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Call for skill to go on sex education agenda

The ability of young people to give and receive sexual pleasure and use condoms could help schools judge whether sex education lessons are a success, according to controversial new advice, writes Susan Young.

Practical skills as well as understanding, teaching and impact on behaviour and health could be researched by schools trying to develop their lessons, according to the pamphlet by the British Medical Association Foundation for Aids.

It says: "The development of skills is crucial in enabling young people to translate understanding and knowledge into practice. It may be possible to evaluate whether a sex education programme succeeds in developing the following: intra- personal and communication skills . . .getting condoms and using them correctly; giving and receiving of sexual pleasure.

"Ways of measuring the acquisition of skills include looking at young people's profiles and records of achievement . . . and asking them to judge their own confidence and ability in doing specific things (eg raising the subject of condoms or contraception with a partner) or to give practical demonstrations (eg how a condom is used).

While much of the pamphlet is likely to be broadly welcomed by professionals, some of its advice is bound to prove controversial.

Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "I think most parents will be horrified. It encourages young people to experiment. I think it is done from a purely amoral perspective."

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: "We will not be advising our members to engage in practicals."

However, Adrian King, of the National Health Educators Liaison Group, approved of the advice, saying it emphasised there was more than mechanics to sex education. "The simple idea of one person cherishing another which sometimes may involve physical pleasure and other kinds of pleasure - surely that's what we mean by love?" Hilary Curtis, executive director of the BMA Foundation for Aids, said the pamphlet focused on making research relevant and useful to schools and teachers in developing good-quality sex education.

Using Effectiveness Research to Guide the Development of School Sex Education costs Pounds 3 from BMA Foundation for Aids, Tavistock Square, London WC1 9JP.

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