Public Release: 

Teacher-led sex education of limited benefit

Limits of teacher delivered sex education: interim behavioural outcomes from randomised trial, BMJ Volume 324, pp 1430-3

BMJ

Improvements in teacher-delivered sex education have some beneficial effect on the quality of young people's sexual relationships, but do not reduce sexual risk taking in adolescents, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers evaluated a specially designed sex education programme (SHARE), delivered by teachers to 13-15 year olds in Scotland between 1993 and 1996. The programme aims to reduce unsafe sexual behaviours, reduce unwanted pregnancies, and improve the quality of sexual relationships. Twenty-five secondary schools and 5,854 pupils took part in the evaluation at follow-up.

In comparison with conventional sex education, the SHARE programme was evaluated more positively by pupils and their knowledge of sexual health improved. It had a limited positive effect on the quality of relationships, but had no effect on condom or other contraceptive use. It neither encouraged nor discouraged sexual activity.

Although there are various ways of interpreting these results, the lack of effect on behaviour was not attributable to the inadequate delivery of the programme in certain schools, stress the authors. Rather, the evidence suggests that the programme was unable to override broader social influences and the effect of conventional sex education, particularly when it was delivered to a whole year group.

At follow-up, only one third reported they had had sexual intercourse. To clarify the impact of the programme once most have started sexual relationships, the authors are following up these young people to the age of 20.

In the meantime, they suggest that the SHARE programme is preferable to conventional sex education and that modifications to the delivery of SHARE should be explored. However, we cannot rely on sex education alone to improve young people's sexual health, they conclude.

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