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Sex: what you will not learn at school

Teen mags say they do far more than teachers to tell young people about the realities of sex. Adi Bloom reports

Problem pages and real-life stories are better at educating teenagers about sex than schools, a survey reveals.

The new poll by teen magazine Sugar found that 49 per cent of readers thought they did not have enough sex education at school. Only 30 per cent found sex education lessons useful. Eleven per cent said that they had not received any at all.

Of the 500 13 to 18-year-olds who responded to the survey, which appears in the August issue of the magazine, 71 per cent believed that schools should be responsible for teaching them about sex while 28 per cent wanted to learn about it from magazines.

But only 49 per cent actually received this information in school while 78 per cent read about it in teen magazines.

Two years ago, Office for Standards in Education inspectors highlighted this problem, claiming that many teenagers were turning to magazines for information they were unable to get at school.

Lysanne Currie, Sugar editorial director, believes that schools still have not taken this criticism on board. "Teenagers want sex ed in the context of relationships," she said. "They want to know how it will affect their relationship with the boy they're going out with. But sex ed can be quite biological, instead of relating it to their lives."

Joan Risby, personal, health and social education co-ordinator at Woodlands comprehensive, in Liverpool, agrees that sex education lessons could often be better.

"Just because you are a trained maths or history teacher, it doesn't mean that you feel comfortable talking about oral sex," she said. "However, many PHSE lessons are taught by dedicated, trained teachers. Maybe it's not cool for kids to admit they learn about sex in school."

John Rees, manager of the government-backed A Pause sex-education programme, claims that teachers could use teen magazines to improve PHSE lessons.

"The pressure of what everyone else is doing can be a very big deal," he said.

"So it can be useful to bring in magazines and look at stories of young people and what they're going through. We need to prepare pupils for the real world."

But Clare Riley, who teaches sex education at Anfield comprehensive in Liverpool, believes that over-reliance on teen magazines can be counterproductive.

"These magazines create an awful lot of misconceptions, because kids do not have an adult to talk them through the material," she said.

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