SEX education must be made more boy-friendly if it is to help change their attitudes and reduce teenage pregnancy rates, claims a lecturer in education studies.
Single-sex classes, at least initially, would help boys overcome the jokey, often disruptive behaviour they tend to display, says Gillian Hilton of Middlesex University. But controversial issues like homophobia and pornography - from which boys currently get much of their sex education - also need to be tackled.
Writing in the new journal Sex Education, Ms Hilton suggests that both content and method should be geared to boys' needs.
There should be video and question-and-answer sessions rather than "death by worksheet". These should focus on how to prevent fatherhood, not pregnancy, and deal with penis size, male health issues and how to approach prospective partners rather than the birth of a baby.
Ms Hilton says that the needs of boys are currently being ignored and they "need to be helped to see that relationships education is an essential part of becoming a 'real' man".
Rising concern over high rates of teenage pregnancy has led to a focus on sex education for girls. Boys tend to act up in sex education lessons, refusing to ask questions or take it seriously, and are uch less likely than girls to receive any sex education at home, she says.
Parents - particularly fathers - are reluctant to talk to their sons about sexual matters. So boys are left unsupported, with rigid and often homophobic attitudes, and reliant for information on the media, magazines, videos and the Internet.
Ms Hilton says the Government must be prepared to take a lead and raise the status of sex education. It must also risk controversy by clearing up the confusion over Section 28, so that issues like homophobic bullying can be discussed.
A study of primary schoolchildren in the same issue of the journal shows the gulf that already exists between the sexual attitudes of boys and girls at the age of nine or 10.
It found the girls were more interested in reflecting on relationships, while the boys "hid their insecurity and confusions behind a facade of bravado, jokes and violent language".
The boys pretended they knew far more than they did, tended to link sex and violence, and some had picked up homophobic attitudes.
The study, by J Mark Halstead and Susan Waite of the University of Plymouth, covered 35 mainly working-class children of nine or 10 in two schools in a city and a suburb in south west England.
'Sex Education, Volume 1 2001', available from Carfax Publishing, Taylor amp; Francis (tel. 01256 813002, fax 01256 330245), by email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.tandf.co.ukjournals