Research conducted in ten countries including the United Kingdom and the United States has discovered that sex education in schools around the world is so irrelevant to the actual experiences of students that they are likely to “tune out.” The pupils find the content moralistic, negative, and too centered on science, while saying that they need assistance in dealing with their feelings and the situations they find themselves in regularly.
These responses were revealed in an analysis of adolescents’ viewpoints published in the British Medical Journal, writes Denis Campbell for The Guardian. The report was led by Dr. Pandora Pound of the school of social and community medicine at Bristol University, who said there was a surprising consistency in the views of young people regarding sex education no matter the country in which they lived:
“It is clear from our findings that SRE [sex and relationship education] provision in schools frequently fails to meet the needs of young people,” Pound said. “Schools seem to have difficulty accepting [that] some people are sexually active, which leads to SRE that is out of touch with many young people’s lives.”
Pound and her team examined 55 published studies that gathered young peoples’ viewpoints on sex education between the years of 1990 and 2015. The information in the studies also came from students and former students in the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, and Sweden.
It seems that sex ed left female students open to harassment if they were part of the class and male pupils became worried because of their lack of knowledge about sex. To cover up their lack of experience, some male students acted out during the class.
Many of the pupils involved in the studies believed that schools look at sex as a dilemma that needs to be controlled, and, they added, there was too much targeting of heterosexual connections. Researchers found that young people also noted that females were often categorized as passive, while males were portrayed as predatory.
The scientists were surprised to find that the data showed schools were in denial concerning the sexual activity of some students. This fact alone could explain why schools are out of touch with reality where sex education is concerned. They also found that there was an emphasis on abstinence, a failure to understand the full range of sexual activities engaged in by students, and a heavy emphasis put on morality.
The young people who were questioned said they needed concrete advice about birth control and pregnancy, types of contraceptives, health services, and the emotional ups and downs of sexual relationships, according to Catherine Healy of News Talk.
Many young people said they would rather not have their teachers deliver information concerning sex. They noted most teachers were not trained to teach this subject, often became embarrassed, or might breach confidential information.
Ed Cara of Medical Daily quoted the authors of the study:
“Schools should acknowledge that sex is a special subject with unique challenges, as well as the fact and range of young people’s sexual activity, otherwise young people will continue to disengage from SRE and opportunities for safeguarding and improving their sexual health will be reduced.”
And there were some suggestions by students on how to make sex ed classes easier for kids to handle. Young people said they were more receptive to instructors who were “open and enthusiastic,” while others stated they were more likely to value the class when the instructor had a sense of humor and acknowledged that talking about sex can make people feel exposed and disconcerted.
A small number of kids said that beginning sex education at a younger age would help students have a more positive opinion about the subject. And the addition of “peer counselors” could make it easier to speak out in class than it is when teachers are directing the course.
The research group stated that their findings did expose the fact that a complete overhaul is needed in the sexual education world and should include the long-noted complexity of humans as sexual beings along with a more contemporary understanding of the realities of today, such as “sexting.”
“Young people’s aspirations for SRE appear to align with a ‘sex-positive’ approach that aims for young people to enjoy their sexuality in a way that is safe, consensual and healthy,” wrote the authors. “However, even if excellent SRE curriculum materials were produced, the success of those materials would depend in very large part upon the educator delivering them.”
Students also expressed the need for including LGBTQ issues in the curriculum. Fiona Gartland of The Irish Times writes that kids want to normalize the topic so that it can become natural to discuss and no longer taboo.