A new pilot sex education program to help young people, parents and teachers have better conversations about relationships, sex education, and pornography has been designed by the University of Surrey and the University of Bedfordshire.
The program is designed to challenge the harmful sexualized behaviors and cultures in schools. It aims to enable young people to see sexual development and safe, responsible and ethical sexual citizenship as a life-long journey.
The approach brings young people more fully into the conversation, aligning with the best practice for relationships and sex education (RSE) courses in schools.
The program offers a model for how to engage with young people and is run in collaboration with schoolteachers, leaders, and parents; providing an approach which could be used by schools to address pornography specifically and sex and relationships more broadly.
Addressing pornography in isolation will not solve the challenges faced by young people. Instead, we need to look at the entire ecosystem of sex, relationships and sexual development. Young people are learning from family, peers, school and the increasingly complex world of digital media. We need to talk with young people about their understandings of sex and relationships - body image, consent, social norms and stereotypes that surround sex and relationships."
Dr Emily Setty, co-lead of the program, University of Surrey
Jonny Hunt, Lecturer in Applied Social Sciences with the University of Bedfordshire and co-lead of the program, said:
"There are widespread concerns about the impact pornography may have on the attitudes and behaviors of young people, predominately the fear that young people are learning more about sex and relationships from pornography, rather than from safe adults. This coupled with concerns around online misogyny promoted by influencers such as Andrew Tate.
"Essentially, we are making room for young people to discuss the issues that matter to them. Our curriculum is designed to help young people to critically engage with questions around where their information, attitudes and values regarding sex and relationships comes from; to challenge gendered social scripts and focus on the development of critical life skills - or sexual citizenship."
The new approach was piloted in May 2023 and ran in partnership with the independent Kew House School in West London. The course took the form of ten hours of student sessions (with Year 9 and 10 students), four hours of teacher training; and dedicated parent sessions to include them in the conversation. Another pilot course was conducted at Priestlands Secondary School in Southampton.