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Gender split urged for lessons about sex

Boys and girls may need to be taught about sex separately so young men can catch up with their female peers' superior knowledge, researchers recommend in a new study.

Girls know more than boys about puberty, contraception, fertility and sexually transmitted diseases, the results of a study involving 737 pupils in four secondary schools in the South-east show, writes Linda Blackburne.

Researchers Sandra Winn, Debi Roker and John Coleman say in the summer issue of Educational Studies: "It is important that boys are not left behind in learning about puberty and sexual development; they need information to protect themselves from risks such as sexually transmitted diseases and HIVAids, and also so that they can be fully involved in decisions about contraception when they become sexually active.

"The results suggest that boys and girls may need to be taught separately, in order for boys to catch up, and to enable the different needs of each gender to be addressed."

Twelve-year-old girls scored 52.1 per cent on a questionnaire about sex and related subjects compared with 51.6 per cent for boys. And the gap widens with age. At 14, girls scored 65.9 per cent compared with 63.9 per cent for boys, and, at 16, girls scored 77.4 to boys' 73.1 per cent.

Sandra Winn, who works in the Health and Social Policy Research Centre at Brighton University, and Roker and Coleman, of the Trust for the Study of Adolescence, Brighton, are concerned that young people are ignorant about their bodies.

They say: "The results show that at ages 11 and 12 respondents were getting about one half of the questions on contraception wrong. At this age, such a lack of knowledge is not of too great concern. However, by ages 15 and 16 - when some of this group would be sexually active - most were still getting one in four questions wrong. Thus, for example, many of these young people did not know that using oil-based lubricants can affect the effectiveness of a condom, that the Pill is the most effective method of contraception, and that a woman can still get pregnant if she has sex standing up."

"Knowledge about Puberty and Sexual Development in 11-16-year-olds: implications for health and sex education in schools" is published in Educational Studies, volume 21, number 2, June 1995, available from Carfax Publishing Company, PO Box 25, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 3UE.

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