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School sex education often negative and heterosexist

Sex and relationship education in schools should be more positive, and delivered by experts who have clear boundaries with students, say researchers from the University of Bristol. 
school

Sex and relationship education in schools should be more positive, and delivered by experts who have clear boundaries with students, say researchers from the University of Bristol.

They analysed 55 qualitative studies exploring the experiences of young people who had been taught sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools including in the UK, Ireland, the United States and Australia between 1990-2015.

The researchers found that although sex was a potentially embarrassing topic, schools taught it in the same way as other subjects.

Anxiety in class

Young people pointed out that the way SRE was taught left them feeling vulnerable, with young men in mixed-sex classes anxious to conceal sexual ignorance, and young women risking sexual harassment if they participated.

The researchers also found that

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Sex and relationship education in schools should be more positive, and delivered by experts who have clear boundaries with students, say researchers from the University of Bristol. 


Young people criticised an overly ‘scientific’ approach to sex and
relationship education in schools. Picture: Alamy

They analysed 55 qualitative studies exploring the experiences of young people who had been taught sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools including in the UK, Ireland, the United States and Australia between 1990-2015. 

The researchers found that although sex was a potentially embarrassing topic, schools taught it in the same way as other subjects.

Anxiety in class

Young people pointed out that the way SRE was taught left them feeling vulnerable, with young men in mixed-sex classes anxious to conceal sexual ignorance, and young women risking sexual harassment if they participated. 

The researchers also found that schools had difficulty accepting that some young people were sexually active, leading to SRE that was out of touch with many.

Young people also criticised an overly ‘scientific’ approach to sex, which ignored pleasure, and felt there was insufficient discussion of gay, bisexual or transgender sex.  

Blurred boundaries 

Young people disliked their own teachers delivering SRE, citing blurred boundaries, lack of anonymity and poor training. They also wanted more practical information, such as the pros and cons of different contraceptive devices.  

The researchers concluded that to improve sexual health, schools must accept sex is a special subject and acknowledge the range of young people’s sexual activity. 


Pound P et all (2016) What do young people think about their school-based sex and relationship education? A qualitative synthesis of young people's views and experiences. BMJ Open :doi doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011329

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