62 per cent of students say their Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) did not impact decisions they make about contraception and protection.
In an anonymous survey conducted by The Mancunion, many criticised their SRE, claiming it was “uninformative” and “damaging”, with some even claiming they had none at all.
Other respondents blamed their lack of sex education on their school’s religious teachings.
One student said they went to a “Catholic high school, [and] therefore [had] literally no education about STIs or contraception. I had to learn all that after school through the internet.”
Most of the feedback reflects how schools deliver sex education, treating it as a problem that needs to be managed. One respondent said they were “just shown horrific pictures of infected genitalia and told to use condoms/don’t have sex.”
SRE was also criticised as being too heteronormative, with students complaining they had been given little to no information about safe sex for lesbians or other members of the LGBTQ community. One student said: “from what I remember it was mainly condoms and feelings and I’m gay so it didn’t help much at all.”
Another claimed their school simply “didn’t teach anything about same-sex relationships.”
“Same-sex couplings and Transgender issues (never mind other genders and sexualities) were never mentioned when we were taught about healthy relationships, STDs or anything else,” said Bridie Forrester, Communications Secretary of the University of Manchester’s LGBTQ society.
She added: “as well as leaving LGBTQ or questioning pupils feeling alienated or othered, the effect of cisnormative, heteronormative teaching is actually dangerous; Many children leave school with little to no knowledge about life as a queer person. Inter-personal problems such as STDs, domestic abuse and drugs are far from exclusive to cisgender straight people and everyone would benefit from having a greater understanding of LGBT issues.”
Similar findings were revealed last year in a study conducted by Dr Pandora Pound of the school of social and community medicine at Bristol University. Pound told The Guardian “it is clear from our findings that SRE provision in schools frequently fails to meet the needs of young people”.
“Schools seem to have difficulty accepting [that] some people are sexually active, which leads to SRE that is out of touch with many young people’s lives.”
Results from The Mancunion’s survey revealed not enough was done to inform young people about sexual health services with 26 per cent stating they did not know where to get tested and 33 per cent stating they had not been tested in the last six months.
The “gradual rise in the number of diagnoses of common sexually transmitted infections to residents of Manchester over the last decade” is revealed in the Manchester Joint Strategic Needs Assessment 2015/2016. Whether this is a direct result of poor SRE is unclear, but proposals were made to “improve knowledge and understanding of sex and relationships among young people”, including working “with a range of partners including schools and colleges.”
In March 2017, the government announced that SRE was to be made compulsory in all schools in the UK.
Sexologist Goedele Liekens recently discussed the nature of SRE in a debate on This Morning titled “Should sex education be more graphic for schoolchildren?”
Liekens claimed sex education in the UK needs to be “re-looked at” and should include topics such as body positivity and masturbation.
She refers to the findings of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), who have found “explicit” sex education to actually reduce the amount of young people having sex from a very early age, reduce the numbers of sexual partners young people have, as well as preventing people from conducting or being victims of abuse.
UNESCO state: “The evidence is clear. Comprehensive Sexuality Education leads to improved sexual and reproductive health, resulting in the reduction of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, and unintended pregnancy.
“It not only promotes gender equality and equitable social norms but has a positive impact on safer sexual behaviours, delaying sexual debut and increasing condom use.”