health & wellbeing life + style

New East London Social Enterprise Split Banana

We Need to Talk About Sex

New East London social enterprise Split Banana is here to change the conversation around sex – one creative workshop at a time.
By Charlotte Tottenham

What do you wish you had learnt in sex-ed? It’s a question that might inspire awkward giggling, but this is exactly what social enterprise Split Banana is asking on their website, where you can rate your sex education as Great, Ok, Bad, or simply Non-Existent and share your Sex Ed story.

The results are both hilarious and excruciating. One contributor reminisces about the ‘Contraception Fairy’, who visited their all-girls school to lead a sex-ed session. Played by a middle-aged man, he told them how to use condoms, though she only remembers his tutu and crown. Or another who recalls playing a ‘game’ where everyone was given a glass of water except for one person who had Ribena. Students were instructed to swap bits of their drinks and pretend to be at a party, until the end of the session when it was announced, ‘now you all have STDs’. And of course, many, many tales of condoms on bananas.

But beneath the light-hearted laughter there is a very real problem: the UK sex-ed curriculum hasn’t been updated in almost two decades and sex crimes in schools are up more than 250 per cent in four years. And in many schools – including lots of the highest performing in the country – it’s entirely absent from the timetable.

Split Banana co-founders Anna Alexander and Matilda Lawrence-Jubb, who met on social innovation Fellowship programme Year Here, witnessed this situation first-hand in schools: “it’s ten years since I was in their position, yet it still feels very much the same, if not worse,” says Matilda. Anna explains that the existing offering is having a drastic effect on mental health and is too trauma-focused and reactionary, “as a teenager, I experienced sexual trauma and received a lot of counselling and it was a turning point – in my relationship with myself and in having healthy relationships. So for me, the link between sex-ed and our mental health has always been really obvious – and that was an amazing gift that I was given in my life”.

The pair decided it was time for a sex-ed revolution and have devised creative workshops for schools. Their aim? To help open up honest conversations around sex for young people. They use art to alleviate the embarrassed sniggering, sending teenagers away better equipped to understand their bodies, minds and each other. By adopting a proactive rather than reactive approach, Split Banana is giving students the right tools and language to be able to express their feelings, fears and desires.

With so many of us remembering excruciating sessions with cringeworthy teachers who delivered long-outdated material, keeping sex-ed relevant and engaging for teens is a huge part of the challenge. Split Banana believes that a collaborative approach to these sessions is the only way sex-ed can be improved; by co-creating each workshop with that specific group they respond to the concerns and questions in the room, whether that’s sexting, LGBTQ+ identities, porn or pleasure.

The young business has been championed by comedian, author and actress Sara Pascoe: “I’m particularly excited to support Split Banana, because it’s going to be led by young people – with their voices and what they want to know. They’re also going to be doing it in a way which reduces the anxiety around communicating and makes it a lot more fun and expressive”.

In 2020 Relationship and Sex Education will finally become compulsory in all UK schools and Split Banana will therefore go on to provide teacher training to deliver their programmes. Many schools currently have no allocated sex-ed teacher, with it falling to an arbitrary mix of school departments and staff. “We’ve observed that it’s also really important to have a trained person who can offer a consistent relationship for pupils within the school”, says co-founder Anna. They’re also exploring the possibility of a secondary online component – something that’s constantly evolving and which the student can look back on after a workshop for continued support.

And Split Banana is not just for the youngsters – look out too for its adult sex-ed events as well as exhibitions of Split Banana artwork in East London. Because learning about sex is for life.

Keep up with Split Banana on Twitter @SplitBananaaa and at splitbanana.co.uk

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