Further confirmation that sex education programmes are failing to connect with young people has emerged this week in a major survey which canvassed the views of more than 400 Edinburgh teenagers and 300 parents and professionals.
Adults and pupils, who were aged 14 to 18, both "felt that young people were not getting enough of the right information soon enough". The survey is one of a series of three "participatory appraisal" projects on teenage sexual health throughout Britain funded by the NHS Executive and conducted by Hull University's department of public health and primary care.
Endorsing previous research findings, the survey reported that young people relied heavily on friends, magazines and television for information and advice. School sex education programmes were dismissed as "behind the times".
A more co-ordinated approach between schools and agencies dealing in sexual health was suggested, as were one-stop health and advice centres and teen clinics.
Jim Shanley, team leader of Edinburgh Healthcare Trust's harm reduction team, said: "The findings of the study ring true. Young people do want to access information and services that are relevant to them. That these are accessible and attractive must be built into the fabric of the service."
Most teachers felt the current age of 14 was a good time to start sex education. Yet all groups agreed young people may be sexually active at 13. One pupil who was told about contraception at the age of 14 said: "We already knew all about it by then." It was felt that sex education programmes should take into account varying levels of maturity and should be given on a regular basis to small classes, possibly in single sex groups and perhaps by a designated sex education teacher.
Although pupils wanted doctors and nurses to talk to them in schools and in youth clubs, they were not interested in being lectured and saw this as an opportunity to decide whether to go to them for advice. "Embarrassment and a fear that consultations were not confidential were the biggest barriers teenagers felt they faced in getting advice on contraception," Lynn Wotherspoon of Hull University says.
The findings of the study, which covered nine schools including two independents, are to be discussed at an inter-agency forum to be held at Wester Hailes Education Centre in Edinburgh on Monday.