Relationships and Sex in young people into 2020

A report about a million young people aged 12-15

Nick Opie, Jim Podbery, Angela Balding and David Regis

SHEU 2020

Summary (edited)

  • This report summarises recent findings from large opportunity samples of secondary-aged young people surveyed in schools from local authorities across England between 1985 and 2019.

A press release is linked at the end of this document, as is the whole report..

Headlines

Sexual health information sources

  • 27% of pupils say that their main source of sex information is their parents; 34% say it's their school. 19% of Year 10 pupils say it is visitors in school lessons.
  • 38% of 7,539 pupils aged 12-15 in 2017-2019 said that parents should be their main source of sex information (Y8: 42%; Year 10: 33%; M: 35%; F: 41%) while 28% said school.

Sexual health knowledge

  • Just 84% of 24,549 Year 10 students 2017-19 say they have ever heard of gonorrhoea (39% in Y8).
  • 67% of all 14-15 yo 2017-19 (N=20,607) say that condoms can be relied upon to prevent pregnancy (M: 70%; F: 64%); the figure for 12-13yo is 54%
  • 63% of all 14-15 yo 2017-19 (N=20,428) say that the Pill can be relied upon to prevent pregnancy (M: 60%; F: 67%); the figure for 12-13yo is 34%.
  • 70% of 36,584 Year 10 students (aged 14-15yo) think that condoms are reliable to prevent infections like HIV/AIDS (48% of Y8).

Sexual health services

  • Just 23% of 20,007 Year 10 students know of a sexual health/advice service for young people available local to them (9% of Y8).
  • 58% of 40,902 Year 10 students aged 14-15yo said they knew where to get free condoms (36% of Y8).

    Sexual activity

  • Just under 14% of 23,746 14-15 year-old students in 2017-2019 reported that they have had sex.

    Dating relationships

  • 31% of 47,392 Year 10 students aged 14-15yo report that they have ever experienced at least one of a number of controlling, bullying or aggressive behaviours from a boyfriend or girlfriend (5% from their current partner).

    Worries

  • 26% of 53,682 Year 10 students (aged 14-15yo) say they worry quite a lot or a lot about their friends (13% of males and 33% of females). The figure for Y8 students (12-13yo) is 23%.
  • Useful sex education lessons
  • 43% of 32,537 Year 10 students (aged 14-15y) reported that they had had useful lessons about sex and related topics at school (40% of Y8 students).

    Domestic violence

  • 5% of all 31,369 students in the sample report ever experiencing physical aggression at home between adults or adults and children. 1-2% say they experience this at least weekly.

    Self-efficacy

  • 66% of 34,756 students aged 12-15y say that they can usually or always say no, if a friend asks them to do something that they don't want to do.

Summary of headlines and group differences

  • We can see that students from vulnerable groups were rather more likely to report having sex, but this was also often associated with better sexual health knowledge and awareness of local services. Worse knowledge was found with higher rates of sexual activity among students in residential care and those with low self-esteem.
  • Vulnerable groups were also more likely to report worry about friends, intimate partner aggression, domestic violence and lower confidence in refusal.

Comparing sexually active and inactive Year 10s

  • The minority of year 10 students (14-15yo) who report sexual activity are more likely to show better sexual health awareness and knowledge than their peers.

Relationships between RSE and other lifestyle topics

  • Students in Year 10 (14-15yo) who report having had sex, or domestic or partner aggression/violence, were likely to show significantly higher rates for several criteria that show additional vulnerability, such as being a young carer, or reporting health-risky behaviour, like use of drugs.
  • Students who report good sexual health knowledge and awareness of services are more likely to report planning to continue in full-time education and are more likely to report being in a single-parent family.

Trends

  • There was a gradual decline in the proportion of young people who said that parents were their main source of sex information from 1997-2009; figures from the last decade are generally about the same level or lower, but samples have been smaller and more variable. It will be interesting to see if the most recent figures are a blip or the start of a trend.
  • There was a gradual complementary increase in the proportion of young people who said that teachers/lessons were their main source of sex information from 1997-2012; figures from the last few years are rather lower, but samples have been smaller and more variable.
  • There was a gradual increase in the proportion of young people who said that parents should be their main source of sex information from 1985-2012; figures from the last two decades are generally about the same level or higher, but samples have been smaller and more variable.
  • There was a sharp rise in the proportion of young people who said that teachers/school lessons should be their main source of sex information from 1992 which soon settled at a new higher level; figures from the last two decades are generally about the same level, but samples have been smaller and more variable.
  • Awareness of gonorrhoea is much higher among Year 10 students than in Y8; it rose to a peak in about 2,010 which has been fairly stable since.
  • Understanding that HIV/AIDS can be treated but not cured has declined throughout since 2000.
  • Confidence that condoms are reliable to stop pregnancy has declined since 2014.
  • Confidence that The Pill is reliable to stop pregnancy has declined since 2010.
  • Confidence that condoms can prevent infections has mostly been stable over the last two decades.
  • Awareness of a local sexual health/advice services for young people has greatly declined since its high pint in around 2003.
  • Awareness of a source of free condoms reached a peak in the 2000s; we have no explanation for the short dip and recovery during this high period. Figures for the last decade are lower and have been in decline.
  • Reports of sexual activity among Year 10 students has been fairly stable in the last decade, at something over 10%. This figure is consistent with retrospective studies of adults.
  • We have only a few years' figures for aggression/controlling by an intimate partner, but findings for the most recent surveys are among the highest we have seen, so we have no evidence that rates are declining.
  • Worrying about friends was steady for many years, but for the last decade has fluctuated around a higher level. In alternate years, we have a large sample from an area which regularly reports high levels of concern about friends, and then one from an area where concern is low; minor changes in wording may have had a larger influence than we hoped. We suspect that the peaks and troughs are both drifting upwards, and can confirm this using a two-year smoothing of the figures:
  • Figures for 'useful school lessons about sex' have dropped since we started recording in 1999, when figures for all groups were around 50%, and in some areas are among the lowest we have recorded (as low as 30% in 2018).
  • Figures for confidence in saying no rose markedly for the first years of the millennium, but have been quite steady for the second decade, at least until the last couple of years.
  • Figures for shouting between adults at home have been steady during the last decade.
  • Figures for hitting or pushing between adults at home have been steady during the last decade.

Conclusions

  • Sexual health knowledge and awareness of sexual health services among Year 10 students is fair but not great.
  • Sexual health knowledge and awareness of sexual health services among Year 10 students is in decline.
  • Risky behaviours like tobacco and drug use may be associated with higher rates of sexual activity.
  • Vulnerable groups often report higher rates of sexual activity: children in residential care in particular.
  • Groups of students with higher rates of sexual activity are often more aware of sexual health services and sexually active students show better sexual health knowledge than average.
  • Some groups of young people show higher rates of sexual activity with poorer understanding of contraception and sexually transmitted infections; they may show other vulnerabilities, like higher rates of domestic violence in their homes.

Discussion

  • The overall impressions we have is a decline in young people's understanding and awareness of sexual health services and sexual health knowledge. We have no evidence about the causes of this decline, but it may be because of poorer provision associated with 'austerity' cuts and a diversion of schools' attention from PSHE. In this regard, the new guidelines for relationships, health and sex education due to be implemented in Autumn 2020 are very much to be welcomed.
  • It can be argued that imperfect sexual health knowledge is not important among young people who are not having sex; we can see that sexual health knowledge is better but not by much among those who are having sex and we also believe that an amount of sexual activity among young people is not planned.

    Attachments

    :

    PRESS SUMMARY: http://sheu.org.uk/x/pdf/RSE2020info.pdf

    FULL REPORT: http://sheu.org.uk/x/pdf/RSE2020b.pdf