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We need sex and relationship education

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sex education, open letter, caroline lucas, parliamentary debate And it must address harmful notions of masculinity and present boys with positive alternatives

Last year a survey of teenagers by the Sex Education Forum found that 48 per cent rated their sex and relationships education (SRE) ‘OK’ and 27 per cent rated it ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.

This year, a Metro report found that more than three quarters of gay and bisexual young people received no support or information at school about same-sex relationships or safe gay sex.

Meanwhile, according to Kat Smithson, policy and campaign manager at the National AIDS Trust, one in three 16-24 year olds do not know enough to prevent HIV transmission during sex, and HIV diagnoses among young gay men have doubled in the past 10 years.

To counter this, a coalition of LGBTI, sexual health and HIV campaigners have come together to write an open letter to the government.

The letter argues for age-appropriate SRE catering to all sexualities to be taught as a compulsory subject in all schools.

Signatories of the letter include Stonewall, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, the Terence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

The editor of QX magazine, Cliff Joannou, who came up with the idea for the coalition letter, said: “It’s shocking that in the 21st century schools are still not required to give children and teenagers the education they need to make informed decisions about their sexual health and relationships.

“In addition, omitting LGBTI relationships from SRE means that too many children and teenagers grow up feeling further alienated by society.”

The open letter comes ahead of a scheduled debate in Parliament next month of the private member’s bill tabled by Green MP Caroline Lucas, which proposes that all schools be legally obliged to provide SRE as part of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education.

Lucas has expressed her support for the SRE campaign, but has argued that schools must go further than teaching inclusive sexual health and issues of consent.

“[PSHE education] needs to go much further too, and include all forms of violence against women – including teenage relationship abuse, forced marriage, FGM, sexual exploitation.” Lucas argued.

“It should also be linked in to work on gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes.

“Work in our schools must allow young people to be more in control of their sexual identity rather than being dictated to by the media or advertising.

“Crucially, it must address harmful notions of masculinity and present boys with positive alternatives.”

The release of the letter also coincides with the launch of the Sex Education Forum’s It’s My Right campaign.

The Sex Education Forum is campaigning for statutory sex and relationships education (SRE) as part of an entitlement to statutory personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.

Labour’s shadow minister for preventing violence against women and girls, Seema Malhotra, agreed that schools have a huge role to play in helping develop healthy attitudes towards sex and relationships which are free of violence and misogyny.

She also argued that we should be providing age-appropriate SRE from as young as Key Stage 1 (5-7 year olds).

“There is a huge issue for young people who are growing up in a much more complex world – online and offline worlds which blend in a way they didn’t when we [previous generations] were growing up,” she explained in an interview with the Guardian.

“I think young people are struggling to make sense of it all.”

However, the issue of compulsory SRE and PSHE in schools has faced opposition in Parliament, including direct opposition from the Department for Education.

If you want to support the It’s My Right campaign, email your local Member of Parliament to ask them to call for their party’s commitment to statutory sex and relationships education.

Or if you are 17 or under, click here to sign our petition for those under 18 years old.

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