A number of scientists across the United Kingdom are reporting that sex education is not having a large impact on the sexual health of teenagers or working to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies.
While school-based initiatives worked toward warning students about HIV as well as sexually-transmitted diseases, scientists have stated that these rates have not come down. In a study of over 9,500 UK students, researchers found similar levels of syphilis and herpes, as well as teenage pregnancies, among students who received sexual education and those who did not.
Study lead author Amanda Mason-Jones stated that the majority of people believe in beginning sexual education at an early age and to place the focus on relationships. She went on to say that such education should be inclusive of all sexualities, and should not assume that teenagers are having sex, reports Stephen Matthews for The Daily Mail.
“Few would disagree that we need to reform current approaches to take into account new risks from digital communications and social media, and that schools are a good place to encourage the development of healthy relationships,” she added.
While Mason-Jones did say it was not always clear what was being taught in sex education classes, a review of eight studies and over 55,000 students across the world found little to no difference in the number of cases of syphilis or herpes, or the rate of teenage pregnancies.
However, new research suggests that keeping children in school and not allowing them to drop out could help to reduce these rates, as Mason-Jones found that doing so cut the rates of disease and pregnancies by around 22 cases for every 1,000 girls, writes Victoria Allen for IOL.com.
The study, which looked at eight trials of over 55,000 students in England, Scotland, South Africa, Chile, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Malawi found that while school-based initiatives focusing on STIs and teenage pregnancies did not have any effect on reducing rates, offering students monthly cash payments to stay in school “significantly” reduced the rate of teenage pregnancies. The study also found a slight decrease in the number of sexually-transmitted diseases as a result of the incentives offered to students.
Previously, students in England were given £30 to continue their schooling after they had completed their GCSE studies. However, after the Educational Maintenance Allowance was dropped in 2010, it was replaced with a £180m bursary system put in place in an effort to help poorer families.
“In the UK the only mandatory part of sex education is the biology part, the mechanics. It assumes only heterosexual sex for a start. It could be introduced much earlier if we talked about love and relationships. Young people would be much more open to this and parents much less concerned perhaps, she said.”
Mason-Jones went on to say that the connection between sex education programs and the rate of disease and teenage pregnancies was even stronger in situations where condoms and contraceptives were not openly available for students to use.
She added that additional research would need to be completed in order to offer policy makers the information they need to make informed decisions concerning how to keep young children, especially girls, in school longer. For example, she suggests tracking the effectiveness of mandatory sex education in order to determine how well the policies are working.
She went on to say that although the study focuses on the shortcomings concerning sex education, she highlighted the effectiveness of schools in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies.
As a result of the research, Education Secretary Justine Greening stated that she would be taking a second look at the idea of mandatory sex education in an effort to ensure children have the information they need to make informed choices.