MOST PUPILS in a Glasgow study felt that sex education in their school could be improved, and some said they had received none at all.
Information contained in the study, which draws on the opinions of 2,700 teenagers, indicates that many are sexually active under the age of 16 but lack skills that would help protect their health, negotiate relationships and refuse unwanted sexual advances.
Those who felt "badly" or "not at all" prepared by school sex education were more likely to feel that they had little control over their health and how their life was going.
The survey found that 61 per cent of the young people thought that school sex education was "OK" in how it had prepared them for dealing with sexual health and relationships, while 10 per cent said it was "poor" and 9 per cent said they had not been prepared at all. Four per cent said they did not get any sex education at school.
Only 16 per cent of the young people thought it had prepared them "very well". These pupils were far more likely to have higher self-esteem and perceive themselves to have control over their lives and health.
Young people were also asked who taught them sex education; the most common response was their personal and social education teacher. Those taught sex education by a PSE teacher or a school nurse were more likely to have felt that their sex education prepared them "very well" or "OK".
Respondents attending denominational schools were much more likely than those at non-denominational schools to have religious education teachers (33 per cent against 9 per cent) or science teachers (37 per cent against 28 per cent) taking sex education. They were much less likely to report PSE teachers and school nurses taking sex education.
The Scottish Catholic Education Service, however, said that the results should be treated with caution as few Catholic schools had allowed pupils to take part in the study.
Glasgow City Council is now pressing ahead with a wide-ranging initiative designed to improve the way children are taught about sexual health, in and out of school. The Young Persons' Sexual Health Steering Group will attempt to establish consistency in sex education across schools, and in particular to address the "apparent disparity" between denominational and non-denominational schools.
It is also recommended that all sex education be delivered by a teacher trained for the role, in line with national guidelines.
Outwith schools, a key recommendation involves teaching parents how to talk to their children about sex, with an advice system called Talk2 to become available early this year. A second study gathering the views of 1,000 parents shows that they - particularly fathers - are often uncomfortable about discussing sex with their children.
Councillor James Coleman, who chairs the steering group, said: "We need to find ways to work with young people, while advocating realistic and responsible attitudes in an open and mature manner."
More than half (56 per cent) of the young people surveyed in Glasgow had been sexually active; 31 per cent had experienced full sexual intercourse, of whom 52 per cent were aged 13 to 15.
A quarter of those who had had sexual intercourse did not use contraception the first time; young people struggled to initiate discussion about condoms and were often ignorant of the protection they offered against sexually transmitted infections.
Some 36 per cent of girls and 23 per cent of boys said that they regretted their first experience of sex; many had poor skills in negotiating relationships and were ill equipped to say "no" to unwanted sexual behaviour.
Alcohol featured prominently in sexual experiences; girls felt that being drunk could "acquit" them of being labelled as promiscuous. (Boys were more comfortable about having multiple partners and thought this could prepare them emotionally for long-term relationships).
Young people often rely on information about sex from unreliable sources, such as friends, magazines and the internet.