Zoe Sugg has been supported by sex positive charity Sexpression after AQA dropped her site Zoella from its Media Studies syllabus.
The exam board, which has featured Zoe and her lifestyle brand since 2017, confirmed it would no longer include her due to topics on the site being ‘aimed at an adult audience’.
While there were no specifics about the content in question, the statement came a couple of weeks after a round-up of the most popular vibrators was posted to the Zoella website.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, Eleanor Cochrane, Externals and Press Director of Sexpression, explained: ‘Relationships and sex education (RSE) provide the knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions about bodies and sex lives. Understanding your own body, self-care, and pleasure can break down any shame and taboo surrounding masturbation. Historically relationships and sex education has focused on male pleasure perpetuating myths that masturbation and pleasure are just for penises.
‘We are disappointed to see that that Zoe Sugg and Zoella as a brand have been dropped from the syllabus for exploring some of these topics. This is reflective of a wider movement we’re seeing to censor sex positive content in the media. Recently we have seen many educational Instagram accounts suspended or even banned.
‘We believe young people should be empowered to ask questions without shame or embarrassment. Through implying that Zoella’s content is inappropriate for young people, the exam board risk discouraging open and honest communication with trusted adults around building healthy relationships, sexual health, and self-esteem and body confidence.
‘Censoring these topics could give the impression that they are shameful. RSE is also a matter of safety. As a society, we have a duty to equip young people with the skills and knowledge to communicate their wants and needs and foster an environment where they feel comfortable asking important questions, trusting that they will receive an honest and appropriate response.’
She added of the importance of websites like Zoella: ‘Certainly a lot has improved in the last 10 years. Sexpression:UK volunteers are in a unique position, where many of us experienced the excitement of buying a teen magazine and flicking to the agony aunt pages, but we also have seen the rise of the internet and social media.
‘Traditional education often leaves gaps in young people’s RSE so they are interested in supplementing it with relatable, modern content. Websites, like Zoella, can therefore fill this gap when applied alongside RSHE in school as well as judgement-free support from family and friends. Just like any other topic, we need to revisit and reflect on RSHE as we apply it to our lived experiences.’
Sandra Allan, AQA’s Head of Curriculum for Creative Arts, said of the decision to remove Zoe from the syllabus: ‘GCSE Media Studies includes the analysis of online and social media and we added Zoella in 2017. At the time, all her content was appropriate for teaching, but some of Zoella’s recent content is aimed specifically at an adult audience and isn’t suitable for GCSE students.
‘As a result, we’ve removed the section on Zoella from the course, and we’ve contacted our schools and colleges to let them know.’
Metro.co.uk understands the decision was taken as a matter of safeguarding.
Zoe, 30, also recently addressed the move, saying her demographic is mainly women aged 25 and up – but she does believe teens should learn about their bodies.
‘Apparently the @zoella website got picked for a GCSE syllabus? Nothing I was aware of or asked to be part of,’ she began.
‘For those who aren’t aware, the @zoella website is not just me reviewing things. It’s a passionate team of women (WOMEN) writing about things that women are interested in & we’ve worked hard to include more women’s health, conversational articles, & basically just more grown up content as our main demographic is 25-35 year old females. NOT 16 year olds.
‘However if the curriculum had done their research before just going “Oh Zoella, her audience are just teens, right?” They probably would have discovered countless posts about periods, masturbation, sex, fertility alongside the newer post they’re referring to!
‘Alongside this. 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? I WISH I had a website like @Zoella when I was growing up.
‘Instead I had a Mizz magazine problem page!! Are you trying to tell me your 16 year old daughter doesn’t know what a sex toy is or that she’s not explored her body AT ALL? Oh plzzzz. [cry laugh-emoji].’
Sexpression:UK is a near-peer independent UK charity with the goal of empowering young people to make decisions about relationships and sex by running informal and comprehensive RSHE in the community.
They recommend reliable resources from the NHS, Brook, Sexwise and Contraception Choices.
They added: ‘During lockdown we and our branches have been creating home RSHE resources and encouraging, in line with government distancing guidelines, #sexualdistancing. Sexual distancing involves hand hygiene and sex toy hygiene during all types of sex. Masturbation alone is the safest option right now but if you ARE having sex with other people, keeping your number of partners to a minimum and avoiding group sex will reduce risk of exposure to Covid-19.
‘If this is something you might be interested in, have a look at the Sexpression:UK website and see if there’s a university branch near you. If you wish to volunteer, get in touch with your local branch or like the branch Facebook page to hear about their training dates.’