AQA is an organisation best known for causing teenagers overwhelming stress (in other words, providing GCSEs and A-Levels) and, more recently, for their heroic efforts to protect said teenagers from knowing that vibrators exist. Students taking AQA’s GCSE course in Media Studies have had to study Zoella’s YouTube, Twitter and Instagram pages since 2017, but she was recently dropped from the curriculum for featuring a video on her YouTube about sex toys. “Some of Zoella’s recent content is aimed specifically at an adult audience and isn’t suitable for GCSE students,” explained Sandra Allan, AQA’s Head of Curriculum for Creative Arts when requested for comment.
This is patronising on so many levels. Allan might as well have said “We must coddle these children and protect their innocence” in her statement. If you’re assuming that teenagers carry any trace of childlike innocence, you’re very, very naïve. It’s illogical to assume that the average fifteen or sixteen year old wouldn’t know about sex toys or not know what they look like. So what is there to “protect” them from?
It reinforces an unnecessary stigma about sexual activity, that it is something secretive, forbidden, dangerous, adult
Teenagers have already been exposed to a lot of sexual content by the time they do their GCSEs – many will have seen porn at least once, or at the very least they might have ventured into Ann Summers with their mates to have a giggle at the dildos. Indeed, by the time they sit their exams, most of them will be the age of consent, some might have already had sex, and the vast majority will have tried masturbating. There’s nothing wrong about any of that. Trying to guard them from isn’t just pointless, it also reinforces an unnecessary stigma about sexual activity – that it is something secretive, forbidden, dangerous, adult. It’s this sort of sentiment that justifies the reasoning behind abstinence only sex education, which famously doesn’t work and results in high levels of teenage pregnancy and STDs. It’s frankly archaic.
Yet there’s a sexist undertone to this controversy that Zoella herself has picked up on. There’s a very specific area of sexuality that AQA is trying to shield teenagers from by claiming her recent content is unsuitable for GCSE students – female pleasure. Zoella commented, very rightly, “I actually disagree that teens shouldn’t be learning about this stuff. Maybe not in their bloody [exam curriculum] but how else are teenage girls going to find out more about being a woman?” They’re certainly not learning it from their sex education lessons, where they’re scared out of having sex with slideshows of genitals infected with STIs.
There’s a very specific area of sexuality that AQA is trying to shield teenagers from – female pleasure
Teenage girls deserve to know that there’s a tiny organ that’s designed to give them pleasure and that they don’t need a penis for an orgasm – especially vital for queer girls. The sort of sex positive content on YouTube Zoella and other YouTubers like Hannah Witton or Lyndsey Doe (from Sexplanations) tells them things nobody else might tell them otherwise, informing them and making them aware of the pleasure they can create all for themselves, where a partner isn’t a must.
AQA has decided though that learning all of this is inappropriate. Seeing tools for female pleasure isn’t suitable for teenagers, apparently. The same wouldn’t be said if Zoella had uploaded a video discussing her favourite brands of condoms – safe, phallocentric sex, right? How great! Ironically, masturbation is also technically safe sex – it’s the safest kind of sexual activity, with no risk of pregnancy or STIs. Nobody’s telling teenage girls that, are they? It’s commonly said that abstinence is the only way to guarantee that you won’t get pregnant or contract an STI, but it doesn’t mean you have to live your life as a nun. In the eyes of AQA, it’s not just sexual activity that’s dangerous – it’s the kind of sex that results in the novelty of a woman finishing. And funnily enough, given how much stress AQA’s exams give teenage girls, sometimes they do just need to burn that stress off.