The national curriculum is failing to teach children the art of love because it concentrates on the perils of sex, academics have found.
Professor Mark Halstead believes that the curriculum's emphasis on the mechanics of sex, sexually-transmitted diseases and teachers' embarrassment over love means children are failing to learn about "one of the core values" of our society.
The Plymouth university academic believes that only a full and open debate about love will help children understand its role in shaping the moral foundation of our largely secular society.
He said: "Love is one of the most central values in society - giving children the chance to think about it seems to me to be important.
"We need to keep the big picture in mind about what education is for. We must teach and help children to develop values. Too often teaching values are too narrow."
In an article in the British Journal of Educational Studies, he said it became apparent during the research that teachers "shied away" from love because of embarrassment, difficulties over definition, cultural differences and, perhaps, the cynicism of age.
Professor Halstead and his team based their research on discussions with nine to 10-year-olds about how their views compared with the values underpinning sex education.
He argues that as religion has lost importance, love has become the moral foundation for many human actions. He said: "For many, love has become the ultimate value. By that, I mean that for many people love is seen as the route to personal fulfilment and the guide for moral and sexual decisions.
One hundred years ago people would have been influenced by religious values."
Professor Halstead says the sex education curriculum emphasises the perils of sex in order to cut down on sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies at the expense of questions about love and how it is expressed by sex.
Professor Halstead said: "Children are fascinated by love. It is the big mystery. Maybe 20 years ago sex was the big mystery, but that has been stripped away by the media.
"If we avoid talking about love in school, pupils are left to work it out themselves and they will be easily influenced by the media.
"Schools have got to give children the chance to reflect on the values they come with and schools can then help fill in the gaps."
Professor Halstead believes that schools need to use a more "holistic"
approach that allows debate about love in subjects such as drama and English.
British Journal of Educational Studies: Vol 53 No 3, September 2005, page 290