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Shh... no talking: LGBT-inclusive Sex and Relationship Education in the UK

Summary of the 2016 report of the Thomas Higgins Trust on the current state of LGBT sex education

Photo of Jonas
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Terrence Higgins Trust launched an online survey on LGBT-inclusive SRE (sex and relationship education) for seven weeks, to coincide with LGBT History Month in February 2016. The survey was open to all young people aged 16-25 – in total 42% of responses were from young people aged 22-25 years old. A total of 914 young people took part in the survey.

Key Insights

  • Young people are not getting LGBT-inclusive SRE, but they want it.
  • Young people were eight times more likely to rate their SRE as ‘excellent’ if it was LGBT-inclusive.
  • Only 5% of young people were taught about LGBT sex and relationships.

How SRE is tought

‘Teachers were too
embarrassed or creepy.’
(Female, bisexual,
22-25 years old)

  • The three topics most frequently covered were reproduction, safe sex and body parts
  • A total of 75% had not learnt about consent.
  • 89% of respondents had not learnt about sex and pleasure.

How SRE should be tought

‘My sixth form had a few
hours where we were able
to question real-life older
couples about sex.
This was hugely valuable,
but they only had
heterosexual couples.’
(Female, heterosexual,
22-25 years old)

  • Lessons in mixed schools that are not segregated by gender.
  • Lessons covering real-life situations
  • An open space to talk about issues around sex and relationships as well as having an anonymous way to ask questions.

The Problem

‘I wasn’t taught anything
about being LGBT+ in school
and this caused me huge
issues with my mental health
all the way through. It wasn’t
until I got to university that
I was able to tackle my fear
of coming out.’
(Female, pansexual,
22-25 years old)

  • one in six LGBT people have experienced homophobic hate crime 
  • nearly half of trans people under 26 have attempted suicide

To omit homosexuality, bisexuality and gender identity from the discussion puts their physical, emotional and mental well being at risk, while reinforcing the marginalized, less-than status of LGBT people. It makes them seem abnormal, both to themselves and to straight classmates. 


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Jonas, love the great summary of this research! I am interested to hear your thoughts on what's preventing teachers from implementing some of these practices currently?

Photo of Jonas

Hello Ashley, glad you liked it!

In a different article that I read about the topic I learned that some teachers are not aware of the legal status of homosexuality in sexual education in the UK.

I quote:
Section 28, the law which made it
illegal for teachers to “promote” or
even talk about homosexuality, was
abolished way back in 2002, so why is
it still taboo 14 years later?
I talked to bisexual Head of PSHRE,
Louise Pope, to find out. “There’s a lot
of teachers out there who are under
the illusion that Section 28’s still a real
thing. That’s dangerous and very worrying,”
she explains. “And many teachers
genuinely feel out of their comfort
zone, which is just a teacher-training
issue. But teachers need to have the
little nudge in the right direction, that,
‘Yes, this is your responsibility. Yes,
you do need to be comfortable talking
about the diversity of sexual expression
in the world’.”

In another research paper about the role of LGBT topics in sex ed in the US, I learned that even though state regulations for sexual education are in place, individual schools violate regulations and do not include sex ed in the curriculum. Although the content of the sex ed curriculum is given by state legislation, the curriculum is more likely to reflect the ideals of the school, the teacher or even an outside group that exerts pressure on the school administration.