Children and young people were even less likely to have learnt ‘what is good or bad in a relationship’, with only 43% saying this had been covered in sex and relationships education classes at school. Many children talked of a complete absence of discussion about real-life relationship situations and what you would do ‘should something happen’.
Although findings showed that formal teaching about sexual consent was lacking, most young people did demonstrate an understanding of the legal age of consent (96%), and the law relating to sexual offences’ with 93% of respondents recognising there could be female sex offenders and 84% understanding that men could be victims of rape.
Despite this grasp of the law, the study revealed that a large proportion of young people are considerably less confident about where to get help when they need it, with one in three young people saying that they either ‘didn’t know’ or were ‘unsure’ where to get help if they were sexually assaulted and four in 10 unsure where to find their local sexual health clinic.
The survey results, released to coincide with the publication of a new resource for teachers on consent, showed that many young people did not know that under-16s are entitled to receive confidential contraceptive and STI treatment. Less than half were confident that a 15-year-old could get a HIV test without a parent or carer being told, and only a third were aware that a 14-year-old could get contraception confidentially.
Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum (which is based at leading children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau) said: “This survey confirms that the quality of sex education children receive is a lottery. Young people are telling us very clearly that teaching is often too theoretical and fails to deal with the real-life practicalities of getting help and advice or building the skills for pleasurable, equal and safe relationships. Learning about consent is integral to good quality sex and relationships education and every school should have a planned programme which includes content on bodily boundaries, gender and power, caring for one another, feelings and emotions and how to get help and advice. We need to listen to the evidence and make high-quality sex and relationships education a guarantee across all schools.”
‘The Consent Issue’ of the Sex Education Forum’s E-magazine – designed to help teachers deliver high-quality sex and relationships education – is available from: www.sexeducationforum.org.uk
890 children and young people aged 14 to 25 took part in the survey – the majority of respondents were aged 16 or 17