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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Sex education: How can it be improved?
School children in England are not getting the right kind of sex education, according to inspectors.

Teaching about parenthood and sexually transmitted diseases are pinpointed as the main areas of weakness.

The schools inspectorate, Ofsted, found that despite much good teaching, more was needed on relationships and values.

Britain has the highest teenage birth rate in western Europe. Each year, in England alone, almost 8,000 girls become mothers before they are 16.

The government sees sex education as key to reducing teenage pregnancy.

What are your experiences of sex education? How can it be improved?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

How about teaching them to say "NO"? Simple and effective.
Louise Laffette, UK

The problem with sex education is precisely that - it's education about 'sex', rather than about relationships, fulfilment and human intimacy

Geraldine, England, UK
The problem with sex education is precisely that - it's education about 'sex', rather than about relationships, fulfilment and human intimacy. Generations of unfulfilled men and women can testify to the poverty of this 'anatomical' perspective on what should, ideally, be a profound, life affirming aspect of human experience.
Geraldine, England, UK

Because of STDs I think that we should teach our children about sex as early in life as possible, and teach them in accordance with their aptitude, and therefore we can control how they think about sex.
Jane, Taiwan

Sex education and information concerning sexual matters is a lot better than that available in the 1960's. What is sadly lacking today is the morality code that counts towards not only correct sexual behaviour but general behaviour as a whole. We no longer have the long lasting relationships that I was familiar with whilst growing up and in too many families the father figure is either a fleeting memory or non-existent, hardly an example to pass on to impressionable children.
Hazel, UK

Nowhere is the harsh reality shown of a teenager in difficult family and economic conditions who has a small baby to cope with

Jayne, UK
Is it any wonder? On one soap opera we had the trauma of Sarah Louise's pregnancy, where she is now happily juggling motherhood and school: while her Mum takes care of the baby! And in the other soap, we have Sonia, who sensibly gave her baby for adoption, and is now about to steal it back! Nowhere is there a sense of responsibility for the outcome of these storylines, which were created simply for the drama they entail, and which are dropped as an issue as soon as that particular storyline has run its course. And nowhere is the harsh reality shown of a teenager in difficult family and economic conditions who has a small baby to cope with. Add to this the flat and the benefit that every teenager knows will probably come their way if they have a baby, and is it any wonder they are desperate to leave school and play happy families? What they need isn't just sex education, but also lessons in real life, and in how hard it can be away from soapland.
Jayne, UK

I watched the C4 series Teachers last week and it had a teenage mother standing up in front of the school telling them how her body changed during pregnancy and how the child dictates her life. Fictional it may have been, but such a strategy - to hear it from 'unlucky' peers may drive the message home. Anyway, what's the point of teachers trying to convey a message that says "wait and be safe" when the media bombards kids from the age of 0 that they need sex ASAP and tells lads that using a condom is like bonking wearing a Wellington boot. We've got to get some consistency in the message.

What I find astonishing is that in this day and age sex education should even be needed. I am 60, and knew all about sex in my early teens, as did everyone else. No one told us, it was just common sense (it's not exactly rocket science). And common sense also dictated that whatever one did, not to get the girl pregnant, because that would have been a disaster. How, in the open society we now live in, anyone cannot know what we knew, boys and girls 50-60 years ago is beyond me. What is needed is not yet more sex education, but the same sense of personal responsibility we took for granted half a century ago.
Tom, UK

We were taught practical things like how to put on condoms and about all the different types of contraception and which were appropriate for various situations

Sarah, UK
Having compared the different types of sex education my friends and I received at school I was amazed at how little information they were given. I went to an all girls school in New Zealand. Sex education wasn't taught by teachers but by the local adolescent health nurse, this avoided the awkwardness of having frank discussions about sex issues with someone you would see around school all the time. We were taught practical things like how to put on condoms (using broom handles as a 'models') and about all the different types of contraception and which were appropriate for various situations. We were also taught about the emotional side of sex, forming responsible relationships and the importance of communication. This was taught under the umbrella of 'Health Education' which also covered drugs and alcohol and health issues specific to women such as TSS and endometriosis. I feel this wide ranging approach worked very well and we came away from the lessons equipped with the knowledge to make our own informed decisions regarding sex. After all isn't that what sex education is for?
Sarah, UK

As for religion, it doesn't matter what my daughter's school does or doesn't say about sex education because the ultimate responsibility lies with myself and her mother. If my daughter asks any serious question about any matter (and she does!) then she's old enough to be told the open, honest truth. Honesty is the best policy for producing an intelligent, sensible child who can then use these abilities to make her own choice - as she is going to have to!
Ian Marlow, UK

I believe it is a matter of the perception of sex within you culture. While it is a taboo to talk openly about it, it is still regarded among young people as a signal of maturity if you are having sex. The Dutch may have a good sex education policy, but I believe the real work is being done in the home here. It's not seen as something rude, and is not given that rule-breaking status that kids are so attracted to. Here, parents will discuss in front of their children what their favourite position is. To the child, sex no longer a "naughty" subject, it's not something cool. An acid test of this is people's attitude towards virginity. I remember being desperate to lose my virginity, to appear to be mature for my age.... then I could take on the haughty attitude of the adults and tell my friends that they aren't ready (like I was). Being sexually active is seen as having achieved something within the playground.
Matt, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Stacey Turner, isn't ignorance a result of poor sex education? I think you'll find the answer is yes. Too many people are too quick to condemn the portrayal of sex in the media. Have you ever seen a teen mum being portrayed as a glamorous sex icon? No. Have you ever seen teen parents being portrayed as successful career people? No. Soaps are a reflection of real life. The only difference is that so much happens to so few. Ultimately however, they do portray unprotected sex for what it is. That isn't necessarily stupidity but ignorance. Which brings us back to sex education. It isn't sufficient as it stands. The real issues are not dealt with.
Carly, UK

As an American, I'm not dissatisfied with what I hear is taught in sex education classes here. I'm convinced that the three sex education courses I had growing up in Texas were far superior than what is taught in the average American or British school, but the British system is not that bad. I do not think that Britain's teenage pregnancy rate is due to the courses...rather, it is due to depravity, hopelessness, and ignorance.
Stacey Turner, American in the UK

Having a scruffy little science teacher mumble his way through human reproduction for a couple of lessons is hardly a good idea

Peter, UK
From my recollections of school sex education, having a scruffy little science teacher mumble his way through human reproduction for a couple of lessons is hardly a good idea. It also didn't help that when you are 11 pictures of private bits are about the funniest things going. This needs to be taught by specialists who can put their information across properly and control the sniggering from the back row.
Peter, UK

It's ironic that while one section of society is in danger of becoming mothers far too early, another section is in danger of missing out on motherhood entirely by delaying motherhood until they are in their late 30s or early 40s when the chances of conceiving are very much less (the likes of Madonna and Cherie Blair are statistical freaks - just 7% of all babies born are to over 40s). We need more information on fertility awareness.
Jane, Wales, UK

As a transsexual, I grew up totally in the closet from the age of about 4 (not a typo), and didn't know there was a single other person like me until I was 15. I spent my life until my late twenties wishing I had the courage to kill myself. Sex education at school contained nothing to inform or comfort me. So I have to say that for young lesbian, gay, bi, and transsexual kids, the most important thing is to repeal Section 28 and to let these kids know that they're OK. They need to know that there are others like them, and that they can lead happy, fulfilling lives. On the other side of the coin, Section 28 gives comfort to the homophobes, and bullies. This has implications beyond school. I lived with another transsexual in an inner city house opposite a school for a while. Our house was regularly vandalised, windows broken, lit fireworks thrown through the letter flap. We were assaulted in the street. All for being a little different. The assaults were always accompanied by homophobic abuse, and perpetrators were young teens. They need to learn at school that some people are different, but are still entitled to go about their lives in peace.
Anonymous, UK

Geez! Kids need to know more about relationships and values and the birds and the bees? Whose job is that? Certainly not the state's! That is the most mechanically repugnant idea I have ever heard. Fathers and mothers just need to have the "sex talk" with their parents. Perhaps sex education should be for parents of children to the disseminate to their kids. Otherwise we have some state-run childrens' creche from a science-fiction novel. Put those responsibilities back into the home where they belong!
Gordon Silliker, USA

In my area many young girls get pregnant at an early age so that they get given a council house and benefits

PhilT, Oman
I can remember in the late sixties when I obtained my sex education in school. Within two years we had three Biology teachers, all of whom where intent in educating us about sex. Unfortunately the Biology 'O' level at that time dealt almost exclusively with plants, so I failed my 'O' level. I feel that sex education is more than adequate within our schools today, (I have four children at school). What is not adequate are the social aspects. In my area many young girls get pregnant at an early age so that they get given a council house and benefits.
PhilT, Oman

Before the 19th century, doctors would treat a fever by bleeding the patient. If a patient lapsed deeper into the fever, he would be bleed again. Of course, when the patient died everyone said, "Gee, poor George was really sick." We shouldn't laugh at our ancestors! We live in a time when many people are deeply unhappy with their personal relationships, when divorce is rampant, when many people despair of ever finding "true love." When childhood ends at 14, and 17-year old virgins are afraid that there is something wrong with them.
Jeff Hall, USA

Ho-hum. Maybe it's the parents. Maybe the schools aren't getting it right either. Still, we live in a society where sex is most frequently seen in isolation - outside the context of a committed relationship, and where those who treat it with the respect it deserves get picked on in the playground. Somehow, kids at school need to be convinced that sex education class isn't a joke, and they need to be told more than what goes where, or what goes on what. As other people have pointed out though, why bother telling kids anything when they probably already know more than the teachers, and will only be told by the media (who will probably be listened to more carefully than their teachers) that sex is the most important thing that there is?
Craig, USA (English)

The issue of lack of sex education amongst teenagers is not limited to UK. This week you reported about the Indian government's decision to screen foreigners for HIV. Perhaps Indians would benefit more if the government launched a sex education program in the schools and colleges of India. The implications of teenage pregnancy are many folds higher in the Indian society where unwed mothers are looked down upon. Today, the Indian teenagers identify themselves with the likes of teenage actors and actresses in Western soaps where all the cast sleeps with everyone else.
Aman Dokania, USA

Ignorance is not bliss, the only way to give children the opportunity to make an informed decision is to give them the "correct" information. Talking never hurt anyone. Ignoring the problem only makes it worse.
Richard, Netherlands

I believe that pupils should be taught more about STDs and contraception

Becky Gardner, England
I believe that there needs to be a big improvement in the way the sex education is taught at school. I was taught the scientific version of sex that is we had to draw the female and male sexual organs and that was it. The only other thing we did was about pregnancy and how that progresses. I am 22 years old, so I have not long left school. I believe that pupils should be taught more about STDs and contraception. I also believe that the personal side of relationships, and whether or not to have sex, could be discussed more in PSE (Personal and Social Education) lessons. When I had PSE classes the teacher just asked if we wanted to discuss anything, we said no and that was it. I think if both sides of the problem is discussed then teenagers are more enlightened, and can make up there own minds, with all the facts, about whether to have sex or not.
Becky Gardner, England

I'm amazed when people react as if the best way to deal with sex and sexual matters is to act as if doesn't exist. True sex is as natural as food, yet even a child needs to be trained to eat properly and choose the right foods, eat the right amount at the right time. With child sexual abuse in families and outside families, porn on the Internet, STDs, teenage pregnancies and other sex and relationship related problems on the rise, shouldn't proper sex and relationship education become as mandatory as learning the alphabet?
Soja, Australia

Face it: Humans are biologically programmed to become sexually active in their teen years. Abstinence-only sermons just make sex a forbidden fruit. We need to accept that 16 year old girls have been getting pregnant accidentally since the beginning of time and implement some practical programs if we want to see those numbers drop. Teach kids about everything: STDS, pregnancy, contraception, abortion, abstinence, and relationship issues. Realism is the only solution!
Jillian, USA

The only way to improve sex education is to simply scrap Section 28 in England. Although the repressive legislation does not bar discussion in relation to the spread of disease, it does in fact ensure that sexuality through lack of open discussion becomes more of a Taboo subject. Sex education takes place throughout a child's education and the lack of discussion, fostered by Section 28 stops kids being properly educated.
Benjamin Miskell, Lancaster University, UK

Sex education should begin at home and at a young age

Kathy, Australia
Sex education should begin at home and at a young age. We parents should teach our children the details and morals associated with sex rather than letting their giggling peers in the playground set the standard. In an article in the times it says that children who are well educated about their bodies and understand that these things are not a secret have the best defence against unwanted attentions. No secrets. Leaving the responsibility to teachers is too late, they should reinforce what has already been taught.
Kathy, Australia

I notice that in most of the comments here, when people talk about "sex education," what they really mean is "STD and pregnancy prevention education." Even when well-meaning people try to confront the issues, they can't really talk about "Sex Education" in its more meaningful sense of educating the young about all aspects of human sexuality. When are we going to realize that there is no room for ignorance among youth in so vital an area if we want to avoid trouble?
Steve, US (England)

The best thing this country could do is to improve sex education by teaching clearly about all of the following without exception: reproduction, contraception, abstinence, STDs, marriage and cohabitation. It is disgraceful that the Sex Education Forum have rejected abstinence as a suitable part of the sex education curriculum: it goes to show they either want to or don't care about pressurising teenagers into having sex as if it were merely a toilet function.

It seems to me that Sex Education is the problem. Too many kids learn about it too early in life. Lock it all away in the closet where it used to reside 50 years ago. Nature will show the way in the fullness of time.
Roger Sayer, USA

Sex education is of course necessary but not to blame for any problems that may arise

Thomas, French studying in UK
As a student in the UK it always hits me how girls always seem to want to grow up a lot quicker here than in the rest of Europe. Sex education is of course necessary but not to blame for any problems that may arise. It's not so much a question of education either from school or parents rather a questioning of society as a whole.
Thomas, French studying in UK

I went to an all-girls boarding school which was paranoid about sex education - we had a lesson on contraception every week for a year. This was helped by the teacher telling us ALL the details of her sex life, which put us off completely! My boyfriend, in contrast, had one sex education lesson, and the teacher's credibility was totally undermined when he was asked, "What does sex feel like?" and answered "I don't know, I'm a virgin" Both of these classes were around 1990.

The problem is that the human body is geared to start having kids at the age of 13 or so, whereas our society is geared towards having kids in our mid 20s. This creates an obvious problem. So rather than trying to ignore the subject, we need to get the puritan politicians to start doing things about it. Kids will have sex because they're curious and it's fun, but they forget about the reproduction part that goes along with sex. Protection ought to be given out freely for anyone who asks, paid for by the government. Buying a condom costs a heck of a lot less money than paying for a 13 year old mother.
Eric, USA

When I was growing up in NYC my sex education was very good and I think I have those teachers to thank for seeing me through my teenage years without getting pregnant and without an STD. It is wonderful that the government is trying to push for it over there whereas here our "abstinence only" education (if you can call that education) grant just got another five years thanks to our government. If a student was to ask how to use a condom in most classrooms in the US she would get no answer - teachers are not allowed to mention anything but abstinence. Currently I work at an abortion centre and not only do I see pregnant girls way below 16 but many with STDs also. If you are in the "dark ages" as one person wrote I hate to think where the US is.
Kathryn, USA

Kids should learn of all the options

Franklin, Maryland, USA
One only has to look to the Netherlands for an example of how to do things. They have the most extensive sex education and some of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world. In the US, many groups focus on celibacy. This clearly doesn't work as the US has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world. Kids should learn of all the options. This includes celibacy and birth control.
Franklin, Maryland, USA

What chance have parents and schools got in this day and age when every school child has access to the internet and has seen the kind of material we had never seen when we were twice their age? I'm afraid parents and teachers are fighting a losing battle. You can expect to see teenage pregnancy getting a lot worse than it is now, with the pregnant parties getting younger, coupled with epidemic increases of STDs.
B. Roberts, UK

In my Swedish primary school's library there were plenty of books for curious children that told us the basics of human reproduction. At the age of 11 we were taught about sex (the boys by a male teacher and the girls by a female teacher) and the results of it and allowed to ask any questions. There was no drama, very few giggles and total openness from then on.
Christine, UK

We as a society are not free enough in discussing sex

Thomas Young, USA
I don't pretend to know about the situation in the UK, but it seems to me that here in the States we have the same problems. I think the main issue is that we as a society are not free enough in discussing sex, and therefore more goes on behind closed doors then we want to believe. Biologically, we are given the drive to procreate much, much earlier then we would like to believe, and the key to a healthy sexual attitude later in life is responsible experimentation. As society becomes more and more gender blind, it is all the more critical we understand our own sexuality.
Thomas Young, USA

Rates of adolescent pregnancy and childbearing in this country have been declining since the 1970s (with fluctuations) and currently less than one girl aged under 16 becomes pregnant in every 100; hardly an epidemic is it? Most teenage mothers are 18 or 19 - hardly children. Let's get this thing into perspective.
Lisa, UK

By ensuring that education includes the fact that no matter how much people don't like it, they are responsible and accountable for their actions. Like smoking, you can choose to do it or not. Learn and do not simply repeat the mistakes of history and peer pressure.
Dave, UK

I think it's appalling that parents have the right to opt their children out of sex education classes (well, this was the case at my school anyway).
R. Sykes, Bristol, England

When I was 11 a booklet appeared in the bookcase regarding all aspects of sex, including periods, pregnancy and relationships. This booklet answered all the questions I had but did not want to ask. Now my daughter is approaching that age, I've asked my mother to see if she can find the booklet. As for sex-education at schools, we were taught the life cycle of worms...
Caron, England

People are shocked when they hear that we don't give our 17-year old daughter birth control.

Victoria, USA
People are shocked when they hear that we don't give our 17-year old daughter birth control. Instead, we encourage her to stand fast in her decision not to have sex! We trust her, we know where she is and what she does. And gee, she's not pregnant! I personally don't think that kids want to have sex nearly as much as they think they should want to have sex. I think adults should stop assuming that "all kids do" and start considering the possibility that most people rise to the expectations set for them. And, of course, answer their questions honestly.
Victoria, USA

I do think that a lack of sex education is an aspect of the teenage pregnancy problem. But it has to do with the whole youth culture in connection with the use of alcohol and drugs in the UK. I do think that the classical Christian teaching of sex as part of a married life is still the best solution. For sure, this should not be called "bigotries", as Michael Carter in this poll does.
Evert van Vlastuin, Nederland

With bigoted groups like the Christian Institute around which tried in 2000 to prosecute a health authority for providing sexual health information to gay men, is it any wonder that this country has the worst sexual health record in Europe?
Michael Carter, UK

Young children are desensitized with regards to sex from very young age

How could anyone talk about sex education when the sex sells mentality exists in our culture? As long as the media promotes sexual promiscuity, the talk of curbing teenage pregnancy or HIV related disease simply would not work. Young children are desensitized with regards to sex from very young age. In search for ratings, even the cartoons are used to instil this outlook. Therefore they do not see anything wrong in experimenting with sex. Existing sex education focuses on protective measures i.e. the physical aspects but does not look at the preventative measure i.e. psychological aspects. This issue is addressed by the Muslim faith school very successfully. We should stop complaining as we have ourselves to blame for the ills of society. We do not want to adopt a method which works but is seen by many as old fashioned.

Our school (all girls) probably got the balance about right. We did the biological aspects and contraception, coupled with a lot of information about STDs (especially HIV) and preventing infection. I also remember very clearly a talk we had from a woman who had HIV - talking to a real person really drives the message home. However, I think it is very sad that children don't feel that they can talk about sex with their parents. It is the best source of information and a very positive way of stressing the loving relationship rather than just the physical act of sex. My (12 year-old) sister's often reads me the most ridiculous questions from her magazines that she and I cannot believe teenagers do not know the answers to, but if so many teenagers are so uninformed about sex and relationships I cannot say I am at all surprised at the statistics.
Sarah, England

Teaching children that they are capable of saying 'No' without looking prudish, and giving them enough self-esteem so that they don't have to sleep with the first person that asks, would go a long way. Also the element of responsibility should be included - for instance a minor reference to condoms isn't sufficient; lessons need to address the fact that there are all sorts of contraceptive methods out there and that it is a male responsibility as well as a female one. Family planning, STDs, sanitary protection and the Child Support Agency should all be mentioned! As for teaching children at the age of seven, I think it is already too late for some at 13.

My sex education at school was laughable. We were taught by a male teacher who was so embarrassed that he forwarded the section of the video that had a naked man on it. He claimed we did not 'need to know that bit yet'. We were 15 years old. Plenty old enough if I remember some of the girls in my year correctly. My parents sat me down years before and gave me a frank and honest description of what actually happens between a woman and a man and thank god for that. If I had had to rely on the teacher I would have been in trouble. One thing I never got taught about was Parenthood and STI's though. As a teenager I learnt through the media and I have to say that teen magazines and books play a very important role in creating awareness. As far as I remember and can tell kids need someone they can talk to and feel comfortable with. But they also need someone who is comfortable talking to them. A hint of embarrassment and they will move in for the kill!
Mel, UK

I think we should take a leaf from America's book and MAKE the fathers of the children pay child support by law! Not as a punishment but to teach them to be responsible for their actions. No matter what anyone says the man can always walk away, it's not so easy for the mother.
Pamela, Scotland

No wonder we have a problem, sex education or not we are bombarded by the media with the urge to have sex frequently and with many partners. The programme on club 18-30 basically set the lads and lasses that had the most sex on a pedestal, those that didn't were treated as losers. And that is just one of many programmes of a similar genre. With that kind of pressure the sex education system that says 'don't' is doomed to failure. Change it to that of encouraging sex and showing how to do it safely and with ever greater enjoyment and perhaps we might get somewhere. Whatever, it is futile holding back this particular tide. I just wish it was like this when I was younger.
Simon Mallett, UK

Is there a ...worse sex-education than the TV itself? Perhaps the question should be sent to the TV channels and those ''Big brother'' show producers, instead! I find it at least hypocritical that we, parents, teachers (and whoever else is involved here) try to explain and be close to our teenagers, whereas TV, just with a click shows all kinds of shameless images, at times when even small children are around!
Jane M., Bath, UK

The only school I ever attended was independent and Catholic. It side-stepped sex education in favour of personal social education, which was all about relationships and values and taught me nothing I needed to know about sex. Now I have an excellent relationship with my girlfriend but it was upsetting for both of us when I nearly made her pregnant. The words 'idealistic' and 'irresponsible' come to mind whenever I think of my school.
Andy, UK

Provide each 12 year old girl with a sensible 17 year old mentor to provide a bit of street cred advice

Kathy, UK
Sex education at my school consisted of two sessions with a rather elderly school rector, who drew a couple of diagrams and told the boys to stop sniggering. Contraception and STDs weren't mentioned, not were the moral issues relating to relationships, abortion etc. I regarded it with slightly embarrassed boredom, since I have several older brothers and sisters, and had already heard enough gory horror stories to get the message home. Perhaps that's the answer. Provide each 12 year old girl with a sensible 17 year old mentor to provide a bit of street cred advice. It would need some supervision, but would probably be more effective than anything a teacher could provide.
Kathy, UK

Until recently we, the Western world, used to think that we are far better-off, than the people in some poor countries, when it comes to sex education and teenage pregnancies. Judging from the given numbers however, shouldn't we also start thinking that something is very wrong now, in the West?
Linda, Italian (in England)

I think a few have touched on the real issue, why do we need sex education at all? So many people seem to reject the responsibilities they have now, with parents not talking to their children about sex only being one example. The population at large does not help, by supporting the media who seem to be obsessed with sex and break-up of relationships. It is this irresponsible and negligent approach to sex that has created this situation and will sustain it; decent sex education in schools or not.
Lewis Clifford, UK

Sex Education is vital for children. We all know the appalling rates in the UK for teen pregnancies and STD infections (including HIV). But how are UK schoolchildren going to learn about sex without all the repressive nonsense that goes along with it. I remember that some children thought pregnancy could be avoided if you stood on telephone directories! Only this kind of gibberish survives when a prudish state education system is unable by law to look at all aspects of sexual behaviour or offer unbiased advice. Why is this? We really need to give our children the latest sexual health information and training. Without this, the strange and hysterical reaction of certain 'moral groups' puts thousands of children and potential adults at risk, every minute of the day. Telling teens to abstain from sex is like ordering the tide to turn: stupid and a waste of time.
Alex, UK

The sexual reproduction lesson we had dealt not with humans, but potatoes!

Karl, UK
I went to secondary school in Northern Ireland during the early '80s and my sex education was non-existent - largely due to the opinions of puritanical school governors and certain church leaders who (to this day in some cases) maintain that "that sort of thing" doesn't happen here. I remember 14 and 15 year old classmates (female) who would mysteriously disappear one week and were never mentioned again. It was only later we found out that they had become pregnant and were asked to leave since this compromised the morality of the school.

The sexual reproduction lesson we had dealt not with humans, but potatoes! This wall of silence permeated down to the attitudes of staff in chemist shops who would frown on anyone, they considered unmarried, purchasing contraception! Equipped with this marvellous grounding in sex (theory and practice) my friends and I set out on disastrous and ill-judged sexual experiments that resulted in quite a lot of misery for all concerned. The more education the better. Have you got any idea how a potato has sex?!
Karl, UK

Does anyone remember John Cleese in 'The Meaning of Life'. I thought his sex education lesson was ideal. Teachers could mount different people; genders, races, dimensions etc. They could illustrate STD's and show a few tips. The rest I learnt from Channel 5.
Stanley, UK

It's time we faced the facts. Children are having sex earlier and earlier, why not provide free contraceptives in schools to help reduce the threat of STDs and unwanted pregnancy, together with a more realistic programme of sex education. It is frightening that the issue of HIV has lost its headline image. The disease has not gone away!
D Walton, England

Everyone attacks the sex education system in Britain because people think it is the reason why there are so many teenage mothers. Some pregnancies are unwanted, but many girls are quite happy to leave school, get pregnant and become a young single mother. They've known the basics about sex for years and have made a lifestyle choice. It is not for parents, teachers or MPs to frown on them and say that sex education has 'failed' them. Aren't they entitled to live as they please? To Phil H Yeo: Don't you know we live in a secular state?
Ken, England

God does not want us to have sex education as youngsters

Phil H Yeo, Yorkshire
God does not want us to have sex education as youngsters. Sex is for heterosexual marriage between adults and only then for procreation. Sex was given us by god for procreation, but was made 'fun' by Satan in an effort to tempt us.
Phil H Yeo, Yorkshire

Phil Theo says that God doesn't want us to have sex education for young people - funny, it's a while since I read the Bible, but I can't recall that precise commandment.

Meanwhile, in the real world, it is essential that parents and teachers are honest about sex - not just the mechanics of it, but about the context of sex, as part of a loving relationship. The Victorian (and puritan) hangover of being embarrassed about sex has caused too many ruined lives.
Phil M, England

In response to Phil H Yeo. It is precisely that kind of medieval attitude that encourages youngsters to have sex and it certainly does not help solve the problem. As with many things like drugs and alcohol, what is forbidden is attractive.
Graeme, UK

Just teaching about the sexual act does not address the problem. Schools need to add in parenting classes to the curriculum for all secondary school children. As well as learning about sex, they can then learn what it means to be a parent. A lot of American schools already do this - I spent six years in the US and both my son and daughter had health ed classes that covered a huge range of issues, from pregnancy to spots to eating disorders to emotions - the whole spectrum. The children also had to pretend to be parents for a week, looking after a doll. This included taking the 'baby' to school and putting it in the creche, dealing with medical emergencies initiated by the teacher and the parents, getting up in the night to 'see to the baby' and also to prepare a budget for the week. This, of course, is based around parental co-operation. I think you'll see that many of the parents of teenage parents (boys and girls) are either too embarrassed about sex to discuss it, or don't really care too much.
Nina, UK

Why can't there be special nurses who go into schools to teach this kind of thing?

Gerrie, UK
I went to a Catholic secondary school in the late 80s and sex education was something that was literally brushed over during first year biology by a very nervous male teacher. In this day and age it is ridiculous that kids are still not getting proper sex education. Schools should have a moral responsibility to provide this kind of education especially since we are now seeing an upsurge in the numbers of case of HIV. With all the specialist help available from the health service, why can't there be special nurses who go into schools to teach this kind of thing? After all we all remember the nit nurse!!
Gerrie, UK

My limited knowledge of STDs and STIs came from the magazines that are so widely condemned. I learnt nothing of such risks from sex education at school. However, even at the age of 20I am still probably only aware of less than half of the possible STDs. Of those that are aware even of the most common sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, and of those who are aware of how easy they are to contract, very few seem to be able to comprehend that it is just as easy to get Aids.

Parents are too afraid to talk to their children about sex because they are afraid it might only serve to encourage rather than deter irresponsible behaviour. If schools are so keen to teach sex education they have to teach it properly, not leave out the bits they feel uncomfortable teaching. It's better to have a class of giggling teenagers than a class of nursing teenagers.
Saria, UK

Girls in this country get pregnant because they are bombarded with sex from the media

PJ Carr, UK
With all the sex education we have in our schools we still have a higher child pregnancy rate than any western country, including all those so-called backward countries which give barely any sex education at all. Girls in this country get pregnant not because they don't know how not to but because they are bombarded with sex from the media and popular culture. Until that changes the spiral will continue.
PJ Carr, UK

If sex education is the key to reducing teenage pregnancies, then why is it that they are thinking of teaching six and seven-year-olds sex education. Remember at that age you wouldn't even want to touch someone of the opposite sex. My sex education was just fine but it is down to the maturity of the teenager. I think we should introduce those baby dolls that you have to look after to England as they have in America. They teach us about relationships, not just sex because there are too many children who haven't been given the chance to grow up with two loving parents. Teach us family values!
Laura D/J, UK

To Laura D/J: You've touched on something I've been considering a lot since we do have problems with teen pregnancy in the US, too. I don't know if the dolls make any difference since you can just turn off the crying mechanism and ignore their "pee", but what I was thinking is a return to the old "mind the egg" home ec classes of the 60s. You know, where they pair up a boy and girl and they have a schedule to follow and a log to keep, and they have to determine who minds the egg (baby), etc. It's laughable at first glance, I know, but think about it: If the kids' parents know about the project ahead of time they can push the kids into really being painfully responsible with the eggs and related tasks. Then the kids will see that it's not as easy as it looks on TV.
Jennifer Ethington, USA

My convent school still retained (in the 80s) a notice stating "Any pupil found pregnant or partially pregnant will be expelled." Any ideas how the latter might be achieved?
Susan, UK

If 8,000 schoolgirls are managing to get pregnant every year (and assuming it's not always the same 8,000) then children certainly don't need sex education. What they need is a sense of responsibility - and instilling responsibility into the average adventurous teenager is rather like trying to shove a football through a keyhole. No doubt Mr Blair will suddenly produce a blindingly clever masterplan to solve the problem - a grim prospect which in itself is an excellent incentive to avoid becoming pregnant.
Chris B, England

In a recent conversation with my niece who is 16 years old, I was horrified to discover that she was totally ignorant of Aids

Jo, UK
As I went to an all-girls catholic school, and was taught sex education by a nun, the lessons could be summed up by "Don't do it, or you'll go to hell." However, when Aids first reared its ugly head, we were made totally aware of all the facts without any spin or fudging. In a recent conversation with my niece who is 16 years old, I was horrified to discover that she was totally ignorant of Aids or any other STD for that matter. But, at least she knew where babies came from and how they are made (and avoided)! More effort needs to be poured into STD awareness, and Aids in particular, or we'll have an even worse epidemic on hour hands. Aids numbers in the UK are still rising - it hasn't gone away.
Jo, UK

If teachers are to have an impact, sex education is clearly beginning too late for most children and policy makers are probably out of touch with current school playground culture. I have nine and seven-year-old sons. However, despite being honest with them about sex and relationships, the biggest impact has been what they pick up in the school playground. So far they have had no sex education at school and many negative attitudes, in particular towards gay/lesbian relationships are already being cemented. The playground 'culture' is clearly quite different from that during my childhood in the 60s and 70s. I wonder if those who are setting the policy on sex education are up to date with current childhood culture.
Keith, UK

Difficult to argue. Teenage girls seem to have come through whatever sex education they are given without realising that whatever method of contraception is used, sex always carries a risk of pregnancy - and teenage boys seem to have arrived at a position where they don't care. Sadly, the girls are always left holding the baby. Short of stapling up the trousers of all boys aged over 14, dramatic improvements to sex education are the only option.
Guy Chapman, UK

To this day I find myself to be inept at developing long-term sexually active partnerships

Roger, England
The sex education I was taught at school did not provide me with enough of the right knowledge to create and build a fulfilling, rewarding relationship. To this day I find myself to be inept at developing long-term sexually active partnerships. I believe that along with the everyday theory work, sex education should also involve a practical segment within the syllabus. Not with humans, but with anatomically designed robots, able to demonstrate the wide and varied exciting positions capable. This way, the children will be able to see the whole picture and hopefully deter them from the inquisitive experimentation, which can lead to teenage pregnancies.
Roger, England

Children should be taught about relationships and the value of sex as love as well as the pure biology of it. Parents also need get over their embarrassment of talking to their children about sexual relations. Sweeping it under the carpet, hoping one's child does not have sex until later, is not good enough. As a country we need to shed our peculiar attitudes to sex. We either snigger about it or are Puritan about it, regarding sex as dirty. (The charges against 60s permissiveness don't stand up. No-one practised 'free love' despite their intentions!) If we want not to have the highest teen pregnancy rate, the lowest age of first-time sex, the highest rate of underage sex, and the highest teenage STD rate, then we will have to talk a hell of a lot more to our kids about "it".
John G, London, UK

I think the whole issue is connected to individual family patterns. I happen to know some women who got pregnant at a very young age, a fact which functioned as a 'signal for their daughters, who in turn got pregnant, when they were in their early teens, as well. Actually, one notices that mothers are not as close to their daughters, as it was in the past. I believe that we can't expect schools and teachers to take care of private matters like that, too! Don't they have already enough workload and tasks?
Rita, Leeds, England

I don't believe that sex education has anything to do with the amount of teenage pregnancies. These kids know pretty much everything there is to know about sex. I agree that more emphasis should be made to the consequences of unsafe sex but even if they know they will do it anyway and take the risks. The problem arises from the media and societies lax attitude to sex in general. The young of today want to be adults but don't think about the results.
Benny, UK

Compared with other countries, we are still in the sexual dark ages

David LJ, Isle of Man, UK
Sex education? What sex education? The way our children are taught sex education in the UK is a complete joke. Compared with other countries, we are still in the sexual dark ages. Whoops, sorry sex is that English forbidden word. Everybody does it, but we are not allowed to talk about it. It seems that too much sex education in schools encourages promiscuity! Yet, why are there are so many single teenage mums in England?

It's not the role of the schools to teach sex education, it's down to the parents to talk their siblings all about sex - warts and all. Of course, we British start blushing and turn forty shades of red at the thought of talking about sex to our children. The truth is we are the cause of the all problems associated with our child's sexuality.

Please wake up, turn on the lights and start talking to your children today about the facts of life. Don't leave it too late either otherwise you too could be a grandparent and left holding the baby sooner than you think! Instead of trying to protect them from the evils of sex, take on the role of sex education teacher yourself and don't leave it to the schools to do your dirty work for you. Sex is a natural act, not something rude and disgusting done in total darkness after Match of the Day!
David LJ, Isle of Man UK

Sex education in school teaches the biological side to conception and only touches on birth control. There is not enough information on STDs and the effect these can have. More and more teenage girls are having babies as a result of unprotected sex, and while there are methods to protect themselves, most don't bother as most of them think the idea of having a baby is great! I became a mother at 17 and it was a real shock to me as to the hard work and full time commitment it meant. I could no longer go out with my friends, go shopping or even to the cinema. Some of these girls are as young as 12 or 13! I think more shock tactics are needed such as real life videos of young mums and the effect or maybe young mothers speaking to girls and boys.
Shelley, UK

I still remember the 'Don't Die of Ignorance' HIV info campaign from when I was at school. Maybe time to re-run it?
Ben Drake, York, UK

We had little or no sex education whilst I was at school. We learned from our parents. Kids still do, the problem is their parents taught them that you could jump the housing queue and qualify for countless benefits if you became pregnant at an early age, and we are all now picking up the tab for this irresponsible behaviour. As we have numerous childless couples in this country, my solution would be for the state to give up for adoption any child born to a girl aged under 16 years and nine months. That would soon stem the tide.
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

Andreas is right to point at the soaps, the despicable story lines and poor acting is a national disgrace. Television is responsible for the selfish attitudes of the current generation and should be held accountable, with the advertising industry for the me, me generation. As this will be read by the worst of the Bash Britain Children, I doubt it will be published.
Steve, England

Just look at the emphasis that is placed on relationships on UK soaps. I think all of the cast of Eastenders has slept with everyone else; and if you get pregnant you just give it away, or someone else's mum will try to get it, or the dad wants to have it, or I gave one away but now I want another... Hardly role models for a repectful society.
Andreas, Germany

See also:

29 Apr 02 | Education
Sex education 'ignores HIV'
24 Oct 00 | Health
Parents 'ignoring sex education'
26 Jul 00 | Health
Internet sex risk
20 Nov 01 | England
Game to teach sex education
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