Championing healthy relationships

and sexual wellbeing

Relationships and sex education: yearning to learn

With schools about to reopen, the topic of statutory relationships and sex education is back on the news agenda.

If you're not familiar with the updated guidance on relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education released by the Department of Education in February 2019, please click here to read our summary.

The controversy on this occasion is a letter to the Government, written by a group of parents to try and stall the ‘go-ahead’ to make relationships education in primary school and relationships and sex education in secondary school compulsory in September.

Their main concern stems from the changes to parents and carers’ rights to withdraw their child from these lessons.

While some may see the amendments to these rights as an overstep by the Government, times have changed dramatically in the 20 years since guidance on relationships and sex education was last updated. Current education in relationships and sex is likely to be far behind the actual experiences that young people are having outside of the classroom.

Can you be sure that what your children’s school is teaching is keeping up with the prevalence of internet use; including social media, online porn, instant messaging, as well as, awareness around sexual identity and consent?

We absolutely believe in the vital role that caregivers play in educating and supporting their children with RSE and that’s why we were delighted to see that all schools must consult with parents and caregivers as part of the process in developing their RSE curriculum.

At the moment, children and young people are learning about relationships and sex from a variety of sources, with no oversight or consistency as to what is being taught.

Worryingly, a study by British Medical Journal in 2015 revealed that ‘50% of men and women reported that most of their information around relationships and sex came from ‘other’ sources such as their first sexual partner, friends, siblings or media sources’.

And, without high quality education about vital RSE topics like consent, young people can make unwise, unhealthy decisions. In a YouthNet survey about alcohol and sex, 48% of 16-25 year olds admitted to having had a one-night stand they regret because they were drunk and 41% of girls aged 14-17 reported some form of unwanted sexual activity as a result of pressure or force in a relationship (YouthNet: Alcohol and sex survey 2012).

Making RSE compulsory and included in that, a parent consultation, will mean that parents and carers will be aware of what is being taught across the board to better support their child and reassure them that other children are also learning the same thing and able to understand healthy and safe relationships.

While, there still may be some hesitation over introducing compulsory RSE into schools, sexual abuse can happen at any age, from birth onwards and can often occur in the family home, so it is important to educate, in an age-appropriate way, on positive and consensual relationships to help safeguard children who could be at risk of abuse.

We cannot overlook research, which clearly shows the positive benefits of RSE in school age children. For instance, in the FPA’s 2019 policy statement, they wrote how young people who went through RSE at school were less likely to ‘report poor sexual health outcomes’.

Also, contrary to fears that RSE in schools is likely to increase sexual activity amongst children, instead learning about relationships nd sex tends to lead to people engaging in sexual relationships at a later age and reduces ‘the likelihood of experiencing a sexually transmitted infection.’ 

The report also explained how RSE ‘reduced the likelihood of young people engaging in unsafe sex or reporting distress about sex or an experience of non-volitional sex.’ All things that will be a welcome relief to hear for caregivers.

Lastly, another positive of RSE in schools is that young people want it!

The study by the British Medical Journal also found that young people would prefer to learn about relationships and sex in a school setting.

70% of young people said that they did not know enough when they felt ready to have their first sexual experience, citing that they wanted to learn the information from lessons in school, parents, and health professionals - in that order.

This is likely to be due to benefitting from an impartial, non-judgmental environment where they can learn with their peers from a trained professional. As we are currently the only organisation accrediting short RSE courses, we are keen to increase the reach of our training so that more educators can become properly qualified in RSE.

At acet UK, we believe that it’s important to provide young people with the skills they need to understand and highlight the issues around relationships and sex and also that RSE starts at home with parents and caregivers supporting their young people and helping them to make good choices.

Our children and young people are yearning to learn, let’s support them.