The importance of sex education in schools

Do schools teach enough about sex education? (source: via Flickr, Zorah Olivia)

By Sian Hopkins | Comment Editor

As sexual health awareness week draws to a close and the announcements made introducing LGBT+ sex education into schools in England, I think it’s important to acknowledge the lack of sexual education within the UK’s school system. Relationships and sex are considered a large part of life, yet it is not made a priority within the education system.

Despite sexual health being a required topic from the end of primary school and throughout social studies within secondary school, the information actually taught to most teenagers is far from adequate. Half of my year was having sex from the ages of 13 and 14, basing what they knew off of the information they gained from porn sites because they were given no alternative education. 

The experience I had with sex education in school was a large focus on what you shouldn’t be doing like contracting STDs and getting pregnant and how to work with a condom. Any mention of pleasure was brought up when describing a male’s erection or the wet dreams he might experience. A girl was taught about her period and fertility, with no mention of masturbation. This in itself is demeaning as it suggests that sex for women is only with the purpose of reproduction not pleasure, whilst still preaching about teenage pregnancy. 

Consent and sexual harassment were both topics that were not explored in enough detail despite charities like Plan International UK finding that 66% of girls in the UK have faced sexual attention in a public place, with 38% being subject to this behaviour monthly. Only just this week on Facebook Overheard Cardiff, Cardiff University and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama were criticised for not protecting their students who were victims of sexual assault. A recent survey by hands off club also found that 95% of female students at Cardiff university had experienced sexual harassment or assault on a night out, making it the second worst university for this kind of behaviour in the country. This is not acceptable.

There is a general ignorance about women’s sexual health and harassment which starts at school and continues throughout the majority of our lives. Little of school education covers anything on same sex relationships, asexuality, PCOS, erectile dysfunction and much more, despite how a large proportion of the population may face one of these difficulties and has no awareness of this fact because it was not taught to them from a young age. I know lots of women who would have appreciated an education on pain during sex, making sure to wee after sex to avoid a UTI and the other contraceptions that exist for different body types. 

When speaking to other university students I found a pattern of negativity in how they had been introduced to sex at school. One of the main points was that the education felt ‘limited’ with one student suggesting, ‘there was nothing on gay sex or oral sex, only heterosexual penetration,’ reiterating the traditional and worn out ideas that for sex to count it has to be this way.

England announcing its decision to introduce necessary lessons on LGBT+ relationships and sexuality within social studies, is the first step the government has taken to recognise the importance of talking about sex and how it should include everyone. By not making sexual health a mandatory lesson with accessible information for all, the system limits young people and allows for more harm to come from porn culture and discrimination. Consent and harassment definitely need to be assigned as a priority in lessons, with Wales also acknowledging LGBT+ rights within sex education. 

By improving what is taught in schools about sexual health and relationships, our younger generations will be better equipped to tackle what life may throw at them.


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