More young people than ever are getting most of their information about sexual matters from school, but the majority feel they are not getting all the information they need, and men in particular are missing out, according to new research published in BMJ Open.
The findings come from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3), the largest scientific study of sexual health and lifestyles in Britain. The research was carried out by UCL (University College London), the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and NatCen Social Research. The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, with additional funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Department of Health and the National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research (NIHR SPHR).
Researchers compared data from nearly 4,000 men and women aged between 16 and 24, taken from Natsal-3, conducted 2010-2012, with that from previous surveys in 1990-91 and 1999-2001, to see how sources of information about sex have changed. They also analysed data from Natsal-3 to identify associations between where young people get most of their information, and sexual behaviour and outcomes such as at what age they first had sex.
They found that for both men and women, school is now the most commonly reported main source of information about sexual matters. Both men and women who learned about sexual matters mainly from school experienced first sexual intercourse at a later age than those who got most of their information from ‘other’ sources. They were also less likely to report unsafe sex, or to have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Additionally for young women, school was associated with them being less likely to have felt distressed about their sex life or experienced sex against their will.
Most people in the study (70%) said they felt they ‘ought to have known more’ when they first felt ready for some sexual experience. Importantly, the findings indicate a gap between the types of information young people wanted, and what they currently received. They specifically said they wanted more information about ‘sexual feelings, emotions and relationships’, as well as STIs, and for women, contraception.
Study author Dr Clare Tanton, Senior Research Associate at UCL, said: “Although our findings show there has been progress in sex and relationships education over the past two decades, we still have a long way to go to meet the needs of young adults.”
“The fact that many young people told us they wanted to get more information from a parent shows that parents also have an important role to play. There needs to be a combined approach which also supports parents to help them take an active role in teaching their children about sex and wider relationship issues.”
To read the papers, please click on the links below:
Associations between source of information about sex and sexual health outcomes in Britain: findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) by Macdowall W, Jones KG, Tanton C, et al, and Patterns and trends in source of information about sex among young people in Britain: evidence from three National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, by Tanton C, Jones KG, Macdowall W, et al.
TagsChanging behaviour at population levelChildren young people & familiesSex education