school) was not that teaching was bloody hard, nor that Ofsted possibly had agendas other than improving schools. It was that there was a fairly rife problem - in all sorts of schools, it turned out - of girls performing fellatio on male students for a fee in suitably discreet locations at convenient intervals during the school day.
In some instances I know of personally, it had become so problematic that staff were compelled to patrol the toilets, cloakrooms and changing rooms at lunchtime and after school. Smoking patrol seemed delightfully antediluvian in comparison.
I dealt with an incident of this kind a while back, and with the subsequent fallout. The instinctive reaction of the girl's parents was to talk about bundling her off to a nunnery. Where the two boys involved were concerned, the parents seemed split between wanting to put them on a course of bromide and giving them a congratulatory slap on the back.
Once everyone had calmed down a bit, the most telling explanation of the phenomenon was the girl's. She was a perfectly nice girl from a seemingly normal, middle-class family with no apparent history of abuse or neglect. When I asked her why she did it, she explained to me that, among her peer group, fellatio was not considered to be anything like sex. It was more like extreme snogging. And although the money was useful, she felt that performing such acts would make her more well liked and accepted - not just by the boys but by the girls as well.
This presents a tragic parallel to a shocking news story earlier this month: the gang of men convicted and imprisoned for grooming, raping, pimping, assaulting and generally abusing vulnerable young girls. Although this story rightly caused outrage, I hope it doesn't become exclusively about class, race or culture but about a collective responsibility to our children.
Sex is being sold as a cheap commodity to kids in all sorts of forms - films, television programmes, sex tape stories in national newspapers, top-brand advertising campaigns and the behaviour of so many of their idols. It would be a mistake to think that this is anything new (it has been going on for decades) but the internet has undoubtedly sexed things up, bringing what was once underground into the mainstream for all to view freely and easily. And it would be a mistake to think that this isn't going to impact on all our behaviours, particularly those of the impressionable.
Sex is not wrong nor something to be afraid of. But if kids are bombarded by the persistent message that sex is the thing that will get them in to the "club", they will want to buy into it.
The girl I mentioned earlier articulated clearly that she believed her sexualised behaviour would make her more acceptable to her peers - what a tragedy she didn't believe that could happen if she was funnier or smarter or kinder. And what a tragedy that there is insufficient honest dialogue and information supporting 21st-century teenagers with their 21st-century crosses to bear.
Sexual predators are always going to prey on teenagers with low self-esteem who believe that sex is the ticket to adult coolness, irrespective of class, race or colour. So before we tear each other to shreds in a political correctness war, can we please focus on what's important: raising the self-esteem of our kids, so that they view sex and sex acts as a lovely choice and not a grim option on life's casting couch.
Chloe Combi teaches at a comprehensive in London.