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Study Finds Sex And Relationships Education In The UK Is Outdated

Photo: Kate Anglestein.
Cast your mind back to secondary school. Chances are your most vivid memories of sex education include a garish diagram of a uterus and putting condoms on plastic penises. Or bananas if your school was particularly cash-strapped.

Judging by the results of a new survey of 16 to 25 year-olds, it seems not much has changed. The survey, by HIV and sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, found that sex and relationships education (SRE) is infrequent and low quality.

A shocking 95% of young people said they weren’t taught about LGBT relationships, 75% weren’t taught about consent, and one in seven said they didn’t receive any sex and relationships education at all.

And where sex education is happening, the report said, it’s usually limited to biological topics such as reproduction, body parts and heterosexual sex. Crucial subjects are often completely overlooked – 89% weren’t taught about sex and pleasure, 97% didn’t learn about gender identity, and nearly a third didn't remember learning about HIV.

Amy Bush, 22, who is a lesbian and took part in the survey, said male students at her school weren’t made to attend classes on menstruation or childbirth, and that she was never taught about gender identity, homosexuality, bisexuality, relationships or consent.

“I definitely feel that coming out of the closet would have been easier had I been made to feel that homosexuality was normal and accepted,” she said. “SRE classes are an easy and efficient way to do this. Not only would inclusive education help those on the LGBTQ spectrum to feel at ease about their own identity, but it would encourage other children to show solidarity, and not to bully those who are different.”

Sex and relationship education still isn’t mandatory in schools. It’s taught in state schools, which make up 40% of schools, but not in private schools, primary schools, academies and free schools.

In February, the government rejected calls to make SRE compulsory, much to the dismay of many MPs, campaigners, parents, educators, the Education Select Committee and many young people themselves.

An overwhelming 99% of the 914 respondents to the latest survey thought SRE should be mandatory in all schools, and 97% thought it should be LGBT inclusive. It’s therefore obvious why so many young people feel the need to turn to less reliable sources like porn and their friends for information on these crucial topics. Something needs to change.