Young people’s experiences of relationships and sex education
Friday 3rd December 2021
The Department for Education has published longitudinal research carried out with young people on their experiences of relationships and sex education (RSE) at school and on patterns of sexual risk taking.
This research brief shows that most pupils learnt about sexual matters from lessons at school, and that the majority of this group found them to be useful to some degree.
However, it highlights some of the key disparities in perceptions of RSE and likelihood of sexual risk-taking for young people with differing characteristics. Young people who did not receive any RSE were more likely to take sexual risks, such as unprotected sex, and were more likely to contract an STI.
Additionally, though almost half of young people felt the RSE they had received in school had been useful, nearly 1 in 5 found it to be ‘not at all’ useful.
Overall, it identifies that some young people were less likely to receive RSE, such as those eligible for FSM. Others, such as those with SEND or those who identified with minority sexual orientations, were less likely to receive RSE they found useful. Furthermore, though fewer young people had sex before the legal age of consent in 2018 compared to 2009, sexual risk taking had not decreased. These finding show a range of potential shortcomings in the older RSE curriculum, particularly for young people from certain groups.
The new statutory guidance addressed some of these gaps, and seeks to support all young people to be happy, healthy, safe and well-equipped for adult life. For secondary school pupils, the new guidance covers age-appropriate Relationships and Sex Education and will include factual knowledge around sex, sexual health and sexuality, set firmly within the context of relationships. It additionally covers contraception, sexually transmitted infections, developing intimate relationships and resisting pressure to have sex. These changes allow young people to learn what a positive, healthy relationship can look like, about consent and how to keep themselves safe in a variety of situations. In Health Education, there is a strong focus on mental wellbeing, including a recognition that mental wellbeing and physical health are linked.
Additionally, the statutory guidance states that all pupils should receive teaching on LGBT content during their school years, and that there should be equal opportunity to explore the features of stable and healthy same sex relationships. There is scope to ask future cohorts of young people about their views on the new RSE curriculum in new studies run by the Department.