Debate to focus on teaching of sexual abstinence

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TEACHING abstinence in schools increases the risks of young people having unprotected sex and makes them more reluctant to seek advice or treatment, according to experts in Yorkshire.

Sheffield Hallam University is organising a one day event in the city to debate abstinence education as part of this year’s Economic and Social Research Council Festival of Social Science.

Julia Hirst, from the Public Health Hub at Sheffield Hallam, said: “We hope to bring together politicians, teachers, youth workers, young people and their parents to discuss the re-emergence in our society of views promoting abstinence education in schools and youth settings.”

Organisers say the evidence fails to support the view that teaching abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.

Steve Slack, the director of the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV in Sheffield, said: “Extensive research undertaken in the United States points to negative outcomes associated with abstinence education including increased risks of unprotected sex and more reluctance to seek advice or treatment related to sexual health and relationship matters.”

Dr Hirst also said there was 
evidence that access to comprehensive “sex and relationship education” (SRE) can help to increase the age of a first sexual encounter.

She added: “By widening understanding of safer sexual practices and equipping young people with the skills and confidence to protect their sexual and emotional health reduces the risk of unprotected sex, unwanted sex, unwanted pregnancies, and STIs.

“Comprehensive SRE also includes strategies for young people who want support in abstaining from sexual activity.”

Mr Slack added: “Our discussions with young people consistently suggest that while there are pockets of good practice in terms of SRE in the UK, sex education overall is too little and too late and often fails to address young people’s expressed needs for across-the-board sex and relationships education.

“If we look to countries with the lowest rates of unwanted pregnancy and STIs, the least relationship abuse and more attention paid to relationships, for example, the Netherlands or Sweden; these are the countries which have age-appropriate SRE embedded in their curriculum.”

The event takes place on Monday at the Creative Lounge.