Sex education is a no brainer: the evidence says it works

Comprehensive sex education is a no brainer

All state primary and secondary school schools in England should teach children sex and relationship education (SRE), according to a new report by the Commons Education Committee.

The MPs behind the report said: “This situation would not be tolerated in other subjects, and yet the government’s strategy for improving PSHE is weak.”

The inquiry was prompted by Ofsted findings which showed that more than a third of schools were failing to provide appropriate SRE.

The situation in faith schools, free schools and academies is arguably worse: instead of providing comprehensive sex education they can take an approach which teaches abstinence until marriage.

And yet we will probably see at least some ‘push back’ against the MPs’ report from puritanical anti-sex education campaigners today, with right-wing commentators arguing that ‘children must be allowed to be children’ etc. And so it’s important to marshal the evidence, especially because it points overwhelmingly in one direction: sex education works.

  • There is no evidence that young people who receive sex education have sex earlier. This has been confirmed by three separate evidence reviews: Kirby 2007, UNESCO 2009 and NICE 2010. Kirby (2007) examined 48 SRE programmes and found that 40 per cent of these had a big impact in three aspects of behaviour: delaying the initiation of sex; reducing the number of sexual partners; and increasing condom or contraceptive use.
  • Young people who have received good quality SRE are more likely to use condoms and contraception if they do have sex (Kirby 2007).
  • The US state of California requires medically accurate, comprehensive sex education be taught in public. Abstinence-only education is outlawed. The teenage pregnancy rate has decreased by 60 per cent in the last 20 years.
  • A 2007 US study found that Teenage girls who received sex education had a 59 per cent reduced risk of having sexual intercourse before age 15 compared with those who did not receive sex education before their first intercourse. For teenage boys, sex education before first intercourse reduced the risk of having intercourse before age 15 by 71 per cent compared with those boys who did not get sex education before their first intercourse.
  • Abstinence sex education doesn’t work. 11 US states have evaluated their abstinence-only-until-marriage programmes and none has been shown to reduce teen sexual activity.

Put simply, sex and relationship education is absolutely vital in ensuring that young people grow up with a healthy attitude toward sex. No sex education, or abstinence-based alternatives, is simply unrealistic.

For the health of Britain’s children, one hopes that ‘traditionalists’ remove their ideological blinkers and recognise what is staring them in the face: comprehensive sex education is a no brainer.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.