Lesbian, gay and transsexual students are having unsafe sex and putting themselves at risk of disease because sex education lessons only address the needs of heterosexual students, a leading sex education organisation says.
To combat this, the Sex Education Forum has produced a set of guidelines, designed to help teachers ensure that they cover the facts of all walks of life.
The guidelines point out some of the ways in which the sexual health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people can be overlooked in sex education lessons. For example, gay men need to be aware that they are one of the communities most affected by HIV. Lesbians and trans men, meanwhile, are often given inaccurate information about cervical smear tests.
“There might be some schools that understand that homophobic bullying is wrong, but don’t necessarily match that with what’s going on in the classroom,” said Lucy Emmerson, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum.
“Good quality sex and relationships education is about self-confidence, about your appreciation of yourself and other people. We want people to feel included, not stigmatised.
“If the sex and relationships education is promoting values of respect for each other, it’s creating an environment where more young people are going to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Without that context, it’s very difficult.”
Research cited in the Forum’s guidelines reveals that of more than 7,000 LGBT teenagers and young adults surveyed, three-quarters had not been taught about safe sex between men.
Twenty-one-year-old Loren Wright was among them. “It was very much the whole idea of a condom only used with a man and a woman, not to have babies,” he said of sex education at his secondary school in the south-east of England. “I thought, I’m not going anywhere near a vagina, so I don’t need a condom.
“Through all seven years at school, I just felt invisible. When it came for me to start being sexually active, I didn’t know anything.”
However, Ms Emmerson believes that the legalisation of gay marriage, earlier this year, provides the ideal incentive for schools to address the sex education they offer.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to match the change in society with education,” she said. “If teachers can get this right, they will have filled a big gap.”