British Activists Push To Expand Sex Ed To Include Information About Consent And Condoms

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by Amelia Rosch Posted on October 2, 2014 at 4:04 pm


Health activists in the United Kingdom are pushing to bring stronger sex education classes to schools. They say all students need to be taught about topics like healthy relationships, consent, and STD prevention.

In England, a member of Parliament has filed a bill that would make sex and relationship education mandatory. In September, the newly created minister for preventing violence against women and girls said that schools should start teaching children basic sex education when they are seven years old.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Sexpression:UK, a group working to bring effective sex education to teenagers, spoke to Parliament’s petition committee about the need for compulsory sex education that includes information on sexual assault and domestic violence. The members of the committee agreed to consider the petition and to look at how to improve sex education.

Although there is no requirement that schools teach sex education in Scotland, England does have some policies in place. Sex and relationship education is required for students older than 11. As part of the national science curriculum, England’s Department of Education requires that students learn about human reproduction by the time they are 14, as well as about the “medical uses of hormones, including the control and promotion of fertility” by the time they are 16. Schools are also must teach students about sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. While it is not legally required, the Department of Education recommends that students learn about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to “avoid being exploited or exploiting others [and] avoid being pressured into unwanted or unprotected sex”. Parents are allowed to withdraw their children from sex education that is not part of the national science curriculum.

However, this summer, the Sex Education Forum said that the current sex education policies in the United Kingdom are inadequate and that a third of British schools do not properly teach it. A study by the UK Youth Parliament found that 40 percent of British students said their sex education was “poor”; only 55 percent had learned about teenage pregnancy and over 55 percent of students had not received basic information about contraception such as how to use condoms.

Activists say that schools should be required to teach more about how to maintain healthy relationships. Brook, the largest non-profit that deals with teenagers’ sexual health in the United Kingdom, argued this week that Britain’s sexual education needs to be mandatory and include more information about consent, gender identities, and gender roles. Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, helped begin to the #SREnow campaign to bring awareness to how sex education is failing women in England. For the campaign, women have tweeted about their sex education, or lack thereof:

#SREnow thinking back, consent was never covered. Contraceptives covered (briefly) in year 10/11, after 3 pupils had given birth(!)

— Gemma Smith (@HellsBells1994) September 27, 2014

We were shown a vid of a woman (egg?) sitting on a lily pad in swimming pool while men (sperm?) raced to get to her. @EverydaySexism #srenow

— Hannah Yelin (@HannahYelin) September 24, 2014

Never saw condoms until college. Nothing about relationships. Otherwise got the Mean Girls treatment about sex: STDs, babies, death. #SREnow

— Gretchen Turonek (@GretchenTuronek) September 26, 2014

#SREnow I was made to stand in front of my class while a teacher put tape on my arm and pulled it off to show the emotional effects of sex.

— Cassia Jasper (@JasperTheTwit) September 26, 2014

In some ways, the situation in England mirrors the way that sex education is handled in America. In the United States, there are no national standards for sex education, and many states either do not teach it or leave out key aspects like contraception. Only 22 states require that sex education is taught in public schools, and only 19 require that this sex education is “medically accurate”. Just 20 require sex education that teaches students how to avoid “coercive sex,” and just 18 include any information on birth control. Meanwhile, 25 states require that sex education classes stress abstinence.

And like in England, sex education in the U.S. also happens too late. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 46 percent of males and 33 percent of females had not learned about contraception before having sex for the first time, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 83 percent of teenage girls said they had not had any formal sex education before they became sexually active. Researchers from Georgetown say that children should start receiving sex education at around age 10, three years later than the suggestion put forth in England.

Amelia Rosch is an intern for ThinkProgress.



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