Half of UK teens received no sex education during lockdown

A new survey found that many 16 and 17 year olds, especially boys, had no teaching on safe sex, healthy relationships or gender identity.

by Tom George
02 February 2022, 1:15pm

In 2020, relationship and sex education classes became compulsory in UK schools, fuelliung a hope that said classes would become more inclusive and wide-ranging too. By autumn of that year, the Department of Education had put a framework in place for teaching on relationships and sex within secondary schools, with the intention of rolling it out by September 2021. It was a surprising and welcome move from the current, sort of fascist, Tory-led government. But a new survey by the Sex Education Forum – the same charity who pushed for compulsory RSE lessons, and now works with schools to make sure those lessons are inclusive and up to scratch – has found that by late 2021, the quality of sex education for most young people had regressed. In fact, it’s now worse than it was in 2019.

Of course, a large part of this is due to the pandemic. With lockdown moving lessons online, causing massive disturbances to teaching and syllabuses, progress on the subject had fallen behind in the chaos. But COVID-19 isn’t solely to blame. There was also a lack of funding for resources or training for teachers on the subject. In a survey of over 1000 young people aged 16 and 17, half said they had received no relationship or sex education during the lockdown. 

Furthermore, the Sex Education Forum found that many of those who did receive sex education during this time didn’t feel like what was taught was useful anyway. Only 29% of respondents classed their RSE teaching in this period as “good” or “very good”. Over a third reported learning nothing on valuable topics like pornography, grooming, sexual exploitation (such as female genital mutilation), gaslighting and power imbalances, or how to access local sexual health services -- despite the UK having the highest rate of teen pregnancies and STI cases in under 25s in all of Europe. 

Nearly half (46%) of respondents said they had learned nothing about sexual pleasure either, while only one in five said they received advice or answers to questions they’d asked about relationships and sex. A further 39% of those surveyed also said they hadn’t learned about how these issues affected trans and non-binary individuals, meaning many LGBTQ+ teens didn’t receive information that felt relevant to their experiences. 

The issue is exacerbated when you take young people’s home situations into account: 20% of those surveyed didn’t have a trusted adult to discuss relationships and sex with. And for those who did, 75% were female. It follows then, that by these figures, the majority of young men aren’t having open conversations about these important topics at all. 

With Ofsted recently finding that 90% of teenage girls (and 50% of teenage boys) have received sexually explicit photos online without their consent, it’s important that young people are able to have open conversations about consent, sexuality and healthy relationships. But in order for the tide to turn, the British government will have to take sex education seriously. Only one in five UK schools have received funding for sex education training in the past decade; that amounts to a huge number of teenagers being left in the dark on consent, pornography and how to healthily navigate sex.

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