Monday 18 July 2011

Myth Busting Monday: Sex educators don’t tell young people about saying ‘no’ to sex

When Nadine Dorries proposed the motion to teach girls aged 13-16 ‘the benefits of abstinence’ she claimed that young people are ‘taught to have safe sex, but not how to say no’. Is this really the case?

The argument put forward by those who back abstinence-based sex and relationships education is often based on the misconception that SRE in schools is focused purely on teaching young people how to have sex, with no reference whatsoever to delaying or refraining from sexual activity. One member of the new abstinence-heavy SRE Council, Challenge Team UK claims:
‘By giving information about condoms and showing teens how to use them, adults who are the authority figures in teens' lives may be giving them, unintentionally, permission to have sex’.

In fact, good SRE is NOT about encouraging young people to have sex as soon as possible. Good SRE will always acknowledge the importance of having sex only when the time is right for you (and your partner/s). Good SRE will make clear that ‘sex’ isn’t necessarily just about male/female penetration and that there are many other ways (sexual and non-sexual) of showing someone affection and feeling pleasure. Good SRE will note that the legal age of consent for young people is 16, but that the age at which people feel ready for sex, or start to have sexual relationships can be different for everyone. Good SRE will of course stress the importance of only having the kind of sex you want to have at a time which feels right for you. And yes, good SRE will encourage the use of condoms (alongside other contraceptive methods) should this situation arise, as a way to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy and STI transmission. Good SRE will cover communication and relationships alongside consent – how to say yes, no, and ‘not now’!

Sex Educators aren’t telling young people about safer sex because they want them all to be having sex as early as possible. But because they live in the real world, where yes, some young people may already be having sex and need to know where they can access accurate information and advice. And because, well, the vast majority of young people they speak to in a school or youth centre will, at some point in their lives have sex. Just as with other aspects of education, we teach young people life skills which may not be relevant to them at this very moment but will almost certainly be relevant for their futures.


  1. 'wait till you are ready eh!' . . . I tell you what if you had asked me as a 15 year old boy on a bright sunny day if I was ready for sex, what do you think my answer would be?

    "of course I am ready, trust me I am ready!"

    Challenge Team UK are making the point that it is not for 'the establishment' to license sexual activity, the point about U16's is that they are not ready for it, girls physiologically and boys psychologically. Why don't we teach that? Condoms help reduce conception rates but what is going on with sti and abortion rates? They are both going up. why, because factual information about condoms is not made available, in fact young people are told that if they are consenting and wearing a condom then they can just crack on, unsurprisingly sti rates have reached epidemic proportions

    You write that 'some' young people are already sexually active, is this the majority or minority of yr 10's would you say? Are we in any other area of education allowed to cherry pick what information forms the basis of policy. The majority of law abiding u-16's are not sexually active. What does the message 'if you can't be good be careful' really say about how our young people should respect themselves etc . . .

    Happy to hear from you at

  2. Hey anon, I'm not sure how you can know that absolutely everyone if any age isn't "ready". Whether it's sport, public speaking, cookery or sex, readiness I think comes through learning, though practise, being able to mess up and have the resources, self worth and help to pick yourself up again. I could never have become comfortable having sex if it weren't for my early experiences, what I learnt from them and the information I was lucky enough to have to hand.

    Also why does not having sex make someone good?

  3. Hi no trousers,
    So lets unpack your points. Readiness for sex should be a process where we (society) should encourage our young people (U16's) to
    - learn
    - practise
    - cock up (no pun intended)
    - repeat
    Have I understood you correctly?
    Here is my point, if you are teaching them to mess up it can, for some deplete the self worth reserves and risk serious emotional damage. (and that is before we throw other more commonly talked about risks such as STI's, unwanted pregnancies etc . . . into the mix!)

    I would't say not having sex makes someone good, I would say that delaying sexual activity, avoiding overtly risky sexual behaviour and keeping the number of partners down to a minimum is a socially responsible position to take.

    Did I mention the STI epidemic?

  4. btw - I do not work for Challenge Team? and what is the SRE Council is that part of the Sex Ed Forum? I cannot find a link.

  5. Apologies, I misconstrued your post. Here is a link which gives more information on the SRE Council - they are not part of the Sex Education Forum: