Relationships, sex and health education must better serve young people

24 November 2023

Girlguiding is urging the government to listen to young people to ensure Relationships, Sex and Health education (RSHE) meets their needs, after new research found compulsory RSHE lessons don’t always provide pupils with answers to their questions, leaving them lost or seeking information elsewhere. 

The research consisting of over 1000 young people, found less than a quarter (23%) of 11-13 year olds get answers to questions they have around sex and relationships from RSHE classes at school. This percentage falls further as they grow older into their teens to 19% aged 14-17 years. 

Worryingly, the research also revealed 30% of 11-13 year olds don’t know where to go when they have questions, whilst 12% of 11- 13 year olds look for answers by searching on the internet. The number of young people turning to the internet more than doubles with age to 31% aged between 14-17 years old..  

For all students across all ages (11-17 years): 

  • 37% ask their friends sex and relationship questions
  • 27% ask their parents/caregivers sex and relationship questions
  • One in five (19%) turn to social media to find answers to sex and relationship questions
  • One in ten (9%) seek informative websites to answer sex and relationship questions, with boys twice as likely to do this than girls (12% compared to 6%). 

The new research follows the charity’s annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey which found 23% of girls aged 7-21 said they don’t learn about healthy relationships at school, and 34% don’t learn about harmful attitudes towards women and girls.   

The 2023 Girls’ Attitudes Survey also found that:  

  • Almost 3 in 5 girls aged 13-21 worry about being sexually harassed at school, in public or online (59%) 
  • At school, 69% of girls said boys have made comments about girls and women that they would describe as ‘toxic’ 
  • More than two in five girls (44%) revealed boys at their school have made comments about girls and women that have made them feel scared for their safety 

Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November 2023) and the anticipated RSHE guidance due for public consultation, Girlguiding is urging the government to listen to young people’s voices and ensure high quality RSHE to meet students’ needs. The charity hopes this will ensure better education for young people about consent, healthy relationships, and sexual harassment in a safe space.  

Angela Salt, CEO of Girlguiding said: “It’s crucial that young people can learn about important issues like consent and healthy relationships in a safe environment, free from potential misinformation or harmful content.  

“Access to high quality sex and relationships education in schools has a key role to play in tacking violence against women and girls. We urge the Government to consider young people’s views to ensure the education they receive meets their needs.”  

Ellan, 26, Girlguiding advocate said:  “It’s disappointing to learn that for the majority of young people RSHE is not providing answers to their questions around relationships and sex. 

“By turning to internet searches and social media, young people might be exposed to misinformation or potentially harmful and dangerous content. Young people need access to accurate information about consent, sex and healthy relationships in a safe space, schools should and can provide this.”  

Through the organisation's core programme, which includes activities around consent and healthy relationships*, Girlguiding consistently continues to provide a safe space to support girls and young women to explore these issues.