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Sex Education

Posted on 16 September 2011
Tags: children and young people, National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Natsal, sexual health, sex education

So this week is Sexual Health Week, and this year’s theme is ‘Facts of Life’ – talking to your children about puberty, relationships and sex. The sexual health charity FPA is aiming to help mums and dads have the necessary confidence and information to talk to their children about such issues.

Our National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, or Natsal, includes a series of questions asking people how they learnt about sex. Natsal is the most comprehensive study of sexual behaviour in the world, and is a collaborative project involving ourselves, UCL and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The study is a key resource and regularly informs policy making on sexual and reproductive health.

The last study in 2000 found that school-based lessons were the main source of information about sexual matters for young people, particularly for men, with the proportion reporting that school was their main source for information having doubled in the previous two decades.

Most people said that they would have liked to have known more about sex than they did at the point when they first felt ready for sexual experiences, but not the mechanical and biological aspects, more the psychosexual aspects and information on how to protect their health. People wanted information from authoritative sources such as school and parents rather than from friends or the media. Interestingly among men, parents featured much more prominently as a preferred source than they did as an actual source, perhaps something the FPA need to bear in mind with their campaigning.

Interviewing is currently taking place for the latest Natsal study and findings are due in 2013. What changes might we expect to have taken place over the last decade? Will schools and parents continue to be the main ways that young people learn about sex? Or will the rise of the Internet over the past decade, and TV programmes such as Channel 4’s Sex Education Show demonstrate that young people look to a wider range of sources for information? We will need to wait just a little longer to see what Natsal shows.

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