A study recently published in the BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) provided excellent insight into what teens are looking for when it comes to sex and relationship education.
The study surveyed several thousand men and women aged 16 to 24 and asked them very specific questions about sex and relationship education. The adolescents were asked the following very pertinent questions in the face to face interview: “When you were growing up, in which ways (listed on their survey) did you learn about sexual matters?” “Looking back to the time when you first felt ready to have some sexual experience yourself, is there anything (on this list) you now feel you ought to have known more about?” “How, or from whom, would you have liked to learn more about those sexual matters?”
The study found that the main source of information about sexual matters for both men and women was school. The second main source of information was same age friends. Some participants did say that they received information from a parent, but this was more women than men. Mom was often the source of this information. One concern of both myself and the authors of the study was the use of pornography as a means of sex education. The study found that 23.9% of the men used pornography as a source of sex education while only 2.2% of the women used pornography as a source of information.
What didn’t the kids know about? This is a very interesting question as students in the United States also receive sexual education courses in school. In this study, the majority of the participants thought they needed more information when they were first ready to be sexual. What did they want to know more about? They wanted more information about health risks and psychosexual information. They wanted to know more about STDs and sexual feelings and emotions in relationships. Women wanted to know more about contraception and men wanted to know more about creating sexual satisfaction.
Most of the adolescents stated they wanted more information but the question is, from whom did they want this information? Most participants wanted to know more from the school. However, the second most common source for the wished for knowledge was parents. Women wanted to know more from mom and men wanted to know more from dad.
So what do we learn from this study? The main thing we can learn, and perhaps extrapolate to US adolescents and sex education programs, is that adolescents want more information. We are, perhaps, failing them on multiple levels. School based sexual and relationship education programs need to assess what they are teaching. Are they teaching content to meet the needs of the students? Are we talking about health risk reduction? Are we talking about the effects of pornography? Are we talking about the relational and emotional factors involved with sexuality? If not, then these programs need to be amended to meet the needs of the students.
This study also supports one of my main soap box topics. Parents NEED to talk to their children about sex and sexuality. This information needs to come from both parents, (be that step parents or other care givers). Men (the study did not talk about sexual orientation but used biological gender only) want to get more information about sex from men and women from women. If parents are not meeting this need in their children, they are leaving their children with an unmet need. The children will find a way to meet this need and gather information from peers or pornography.
It is our responsibility to meet these needs in our children!
Reference: Tanton, et al, (2015), Patterns and trends in sources of information about sex among young people in Britain: evidence from three National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. BMJ Open, 5: e0078334.doi:10.1136/bmhopen-2015-007834