Lack of Sex and Relationships Education creating ‘safeguarding crisis’ for young people
75% young people not taught about consent and 95% not taught about LGBT relationships, according to new report by Terrence Higgins Trust.
Sex and Relationships Education is infrequent, low quality and almost never covers LGBT sex and relationships or consent, according to the findings of a major new survey of over 900 young people by Terrence Higgins Trust. The UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity has warned that, currently, SRE is ‘unfit’ for the smartphone generation and could leave children vulnerable to abuse, bullying and poor sexual and mental health.
The report, released today to launch the charity’s SRE: End the Silencecampaign, show that, where it is happening, SRE is usually limited to biological topics like reproduction, body parts and heterosexual sex.
Meanwhile, several key topics were conspicuously absent from respondents’ experiences of SRE. Seventy-five percent had not been taught about consent, 95% had not learned about LGBT sex and relationships, 89% were not taught about sex and pleasure and 97% missed out on any discussion around gender identity.
Three out of five respondents either didn’t remember receiving information on HIV in school (32%) or didn’t receive information on HIV in school (27%).
In February, the government refused to make SRE compulsory in schools, against the advice of parents, educators, the Education Select Committee and young people themselves. Ian Green, Chief Executive of 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. We must end this silence and make SRE mandatory in all schools if we are to tackle this safeguarding crisis.”
The survey of over 900 people aged 16-24 revealed that one in seven respondents had not received any SRE at all. Over half (61%) received SRE just once a year or less. Meanwhile 99% of young people surveyed thought SRE should be mandatory in all schools and 97% thought it should be LGBT inclusive. Currently, SRE is only mandatory in state-maintained secondary schools, which means private schools, primary schools, academies and free schools are under no obligation to provide it.
“Young people have now told us loud and clear what kind of SRE they want,” said Ian Green. “The government must now give them 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.”
Half of young people rated the SRE they received in school as either ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’. Just 2% rated it as ‘excellent’ and 10% rated it as ‘good’.
Terrence Higgins Trust believes one issue is that the most recent government guidance on SRE has not been updated for sixteen years.
“It is shocking that government guidance offered to schools on SRE is older than nearly all of the students themselves,” said Ian Green. “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.”
Eighteen year old Lauren Young agreed: “Inclusive SRE is a vital part of a young person’s life as it teaches them 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 vital – and completely normal – to discuss inclusive sex and healthy relationships with young people.”