Sex education should be more 'positive' about a range of sexual practices, say pupils

3rd July 2017 at 12:32
Young people want more discussion about practices such as gay sex and masturbation, as well as how to make sex 'more satisfying'

Pupils are calling for sex and relationships education to take a more "sex-positive" approach, saying that this is currently lacking in schools, according to new research.

They want to see more openness about sex in the classroom, and a broader discussion of different sexual practices, including masturbation, the findings show.

One young person told researchers that her teachers “don’t really go into the whole relationships thing, partly because they don’t want us to have relationships.”

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, gathered evidence about best practice in sex and relationships education (SRE), and looked at what made SRE programmes effective.

The academics collected data in five different ways, examining existing studies and school policies, as well as surveying more than 3,000 people aged between 16 and 24, and interviewing 55 secondary pupils aged between 11 and 18.

'Frank and positive'

They found that young people were strongly in favour of a sex-positive approach to sex education.

While there is no single definition of “sex positive”, the academics said: “Broadly, it is an approach that is open, frank and positive about sex, that challenges negative societal attitudes to sex, and that embraces sexual diversity at the same time as emphasising the importance of consent and comprehensive SRE.”

Around one in five – 20 per cent of young men and 17 per cent of young women – wanted to know how to make sex more satisfying. Others wanted lessons to include greater discussion of how to have sex.

Interviewees said that they wanted SRE to include information about contraception, abortion and the emotions that can accompany sexual activity. 

Some reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pupils tended to be overlooked during SRE lessons. The secondary pupils, in particular, called for more information about same-sex relationships.

'Different types of sexual practices'

The secondary pupils said that SRE lessons defined sex narrowly, as heterosexual intercourse, and ignored the range and diversity of sexual activities they engaged in. And almost one in 10 – 9 per cent – of the young adults questioned said that they wanted more information on a range of sexual practices, including masturbation.

Others said that SRE failed to discuss female sexual pleasure, casting women into the role of sexual gatekeepers.

One teenager told researchers: “You were just taught about sexual intercourse causing pregnancy, but you were never taught about masturbation. You were never taught about oral sex and all the different, other types of sexual practices.”

Earlier this year, the government announced that it would be making SRE statutory in schools. It is currently consulting on the best ways to deliver these lessons.

Pandora Pound, of the University of Bristol, who was the paper’s lead author, said: “We uncovered a difference between the views of young people and professionals on how to deliver SRE.”

However, she added, the researchers had identified criteria for best practice in SRE. “These criteria will be of value to those interested in developing high-quality SRE programmes to help safeguard young people and improve their sexual health,” she said.

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