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

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5 Responses to “Sex education is a no brainer: the evidence says it works”

  1. steroflex

    Who are you going to get to teach this subject?
    Male teachers are surely in peril. Not so?
    Grannies? Middle aged ladies of 45 who love being really really naughty?
    I cannot see young teachers lining up for the prospect.
    Sex education has had a fairly baleful effect really I reckon. No families, no children. Declining birth rate. Lots of broken families. Lots of children in care. Lots of Rochdale.
    But – hey! – the Universities in USA know best!

  2. Mary C

    I assume that SRE will also include an emphasis upon the importance of long term stable relationships where teenagers live with their biological mother and father. Forget the US data. Look at the Civitas study for the UK. That study shows that teenagers raised in families like this are far less likely to suffer sexual health issues or to have teenage pregnancies. I agree that SRE which ONLY teaches abstinence is a bad idea. But abstinence ought to be taught as one approach to avoiding teenage pregnancy. Indeed, it’s the only one which is 100% foolproof. Equally important is giving teenagers the confidence to be able to say ‘No’ when they don’t want to have sex. There’s much evidence that too may teenagers are being coerced into sex, often fuelled by access to internet porn.

  3. Guest

    Ah yes, so your good capitalist politics can be blamed on sex ed.
    As you demand more and more of it.

    YOU think you know better that studies though. Ignorance always wins for you.

  4. Guest

    “But abstinence ought to be taught as one approach to avoiding teenage pregnancy.”

    Teaching it is ineffective. That’s what the data shows. And no surprise you then blame allowing internet access to the masses.

  5. Jacko

    Ah yes, no surprise that you support internet pornography as you lash out against anyone trying to stop the objectification of women. Keep whining that you’re right as your hatred for equality and jealousy of normal relationships shows through. *sigh*

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