Sex Education Is Unsatisfactory | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Sex Education Is Unsatisfactory

Comment Writer Natalia Carter conducts a survey to determine whether sex education in the UK is satisfactory

When I think back on my personal experiences of sex education, I find them all somewhat lacking. My first experience was primary school, in which I remember being split into boys and girls. We were shown a video of a cartoon male and female chasing each other round the bedroom with a feather, and then we had the typical demonstration of a tampon being dropped in water, showing the awe that is absorption.

My secondary school experience is more vivid, but still not fantastic. All I remember is glow in the dark sperm keyrings (which I still have on my keys), plays about getting pregnant and needing to cut your nether-regions to push out a mammoth child, and the general consensus along the lines of 'If you have sex, you will get pregnant and/or an STI.' I wondered whether I was the only person who had experienced such a low standard of sexual education. Was it just me, or was there a whole hoard of people out there in the world who also suffered the feather video? I decided to test this by making a survey asking people about their sexual education.

The majority of those who responded to the survey were 18 to 24 years old, making up 55% of my respondents, whilst the smallest groups were those aged 55 to 64 (2%) and 65 to 74 (3%). The rest of the respondents were rather well spread between these ages, so I felt as though I had a good spread of data to find out how people felt about their, or even their children’s, sex education.

When asked whether they felt that sex education needed to be improved, a staggering 90.72% said yes

When asked whether they felt that sex education needed to be improved, a staggering 90.72% said yes. In addition to this, 75% of people said they were less than satisfied with their own sexual education. Whilst this was reassuring in asserting I wasn’t alone, it highlighted the huge gap in teaching within schools. Sex is (and always has been) a ‘taboo’ subject, so it’s not surprising that many people feel it needs improving and updating. However, I do find it surprising that despite all of the progress made within society regarding discussion about sex and even the growth of the LGBTQ+ community - seemingly nothing has been updated. One respondent stated, ‘The sex ed videos my daughters see in their primary school look like they haven’t been updated since the 80s and teachers say there is very limited choice.’

This aspect of limited choice and outdated content brings me to my next point. A recent article written by Emine Saner for the Guardian claims that, due to substandard teaching of sex education in schools, many teenagers are going to YouTube for their education. She mentions YouTubers such as Hannah Witton and Laci Green in her discussion, who have channels dedicated to discourse and education on sex. I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who had gone to YouTube for advice, so I asked about it in the survey.

The results to my question ‘Have you, or anyone you know, ever used YouTube to aid your sexual education?’ surprised me. Whilst the trend matched my expectations, more people had utilised YouTube for this purpose than I had predicted. 30% of people said yes, with some participants stating that it was more informal and private than perhaps asking a question in class discussion. However, there were mixed opinions. 70% of people said they hadn’t, and they were also worried about issues of censorship and potentially unverified sources giving inaccurate information. This reflects my own concern when I read the article. Whilst these YouTubers offer a lot of advice based on personal experience, alongside education they have received, it’s hard to know which information to trust online– especially on such a free platform such as YouTube where anyone can make content.

Whilst these YouTubers offer a lot of advice based on personal experience, alongside education they have received, it’s hard to know which information to trust online

There were many comments in response to the survey stating that they didn’t agree with the separation of boys and girls when taking part in sexual education. It is important for everyone to know everything and to understand all aspects of the experience, and it would be good to encourage the dialogue between all genders from a young age – perhaps this would reduce the ‘taboo’ of talking about sex. I think this is especially important in secondary school, where 66% of respondents said the majority of their sexual education took place. By this stage you are learning more about human biology in addition to sexual education, and I think this would be a good stage to start introducing, or increasing, dialogue around consent and LGBTQ+ relationships. Perhaps this is a good time to discuss fertility within sexual education also. 86% of those who responded to the survey agreed that fertility education is an important part of sexual education and knowing your own body.

94% of people said that their sex education did not include information on LGBTQ+ relationships – which in today’s society seems outrageous. There needs to be more teaching within school around this subject. Promoting these different relationships as equally valid and important could make a huge difference in someone’s journey of acceptance, as well as introducing an inclusive education so that everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation, knows how to be safe.

I was also intrigued to find out what people felt about the Church of England recently stating that schools ‘should promote celibacy’. I asked whether people agreed that abstinence should be taught within schools and 59.18% of people said that they disagreed. However, many acknowledged that it ‘should be explored as a choice’ rather than inflicted as a moral teaching. It was widely felt amongst all respondents that abstinence should be included as part of a wide education, highlighting all the different routes and decisions that you could take in your own personal journey – to which I agree.

I think that it is exceptionally important to include a wide range of perspectives on sexual education, including all people from all walks of life. However, this isn’t being achieved. 1% of those I asked said they were very satisfied with their sexual education. In this day and age, surely it is important to discuss sex openly and honestly, not just so we can tick a box off of the curriculum. Not only has this survey confirmed that I am not alone, it has confirmed that sexual education in the UK needs drastic improvement – and fast.


23rd March 2018 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

23rd March 2018 at 9:19 am

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