SRE found to be vital

Research into sexual attitudes indicates importance of sex and relationships education.


Two important reports published 25/26 November 2013 point to the importance of SRE.

In response to the NATSAL3 research (National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles), and Office of the Children's Commissioner's Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, Lucy Emmerson, Co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum said:

"We welcome these important reports from NATSAL and the Office of the Children's Commissioner which provide yet more evidence that high-quality sex and relationships education (SRE) is a vital ingredient in the health and well-being of the nation. The NATSAL survey confirms the positive link between school sex education and decreased likelihood of unplanned pregnancy."

"However, as the Office of the Children's Commissioner inquiry about child sexual exploitation shows this is no time for complacency. The quality of SRE in schools in England is extremely variable and the government is yet to guarantee a good standard of school sex education for ALL children and young people."

"Worryingly, the research shows younger people have a higher risk of being forced to have sex against their will - especially young women - and in many cases non-volitional sex goes unreported. Our own survey, to be published in December, confirms that while many young people know their facts about the age of consent, far fewer know how to cope with real life situations and what to do when their rights have been abused. Sex and Relationships education must start early and go into more depth about consent. It can help young people develop the skills and understanding they need to have positive, healthy and pleasurable relationships, and know where to turn to for help and advice. With the evidence so clear, it is time to guarantee children and young people a consistent level of learning about sex and relationships."


For more information please contact the National Children's Bureau's media office on 0207 843 6045 / 47 or email For urgent enquiries out of office hours call 07721 097 033.


1. The NATSAL3 data

The third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles has been published today with 6 papers in the Lancet. These papers can be accessed in summary or in full if you register (registration is free).

The headline on SRE is that NATSAL3 provides new evidence that SRE works by showing that people who got their sex education from school were less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy.  Regarding young peope it shows:

  • that the age of first sex has not significantly changed in the last decade: Among 16-24 year olds the latest survey found that 31% of men and 29% of women now have first sex before age 16, which is not significantly different from the figures from the previous survey (1999-2001), and so is still a minority.
  • that young, single women are at highest risk of unplanned pregancy
  • that younger people - especially young women - are at higher risk of experiencing sex against their will (non-volitional sex).  


2. The Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) reports

 The OCC have published 'If only some had listened: Office of the Children's Commissioner's Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups Final Report'. This makes a clear recommendation that ALL children and young people should receive SRE delivered by trained educators.

OCC have published 2 additional reports: 'It's wrong but you get use to it' which is a qualitative study of gang-associated sexual violence towards, and exploitation of, young people in England, and  "Sex without consent. I suppose that is rape". How young people in England understand sexual consent. The later ('Sex without consent') makes more detailed recommendations about how/what SRE should teach about consent as follows:


- Local action is required for all schools and education providers to ensure that there are opportunities for young people to explore the meaning of consent in the context of relationships and sex education.

- Five aspects should be core to all discussions in educational or youth work settings:

  • that getting is as important as giving
  • applying ideas about consent to real life situations
  • the gendered double standard
  • positive and active communication that goes beyond expecting partners to 'say no'
  • challenging victim blame.

- Targeted sessions should take place with younger teenagers about the boundaries between consent and coercion to ensure they understand what it means to get and give consent.

- Relationships and sex education should address pornography as an important influence on young people's understandings about expectations of sex and attitudes to women and girls.

- Education and youth settings need to develop policies and practices that enable young people to critically explore gender - what it is to be male and female − and pressures or expectations to act in certain ways that potentially cause harm to others or oneself.

- Guidance on sexting should address not only the behaviours of those who manipulate young women into sending images, but also those that share such images without consent.