The Terrence Higgins Trust has launched a new report on Sex and Relationships Education, SRE better known as sex.ed, entitled Shh… No Talking. The results show that sex education is ‘unfit’ for the smartphone generation of today. Young people are being passed off with SRE that is infrequent, low quality and almost never LGBT-inclusive.
Where SRE is taught, Tuesday’s report found, young people said it was usually limited to biological topics such as reproduction, body parts, and heterosexual sex. The report said that half of more than 900 respondents aged 16-24 rated the SRE they had received as ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’. Just 10% of respondents rated it ‘excellent’ and 2% rated it ‘good’.
Even now in 2016, it seems that we are no closer to a world where all children receive quality, trusted information from schools about sex, growing up, sexuality and relationships. This lack of proper education on the subject will condemn the present generation of young people to leave school with little to no information on issues that can have an enormous effect on their future health and happiness.
The report said that government guidance on school sex and relationships education policies is out of date and is older than the majority of pupils learning about the subject.
The guidance for schools in England was written 16 years ago in 2000 – before the advent of social media, smartphones or equal marriage and Civil Partnerships, according to this new report by the charity. Topics such as consent, abuse, gender identity, and STIs weren’t even up for discussion. There was no mention of relationships, let alone LGBT relationships.
A poll of 900 young people aged 16-24 found the majority were not taught about consent in sex education – 75% said the topic was not covered. Meanwhile, 95% said there was no mention on the LGBT sex and relationships during their lessons.
Ian Green, the chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “In this report, we’ve seen the stark reality of SRE in this country and heard saddening stories of how one generation of young people have been exposed to low self-esteem, homophobia, bullying, unhealthy relationships and poor sexual health as a result of the lack of quality SRE in our schools.”
“The government’s quiet blocking of compulsory SRE will condemn another generation of young people to leave school armed with little to no information on issues like LGBT relationships, gender identity, and consent. Without trusted information from schools on anything other than the biological basics of heterosexual sex, young people will turn to less reliable sources such as the internet or their peers as they navigate life outside the classroom,” he added.
On the 16-year-old guidance, he said, “It is shocking that government guidance offered to schools on SRE is older than nearly all of the students themselves.”
“Young people are getting information about sex and relationships in a world before social media existed, before smartphones, before equal marriage or Civil Partnerships. It is wholly unfit to prepare them for the realities of sex and relationships in 2016.”
A Department for Education spokesman said, “High-quality sex and relationship education is a vital part of preparing young people for life in modern Britain – helping them make informed choices, stay safe and learn to respect themselves and others.
“Our guidance is clear that young people, whatever their developing sexuality, need to feel that sex and relationships education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs.”
Good quality, age-appropriate SRE can help young people make well-informed life choices and better understand the world around them, leading to improved sexual and mental health. Yet, the findings in the report make it clear that young people are not reaping these benefits.
As one young woman Lauren so eloquently describes in the report, “Inclusive SRE teaches young people not only to be safe but that they are valid. Many young people struggle with their feelings of sexuality and gender and if no one is talking to them about it, or allowing them to discuss it openly, they will internalise their worry and it will grow into something ugly and harmful for the individual.”
It is clear that if SRE were made compulsory in all schools, it would be treated as any other subject, with teachers getting the training they need, and enough time being allocated in timetables for quality lessons. Standards would be driven up and we could finally reflect real life in our classrooms.
We must end this silence and make age-appropriate SRE mandatory in all schools if we are to tackle this safeguarding crisis.
“Young people have now told us loud and clear what kind of SRE they want. In our report, 99% of young people wanted SRE to be taught in all schools. 97% wanted it to be LGBT inclusive. The government must listen and act, and give our young people the tools to make positive and informed decisions, and to have healthy relationships, which they are ready for and want – wherever they go to school, and whatever their sexuality,” it added.