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What do young people think about their school-based sex and relationship education (SRE)?

NIHR SPHR researchers at the University of Bristol have conducted a wide ranging study which looked at how young people in 10 countries viewed their school-based SRE to find out whether it was meeting their needs. It found schools appear reluctant to acknowledge that sex is a potent and potentially embarrassing topic, and attempt to teach it in the same way as other subjects.

The study, published in the BMJ Open, also found students frequently felt vulnerable in SRE lessons, with young women often risking harassment if they participate, and young men anxious to conceal sexual ignorance.

Young people also reported that SRE can be negative, gendered, and heterosexist, and that having it delivered by their own teachers frequently created problems including embarrassment, lack of anonymity and blurred boundaries.

Dr Pandora Pound, from the School of Social and Community Medicine, led the research. She said: “Despite SRE being a fundamental element of policies designed to safeguard young people and improve their sexual health, it does not have statutory status. In addition, government guidance in the UK is outdated, and nearly a third of UK schools has poor quality SRE.

“There are several steps that need to be taken to address this. SRE should be ‘sex-positive’ and delivered by specialists who can maintain clear boundaries with students.

“In addition, schools need to acknowledge that SRE is a special subject with unique challenges, as well as the fact and range of young people’s sexual activity. Unless they do, young people may disengage from SRE and opportunities for safeguarding and improving their sexual health will be missed.”

The findings of the study are based on 55 qualitative studies which explored the views and experiences of young people who had been taught sex and relationship education in school based programmes in the UK, Ireland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Iran, Brazil and Sweden between 1990 and 2015.

Read more:

BMJ Open article
University of Bristol press release


Changing behaviour at population levelChildren young people & familiesSex education


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