Sunday, 29 April 2012

For so many questions, relationships and sex education is the answer

Over the last few months sexuality has been in the news for a wide range of reasons.  Everything from gay rights, homophobic bullying and equal marriage, access to contraception & abortion, sex & relationships education in the primary school to young people watching porn on the internet in secret.  Lots of the 'news' is driven by genuine worries and the changing ways that young people can access information about sex, as well as some irrational concern about the (im)morality of young people and their sexual behaviour combined with a lack of trust in young people and the professionals who work with them.

Each time I talk to a journalist, policy maker or parent about any of the issues - homophobic bullying, early sex, access to internet based porn there is one simple, straightforward and easy answer about what must be done - talk to children and young people about sex, relationships and sexuality in an open and positive way from a very early age.  Alongside other things we need to support parents to talk to their children confidently about sex, relationships and sexuality, and get relationships and sex education properly established in schools in this country once and for all.

Good RSE starts at home, and is then built on and complemented at school and in the community at youth clubs, churches and other settings that children and young people go to. It is a fundamental entitlement for all children and young people if we want to both protect and empower them.

Of course RSE is not a universal panacea.  However all the evidence tells us that good quality RSE that meets certain criteria (including discerning messages in the news and linking to confidential services) helps children and young people confidently navigate their way through puberty, into adolescence and adulthood, developing vital life skills along the way.  These life skills including discernment, negotiation and communication, self awareness, setting boundaries, understanding consent - saying yes, maybe or no, seeking help and respecting others rights.

The evidence is clear: RSE contributes to reducing teenage pregnancy and improving sexual health by delaying early sex and improving contraceptive use. Evidence also shows that where gay relationships and homophobia are integrated into RSE and there is a positive ethos/pastoral care system that tackles bullying well homophobic bullying is reduced.  And if anyone believes gay equality has been achieved, or is unsure of the need to tackle homophobia urgently read this brilliant article about its impact by Patrick Strudwick in todays Sunday Mail

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove talked about sex education last week.  He may well be right that young people who do well academically are less likely to take risks with their behaviour (probably because risk taking behaviour and academic success is explicitly linked to vulnerability, rather than an indicator that we must focus all our attention on reading, writing and arithmetic).  ALL children and young people whatever their gender or sexuality and wherever they are from need and have a right to learn about emotions, relationships, sex and sexuality. This right is enshrined in the UN Convention on the rights of the child.

A small and vocal minority in the UK claim that relationships and sex education as a secular activity that is part of the problem, contributing to 'sexualisation' of the young, promiscuity and poor sexual health.  The truth of course is somewhat difference and RSE can, does and must address the range of faiths, cultures and values in the UK.  RSE at home and school is more important now than ever as a way of providing accurate, unbiased and evidence based information to counter all the misinformation, myths and prejudice available elsewhere.

So that is why RSE is the answer to so many questions.  It is 100% part of the solution (if I was a talent show judge I would probably say it is 1 million % part of the solution).  And that is why RSE is supported by the majority of children and young people, parents and professionals, and why Brook is campaigning for 21st Century sex and relationships education.  Add your name to the campaign at

You can also write to your MP to tell them you support relationships and sex education.  Through their mail bag they hear the voice of those who oppose it, and they need to hear the majority voice in support of RSE too.

Some examples of articles, positive or otherwise are included below

Finally, young people's sexual behaviour is not generally cause for concern any more than adults.  Despite the headlines most under 16s do not have sex and our teenage pregnancy rates are the lowest they have been for 40 years. 

  1. Sex Education Forum ( publish a series of factsheets on best practice in sex and relationships education including publications on Faith, Values and SRE
  2. FPA ( publish a book - Speakeasy - to help parents talk to their children about sex and relationships
  3. Stonewall ( and Diversity Role Models ( support schools in tackling homophobia and learning about gay relationships 

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1 comment:

Jane said...

I thought you, or your readers, might be interested in filling in this survey on sex and relationships education in the UK.

The British Youth Council are looking for people's opinions before they run a campaign on the subject.