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Health, Sports & Psychology

Why school-based sex education isn’t inclusive enough

Updated Friday 20th April 2018

Only a small minority of LGBT young people learn about sexual health in the classroom, which could put them at risk. 

The provision and content of sex education in schools remains a widely debated and contentious subject. Increasingly, attention is being drawn to the ‘invisibility’ of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) health issues and the need for more inclusive sex education in schools in Great Britain. So what is the evidence behind these calls?

School children Creative commons image Icon US Department of Education under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license Only 13% of pupils have learnt about healthy same-sex relationships at school (Stonewall: 2017)

What is the evidence?

A range of evidence consistently highlights a deficiency in the provision of LGBT-related information in school-based sex education. For instance, The 2017 Stonewall School report, an online survey of over 3,700 young LGBT in secondary schools and colleges across Britain reported that only a minority of LGBT young people had learned about sexual health and relationships specific to same-sex relationships at school or college. 

The percentage of LGBT pupils who report being taught about specific sexual health and relationship topics in school or college Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Stonewall The percentage of LGBT pupils who report being taught about specific sexual health and relationship topics in school or college

Why does it matter?

The lack of relevant sex education in schools for LGBT youth means that these young people must rely on other sources of information, such as the internet or partners, for this, which can have implications for longer-term sexual health and wellbeing. In our analysis of nationally representative data, we found that young (aged 16-25 years) British women who have sex with women (WSW) were less likely to report lessons at school as their main source of information about sex when growing up compared to women who have sex exclusively with men (WSEM). Instead, WSW were more likely to report a category defined as ‘other’, which mainly compromised of their first sexual partner, as their main source of information about sex.

In our research young women reported they wanted to know more about sex, but levels were higher for WSW (87% compared to 71% for WSEM). Indeed, a body of research conducted with young people highlights that sex education to date heavily focuses on ‘safe sex’ in terms of heterosexual intercourse.  Sex education needs to adopt a more positive approach to sex for all women that includes topics relating to psychosexual aspects of sex, such as sexual pleasure, intimacy, and the emotional parts of relationships for LGBT and heterosexual young people.

Coloured umbrella Creative commons image Icon Virhemarginaali Podcast under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license The government has introduced measures to ensure all schools provide age-appropriate sex education

In Great Britain, Section 28 of the 1998 Local Government Act prevented the teaching in schools of ‘homosexuality as an acceptable family form’. This section was repealed in Scotland in 2000, and in the rest of Great Britain in 2003. Whilst sex education guidance for schools was updated in 2010 and 2014 in Wales and Scotland respectively, guidance for schools in England has not been updated since 2000 when Section 28 was still in force. In 2017, the government made the announcement that it would make age-appropriate relationship and sex education compulsory in all secondary schools in England by 2019 and that it would review and revise the content of this curriculum to be more relevant to ‘today’s society’.Stonewall has welcomed the recent announcements surrounding sex education as a ‘vital opportunity’ to ensure that guidance for schools is LGBT-inclusive and that they teach about issues of relevance to LGBT young people.  

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