An increase in the amount of sexual health content taught in science lessons is among the key changes in the government's overhaul of GCSEs and A-levels announced earlier this week.
The new GCSE science will now contains details on subjects which are vital learning for every young person including: hormones, contraception, fertility, HIV and AIDS and other STIs.
However, the Sex Education Forum has warned that learning about sexual health must not be left until GCSE studies begin; having sex and relationships education (SRE) lessons in every year of school helps children build up a safe and shared language to talk about their bodies, relationships and sexual health.
Chair of the Sex Education Forum, Jane Lees said: “The foundations for learning about sexual health begin in primary school with learning about our bodies, puberty and how to get help and advice with health.
"This needs to be followed up at the start of secondary school by teaching about how the human body works, especially hormones, fertility, contraception and STIs. Introducing hormones, contraception and STIs as part of GCSE studies is too late and does not constitute good quality SRE. It must be a continuous process of learning suited to the maturity and understanding of children and young people and informed by evidence.
“We urge schools to follow best practice and teach about sexual health well before GCSE. All schools should have a planned programme of SRE that is timely, relevant and sufficiently detailed to meet children and young people’s needs”.
Young people surveyed by the SEF have said "very clearly" that the SRE they get at school is often taught too late. The Sex Education Forum carried out a survey of over 1000 young people and over half selected 11-13 as the best age to start teaching about contraception, HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.
There is clear evidence that SRE supports positive health outcomes if it starts early and this evidence is quoted in the Government’s own ‘Framework for Sexual Health Improvement’.
The proposals come in the same week that one in four young people admitted they'd seen online pornography by the age of 12, according to a survey commissioned by BBC Three.
Of the 1,000 people questioned, 7% were 10 or younger when they first saw internet porn.