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Students turn to porn to fill the gaps in their sex education

Thursday 29 January 2015 Welfare and Student Rights

In a NUS survey, students agree that porn is a standard part of a young person’s life. The results reinforce our call for statutory Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) as part of our New Deal general election manifesto. 90 per cent of the 2,500 respondents, who are now in university, echo the call.

A mere third of students feel they could practically apply their SRE lesson to real life, with the same amount admitting their SRE did not help their confidence.

Instead, 60 per cent of students use porn to find out more about sex. 40 per cent cited porn as helping their understanding about sex, but overall almost three quarters agreed it provided unrealistic expectations.

Real life is absent in the classroom too. SRE is treated as a science lesson with puberty (87 per cent), contraception (87 per cent), sexual health (82 per cent), bodies and anatomy (75 per cent) listed as the top topics covered.

Consent was never touched upon for two thirds, with relationships covered for less than half, and not even a fifth discussed LGBT in SRE. Unsurprisingly more than a third felt their SRE did not rate positively on equality and diversity.

NUS Vice President Colum McGuire said:

“We now urge all political parties to commit to statutory SRE in their general election manifestos, and accept that simple biology just won’t cut it. Sex is not a science lesson. People are being left with gaps in their education.

“Inadequate SRE puts young people at risk. I find it alarming that sexual partners are listed as a top SRE source by our respondents. Consider this in light of the fact that consent was never even raised for two thirds of respondents.

“SRE is failing millions. NUS runs consent workshops on campuses across the country, covering a vital aspect of SRE that this government misses. The current system almost completely ignores LGBT relationships. In a country where we passed an equal marriage bill, this is the height of hypocrisy.”

Students are having to look outside the education system to find any information that will help them learn more about SRE in real life. The Student Room alone has hundreds of comments from students who've sources information, tips and guidance from books, porn sites, or the website itself.

Director of Community Jack Wallington at The Student Room said:

“These findings from NUS mirror the thousands of comments we hear from young people on The Student Room everyday: that the UK’s sex and relationships programmes are patchy at best.

“Students regularly report a general lack of practical advice, and worryingly, inadequate or incorrect information about sexuality, contraception and STIs - leaving a black hole of questions filled by friends and websites.

“We’d like to see greater standardisation in our sex and relationships education programmes, which directly address the needs of young people instead of leaving them to hunt for pieces of the puzzle themselves.”

Jane Lees, Chair Sex Education Forum said:

 “Consent and relationship safety are real issues affecting students and sadly they are leaving school with little or no discussion on these topics.  These survey findings hand young people the loudspeaker in calling for statutory sex and relationships education.”

The Education Select Committee will publish its findings on SRE in schools imminently, with the Conservatives yet to announce their position. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats Labour are committed to introducing compulsory SRE.

Statutory status would allow SRE to be treated as other subjects – with teachers getting the training they need, and enough time being allocated in school time-tables for the subject to address real life issues including - respectful relationships consent and LGBT.

Today’s call for statutory SRE coincides with our day of action encouraging students to campaign on youth issues across their campuses and in their communities.