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MPs warn schools sex education curriculum is failing children

Ministers have claimed that more young people are turning to social media to learn about sexual health due to an ‘absence of authoritative advice’ in schools.

Amidst soaring rates of STIs, a new report from the Women and Equalities Committee has warned that sexual health curriculums need to improve in schools to stop children seeking help on social media.

man holding red condom packs

The report said: ‘In schools, there is compelling evidence that relationships and sex education (RSE) is failing young people.

‘In the absence of authoritative advice, young people are learning about sex and sexual health from online sources, social media, and pornography. This exposes children to an unacceptable risk of harm.’

Within the report, the committee draw upon the latest figures on STIs in England in which they describe them as a ‘red flag’. The data shows that, overall, there were 392,453 diagnoses of new STIs in the country during 2022 – more than 1,000 every day and an increase of 23.8% compared to 2021.

Breaking this huge number down, figures show:

  • Gonorrhoea diagnoses rose to 82,592 in 2022 – the highest number of diagnoses in any one year since records began in 1918
  • Infectious syphilis diagnoses increased to 8,692 in 2022, the largest annual number since 1948
  • There were 199,233 cases of chlamydia diagnosed in 2022, a 24% rise from the previous year. Around a third of these were among people aged 15-24

Against this backdrop, the committee have called on the government to ‘radically increase’ funding for sexual health services, as well as urging schools to update their sexual health curriculums. 

Caroline Nokes MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said: ‘Sexual health services are at breaking point. They are underfunded and in many cases unable to provide the services their local area needs.

‘The 2022 data on STIs is a red flag and should encourage everyone to do better. It is not sustainable and an obvious false economy to substantially reduce funding for sexual health services during a period of increasing demand upon them.

‘There is also compelling evidence that RSE in schools is inadequate, including in relation to contraception and STIs, with nearly half of children saying education in this area is so poor they rely on finding information for themselves online. This exposes children to an unacceptable risk of harm.’

MPs said that ministers need to launch a public information campaign on safe sex – with a particular focus on STI prevention among young people. 

It also called on the government to do more to increase uptake of the vaccine against HPV (human papillomavirus).

Commenting on the report, David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board said: ‘The government needs to ensure sexual health funding is increased to levels which matches increases in demand for services.’

Image: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

More on this topic:

LGA warns sexual health services are at breaking point due to rising demand

Survey finds many patients prefer virtual doctors when discussing sexual health

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