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Sexual Health (young people)

Sex education at school

Most people agree school is the right place to get sexual health information, but think that the teaching isn't always very good. One young man we talked to did voluntary work with young people and realised how important it was for all children to learn about sex at school when he started to do voluntary work.

 

Thinks that much more information needs to be disseminated through schools. (Actor)

Thinks that much more information needs to be disseminated through schools. (Actor)

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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I don't think there's nearly enough information for young people really. I mean as much as there are all these organisations, you know, that help you know, give information about sex and stuff like that there needs to be far much more information.  

I mean, I feel in a minority, I feel okay what I know is a little but young people just seem to know far less than that and it's just really sad.

What do you think is the best way to give information to young people?

I think more information needs to go into schools, not telling, not, I mean I don't think you need to sit there telling people about you know, how we make babies because they know that. I think they need to know the nitty gritty about sex, what you know the repercussions are of sex.  

That yeah, it's like fun and you know go ahead, but you know go and be safe and do it.  And you know there just needs to be far more clinics open at sort of more accessible hours, at weekends, evenings, outreach work going to schools, going to youth clubs, showing people condoms and other methods of contraception and explaining what other methods of contraception are, I mean generally explaining and more free condoms. 

I mean you go into a sexual health clinic and they always give you these really boring condoms, it's always extra safe or the flavoured condoms which are really boring.  You know condoms are really boring, people don't like to use them because they like, desensitise you, they don't feel as good. And there are condoms on the market that do feel good.
 

His sex education was limited at school, but learnt more about it during voluntary work in his...

His sex education was limited at school, but learnt more about it during voluntary work in his...

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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It was difficult. I mean I started doing voluntary work here and there in youth clubs and advice centres and it's through one of the projects that I was given, a project to look into STIs and unwanted pregnancies. 'Cos it was a young person's centre, agency, they asked me to do some help so you know they, they could use the research after. And then I related that to some college work that I was doing at the time as well and did a whole unit about HIV and AIDS and STIs. 

And that sort of raised my awareness around it. You know, through school, growing up, you know your taught in basics really, really basics and even that is taboo 'cos the parents always step in and say, 'Oh I don't want my child, you know, to be taught about this 'cos it's, you know, not right. Religion forbids it''. So you come out of school thinking, 'I don't really know much about what to do'.

Does religion forbid it, or is that a bad excuse?

I'm not sure. I think it's just parents worried about, you know, if their children find out about it, they'll want to do it. But I think the school's thinking is if they're taught at school at a young age then it, you know, prevents unwanted pregnancies at a very young age.

Yeah.  

Because you hear about 13, 14 year olds getting pregnant and, you know, that's the rest of their life. They've got a child to look after.

Yeah.  

So I think the school wants to make you aware of the risks involved, you know. That there's a good side to it or, right there's also the side that people choose to sort of disregard and not look at.

Unfortunately sex education at school seems to be a bit of a 'lottery' in terms of how good it is. People we spoke to recalled teachers delivering toe-curlingly embarrassing talks, often separating boys and girls so they didn't learn about each other's sexual development. 

Some people we interviewed felt more focus needs to be placed on protecting yourself from STIs and not just on preventing pregnancy. 

Some of the people we talked to were quite angry about how their schools had handled sex education, or compared their sex education with friends who'd been at different schools.

 

Describes her anger about the inadequate sex education she received at school and from her own...

Describes her anger about the inadequate sex education she received at school and from her own...

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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School didn't tell me nothing about sex, school is shit for sex, they don't tell you nothing, all they say is what the woman looks like and what the male looks like, they don't tell you like anything else. They say don't get pregnant, don't do this, but they don't tell you details they just say pregnant and give you a box of Tampax and a condom and that's it, that's all you get.

They don't tell you about relationships?

No, they don't tell you nothing, sex education for schools is the most rubbish thing that I have ever had in my life, I think it would be better if a young person goes into school and does it, because those stupid women they think are they going to offend us, but if they don't tell us the details, how are we supposed to know? 

They get these like you know projectors they point at a male's body and  woman's body so there's the man's penis and the girls vagina, this is the ovaries, and that's it they tell us nothing, so its quite hard. Like my mum she never told me anything, it hurts because like my mum should be there for me, if [daughter] asks me a question I tell her, I won't give her no stupid Bird and the Bees, I'll tell her how it is so she knows.
 

Reflects that her friends were more clued up about STIs than she was, but that school sex...

Reflects that her friends were more clued up about STIs than she was, but that school sex...

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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We got a bit of information at school about them, but not a lot really, speaking to my friends after my experience, they seemed to be more concerned about STIs than I was, I obviously knew about them, but just didn't really think a lot of them, you know. With guys that you think are decent and proper and so you just presume they wouldn't have anything and you know, everything would be fine. 

Do you feel you have had sufficient information about contraception at the right time for you?

When we had talks on contraception at school, I wasn't really interested in having sex then, so I guess it wasn't the best time. I mean I always knew about contraception and  stuff but, I didn't really think much of it, and so later on I wasn't really that comfortable using it or aware of it, I guess. Yeah, so I knew about it, but probably could have been spoken to about it before

Of those we interviewed some thought teachers who were at ease with the subject made things much better - but only for those who were in their class. In the same school sex education could be handled very differently in different classes, leaving the less fortunate pupils to rely on guesswork and what their friends were able to tell them.  

Even when the information is good it is not always delivered when it is needed. Schools need to provide access to advice and information to pupils as and when they need it, particularly since pupils may not raise issues within a classroom setting.

 

School sex education came too late for many of her fellow sixth formers.

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School sex education came too late for many of her fellow sixth formers.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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Oh no, from my family, from my mum and dad. The sex education we got at school was rubbish, until we got into the sixth form, by which time it was too late for most of us, because most ' you know ' in the sixth form, they were like ... 'here is the Family Planning nurse'.  

She came in and she was really good, and she like passed round a coil and that sort of thing for us all to look at, and she was really good, but by then it was too late, most of us were either on the Pill or having sex anyway, so '
 

Suggests that schools should allow access to sexual health sites on computers in private resource...

Suggests that schools should allow access to sexual health sites on computers in private resource...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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More libraries, libraries and school, I think it should be 'cos, I think a lot of people would be nervous to access sexual health websites in school. So I think if there was like a little room allocated within the school, that you could shut the door and you could use, maybe 20 minutes, 30 minutes on the computer on your own. 

I think a lot of people would use the resources more than if it's a big open plan classroom and there's 30 kids in the class and you're trying to look up sites about Gonorrhea, you're gonna be, you're gonna feel very anxious and nervous. I think in schools nowadays they use computers a lot more, so that could possibly be an idea or GP surgeries.

Some people we spoke to had been on a peer led sex education programme (A Pause) and said that it's better to have 16-18 year olds leading the sessions than teachers. They enjoyed the interactive activities such as games and being shown several different types of contraception, and being encouraged to practice putting a condom on a plastic model or a piece of fruit. 

 

Compares her inadequate sex education with the A Pause peer education project she works on.

Compares her inadequate sex education with the A Pause peer education project she works on.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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When I was in Year 9, we had Sex Ed and the closest we got to a talk about contraception was that they passed around a pack of condoms, in the box, still in the wrappers, that they'd obviously had in there for years, with all the spermicide leaking out and they said 'don't open them because we've got to use them next year, this is what the outside of a condom packet looks like' and that is literally what they did, and we had to pass it round, going 'yeah, great, we all know what a condom looks like but...' and that's as close as it got to telling us about contraception, literally, it was an absolute joke and that's why we campaigned to get A Pause up here.

I think that A Pause is one of the best things that they've brought in at this school, it was me and my best friend that campaigned to get it brought in here, but we're not allowed to talk to the students about contraception in A Pause because by talking about contraception we're promoting sex to them apparently, but I do psychology and in phycology we learn about different ways to promote things and there should be different stages like, don't have sex, fair enough, should be the first stage but then I think that they should bring in the second stage which is, if you're going to have sex, use contraception.  

Because rather than just saying 'don't have sex' to a group of fourteen/fifteen year olds, who are probably out having sex anyway, a lot of them, it just seems stupid to do that and then to turn round and go 'oh my god we've got so many pregnancies, how did it happen?' as if they're surprised by it. 

Because the school always makes out that it's shocking that so many people get pregnant but the school doesn't provide enough education. The school aren't allowed, I've got quite a few gay friends and the school aren't allowed to give any advice on homosexual relationships, it's against government policy because they're not allowed to promote homosexuality.  

But if you're gay anyway then why should promoting homosexuality, it's not promoting it, it's just educating them and it's things like that, like a lot of, I've got quite a few gay friends who are boys, I haven't got any gay female friends, and they don't know enough about the risks involved in homosexual relationships and I think that the school or someone should provide information about that and they should definitely tell the kids about contraception.

So the sex education is not the best. You have been involved with A Pause for the last couple of years, and you're allowed... which age group are you allowed to talk to?

Year 9. I think that's, I think it's thirteen and fourteen year olds, I think is Year 9 and they have, each class has six sessions, three session with the teacher and health professionals and three sessions with sixth formers. According to our trainer we were allowed to request that the teachers' weren't present but so far the teacher has been present in all of them and basically they have three or four sixth formers standing at the front of the class and we do, we teach them about relationships and kind of the emotional side of sex and how to say no, kind of thing. 

But we are not allowed to tell them, we don't have to tell them any of the kind of biology part - that's all done before we get to them and we're not allowed to talk about contraception really and then obviously there is all this stuff in the media, that we're promoting oral sex and that, so we have to be very careful about that as well now.

We had our Head of Year do a sex talk for us and it was the most embarrassing situation because
 

Describes her good sex education at school which included handling condoms and workshop activities.

Describes her good sex education at school which included handling condoms and workshop activities.

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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Probably the schools more than anything because we had a session at school where we got, where we all had to sit in a classroom and we all got given a condom and we got taught how to put them on and things like that and I think we got given a couple and I think probably that's why I had them there anyway and I thought oh well I've got them, I might as well keep them on me.

Well as I said, I had a lot of information given to me at school, we had quite a few sessions at school about sexually transmitted diseases, about unwanted pregnancy, how to put a condom on, things like that and that was, that I think probably had the biggest influence on me, that's where I got most of my information at that age and I found that really helpful but I know my friends that were at different schools didn't get that.

So it is something to do with your school?

Yeah, and I think if it's there and it's always there rather than teenagers having to actually go and find it.

Did you have a school nurse or someone special?

There was a school nurse but I don't think she was involved with the sex education.

Who was involved with the sex education?

We used to have tutorials, so we would have like a seminar and we'd have outside speakers or sort of general stuff and then we'd have a tutorial just our class, and we'd discuss things and we'd have sort of workshop activity type things and I always found that really useful because you could have a bit of a laugh and a joke at the same time as actually learning something you know, you joke that 'oh I know all of this' but actually you didn't and you would pick up new things.

Even those who were generally pleased with their school sex education still felt it could be improved. They felt that more information should be available about sexual identity (and gay and lesbian sex), contraception, how to avoid STIs, symptoms of STIs, how to handle relationships, and where to go for advice, contraception and testing.

 

Describes her good sex education at school which included handling condoms and workshop activities.

Describes her good sex education at school which included handling condoms and workshop activities.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I think my school gave us everything that we needed to know so I suppose all the schools in the country just need to use the same sort of format. 

We had these personal and social education lessons once a week and it wouldn't always be about sexual health, it would be about sort of personal things, getting a job, things like that. And in every academic year in the school we would have covered it at least once a session about sexual health and we'd get leaflets and handouts about contraception, the risks and things like that. 

We had quite detailed explanations about possible diseases that you could get and sometimes quite gory details, probably to scare you into using the contraception. I think they should try and cover the importance of a relationship. I don't think they are. 

I think it might help people more because when you're going through that when you're young, it's the first time that you've been through it and sometimes you need someone to help you, also the information.

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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