Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctors and teachers receive new guidance on the internet’s effect on young people’s sex lives and relationships

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 06 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1926

Re: Doctors and teachers receive new guidance on the internet’s effect on young people’s sex lives and relationships

Arie quite rightly draws attention to new guidance that aims to help tackle the challenging issues of: teenage conceptions, sexually transmitted infections, sexual exploitation, domestic violence and bullying (1). Some of these issues were also highlighted in the chief medical officer’s report “Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays” (2). One of Sally Davies’ solutions was that there needs to be an improvement in personal, social and health education, especially sex education (2).

We welcome and endorse this new guidance, though disappointed that sex education remains a non-statutory part of the curriculum for schools in England. It should be noted that recent evidence from inspectors found that sex and relationships education (SRE) required improvement in over a third of schools, and that some young people were being left unprepared for the physical and emotional changes they were going to experience (3). Moreover, young people have expressed concern that they are unhappy with the amount and quality of SRE taught in schools (4,5).

Three important principles of high quality sex and relationships education are: it is both medically and factually correct and treats sex as a normal part of life; is a partnership between home and school; and, it is taught by people who are trained and confident in talking about issues (6). We believe if it is done well it will promote young people’s health and wellbeing, and, if it is linked to accessible contraception and sexual health advice it will have an impact on both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates.

Crucially the guidance covers the fast changing areas of technology and social media (6). Guidance and links to further resources on internet safety, “sexting” and pornography are all included. This is particularly important as a research report commissioned by the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England found that: a significant number of children access pornography and that it influences children’s attitudes towards relationships and sex (7).

In conclusion, 'Sex and Relationships Education for the 21st Century' is an significant step forward, however we are disappointed that this advice supplements rather than replaces the existing statutory guidance to schools published in 2000, which is generally no longer fit for purpose. It really is time that the Government undertook a full of review of SRE and published new statutory guidance.

1) Arie S. BMJ 2014;348:g1926

2) Department of Health. Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer, 2012, Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays. London: Department of Health 2013

3) Ofsted. Not yet good enough: personal, social, health and economic education in schools. 1 May 2013.

4) National Children’s Bureau. Children and Young People’s views on health and health services. NCB. 2005.

5) Formby E. Sex and relationships education, sexual health, and lesbian, gay and bisexual sexual cultures: Views from young people. Sex Education: Sexuality, society and learning. 2011;11(3):255–66.

6) Brook, PSHE Association, Sex Education Forum. Sex and relationships education (SRE) for the 21st century, 2014.

7) Horvath, M.A.H., Alys, L., Massey, K., Pina, A., Scally, M. & Adler, J. "Basically... porn is everywhere": A rapid evidence assessment on the effects that access and exposure to pornography has on children and young people. London: Office for the Children's Commissioner, 2013.

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 March 2014
Michael C. Watson
Associate Professor in Public Health.
Dr John Lloyd (President Institute of Health Promotion and Education).
University of Nottingham, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
D86, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham. NG7 2HA