Relationships education fails to prepare young people


New research shows that 47% of secondary school pupils think their school’s Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) does not meet their needs.

The lack of relevant sex and relationships education in schools and at home means 81% of teenagers are getting most of their sexual health knowledge from less reliable sources, leaving them vulnerable and ill-prepared to navigate their way through relationships.

The study of over 2,000 14-18 year olds, by sexual health charity, Brook, illustrates the impact on young people that the country’s lack of commitment to good Sex and Relationships Education, out of date guidelines for schools and a lack of support for well qualified teachers is having.

The survey finds that young people rely on often ill-informed sources, such as peers, for information resulting in the spread of dangerous sex myths which can lead to poor decisions and unwanted outcomes.  The five most commonly shared sex myths amongst peers are:

  • 59% of young people have wrongly heard from their friends that a woman cannot get pregnant if the man withdraws before he ejaculates
  • 58% of young people have wrongly heard that women cannot get pregnant if they are having their period
  • 35% have wrongly heard that women cannot get pregnant if they have sex standing up
  • 33% have wrongly heard from their friends that a woman cannot get pregnant if it is the first time she has had sex
  • 25% of young people have wrongly heard that you can only catch HIV from gay sex

Schools are not required to consult with their pupils to shape SRE lessons, and 78% of young people confirm they have never been consulted.  As the government recently announced a review of Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE), 82% of young people said they want schools to take their views into account to help make SRE relevant for the 21st century. 

The research identified the scale of the SRE problem:

  • One in four (26%) secondary pupils get no SRE in school whatsoever.
  • A quarter (26%) of those who do get SRE say the teacher isn’t able to teach it well.
  • Only 13% of 14-18 year olds learn most about sex from their SRE teacher, and just 5% from Mum and 1% from dad at home.
  • The sex information void is being filled by friends their own age (36%), their boyfriend / girlfriend (10%), TV programmes (8%) and online porn (5%) – none of which are reliable sources of honest, useful information.
  • SRE fares particularly badly when it comes to teaching pupils about relationships, with only 6% saying they get the information on relationships that they need in SRE lessons.

Jules Hillier, Brook Deputy Chief Executive, said: "Young people in Britain deserve honest, useful information about sex and relationships but SRE in UK schools is failing them.  Standards vary so widely that all too often young people miss out on the information they need to stay safe, healthy and happy. Worse, we know that the void is not being filled by reliable information from elsewhere – like parents – but from the playground and, even more worrying, internet porn.”

“Learning about sex and relationships is a crucial life skill and by letting teenagers leave school ill-informed we are letting them down.  We are calling on young people to seize the opportunity to make their voices heard by telling us what they think 21st century SRE should cover, to better meet their needs.”

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