Sex and Relationships: What should be taught?

From September 2019, there will be a new Government requirement for schools to teach Relationship and Sex Education. Here are some of our suggestions for what that should include.

Recently, the Government announced that there will be a new requirement, meaning all secondary schools need to teach their students about sex and relationships. Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) will be rolled out to all secondary schools from September 2019, as well as relationship education being taught in all primary schools from the same time.

Before the Government begin to implement this, they are asking for views from the public, and in particular from young people, teachers and parents about what this should include, and how it should be taught. The responses from this consultation will shape the curriculum of RSE, so if you have time, please take a moment to have your say.*

And if you want to know what YoungMinds thinks, we’ve written some of our suggestions below.

*The consultation has now closed. 

Our response

There are five key areas which need to be addressed

The Government announcement to introduce RSE to all secondary schools, and relationship education to all primary schools is very welcome. We know that relationships have a huge impact on someone’s mental health, both in a positive way and, often in the case of unhealthy relationships, with significant negative impacts. That’s why it’s crucial for young people to learn about relationships and sex, and about how that impacts on emotional wellbeing and mental health.

We think that there are five key areas which need to be addressed within RSE, however it’s also important that these lessons are delivered by professionals or teachers who have had some training in mental health, so that they can understand the complexities of mental health and will be able to offer any appropriate support to students.

A focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing

How to identify whether you are in an unhealthy relationship

RSE should include a focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing, and how it's impacted by your relationships.

This should include:

  • Understanding your own mental health and how different relationships affect how you’re feeling
  • Recognising when you’re feeling low
  • Understanding what a healthy and unhealthy relationship is, and how to identify whether you are in an unhealthy relationship
  • Knowing what to do if a romantic relationship or friendship is having a negative impact on your mental health
  • Understanding the emotional and mental health impacts of ending relationships and knowing that feeling low is a normal response
  • Understanding other people’s mental health, and being respectful and supportive of other’s needs

Promote body confidence and self-esteem

Discussing diversity in body size and shape

RSE should promote body confidence and build self-esteem, including gendered pressures or issues around gender identity. 

This should include: 

  • A focus on building a healthy relationship with yourself, and with others around you
  • Educating young people about body positivity, building self-esteem and body confidence and discussing diversity in body size and shape

Educate about sex and pressure

Discussing adverse experiences which may surround sex

RSE should educate young people about sex and the pressures that comes with it, including sexual pressures which arise online. 

This should include: 

  • Different sexual orientations
  • Gendered sexual pressure
  • Adverse experiences which may surround sex and relationships such as sexual harassment or abuse
  • Discussions about pornography and sending/receiving sexual messages online

Teach about online pressures

How to create your own boundaries around social media use

RSE should teach young people about online pressures, and how to have a healthy relationship with the digital world and social media. 

These may include: 

  • Talking to your friends online
  • Staying safe online
  • Cyberbullying
  • How you act online
  • The impact of being online on your mental health, and how to create your own boundaries around social media use

Delivered by professionals

Delivered in a trauma-informed way by professionals

We suggest that the Government ensure RSE is delivered in a trauma-informed way by professionals who have had mental health training, so that young people who may already have had difficult experiences around relationships or sex, such as bereavement or abuse, will feel safe in the classroom and will not be re-traumatised or triggered.

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