Given the lack of quality sex and relationship education in British schools, and that sexual and reproductive health has traditionally been seen as the domain of females, it’s no wonder that the UK has the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in Western Europe.
But hopefully this could be about to change after the government’s recent announcement that all schools in England will make sex and relationships education compulsory. But it isn’t just children in school who need to know how to put a condom on – or that, yes, you can get pregnant the first time you have sex.
There are around 1,000 children at any one time in youth custody – and they too need to know the birds from the bees. It doesn’t sound like one of the easiest jobs in the world does it? Teach sex and relationship education (SRE) to young men in youth custody – cue laughter, heckling and inappropriate gags.
But putting the laughter and jokes aside, these young men are arguably some of the most damaged in Britain. Most have experienced chaotic lifestyles and lack positive male role models – or anyone to look up to in terms of attitudes and behaviours towards women, sex, contraception and parenting. And, because of this, these boys are often ill-equipped to deal with adult life and what lies ahead of them – making sex and relationship education exactly the sort of knowledge that young offenders need to be equipped with.
Thinking about the consequences
Focusing on the needs of our most marginalised young men is a powerful way of addressing these imbalances. Helping these young men to maintain healthy relationships, as well as good health and well-being, can help them break the intergenerational transmission of health inequalities.
Prompting these men to think more about their roles and responsibilities in avoiding unintended pregnancy and STIs – and reproduction and parenting – are elements that have often been missing from their lives.
The college is the first in the UK to transition to “secure school” status in April 2015. This has required a major rethink of the role of punishment and prison in young people’s lives. Changes have included health behaviours, employability skills and a new educational curriculum provided in-house by Belfast Metropolitan College being placed firmly at the heart of rehabilitation.
Sex and relationships education is seen as part of this rehabilitation process. And the programme we used to help deliver this is called If I were Jack. It is an intervention which uses films to encourage discussion on issues related to unintended pregnancy from a young man’s perspective. “Jack” has been piloted in Northern Ireland schools and found to be effective at helping young people think for themselves about how to avoid an unintended pregnancy.
During the programme we focused on relationships as a way to get these young men thinking about their social “connectedness” and the impact of their behaviours and the choices they make – not only on their own health and well-being but on that of their children, partners, families and society at large.
Overall, the majority of the young men gained a better understanding of the impact of their behaviour. And many self-referred to additional support services offered at the college, including bereavement and drugs counselling. Here are some of the things they said about their experiences of the course:
I learned new things and thought about things I never had before like what I would do if that happened to me.
It made you think more about understanding the girl’s point of view and how it (having a baby) affects your life.
Very useful because it’s good to talk about these kind of things and hear other people’s views, it gives insight.
During our programme many of the staff at the college told us how many of the boys had never heard this sort of thing before. One staff member explained how:
It would be great to see more of this work that is challenging those gender stereotypes across the board because even an awful lot of crime is very gender based isn’t it?
A recent criminal justice inspection report on Hydebank Wood college has already found a dramatic improvement since the previous inspection in 2013. The change in status was welcomed, student engagement was described as “outstanding” and relationships between staff and students – as the inmates are now known – had significantly improved.
The English government is also planning to launch two new secure schools in the future, after seeing the good work at Hydebank.
Universities and health-care providers all now need to ask what they can do to advance this project and help young prisoners turn their lives around. Because the experience at Hydebank has shown that partnering with external organisations to support learning and skills development can be very useful.
Whether this reduces the likelihood of re-offending remains to be seen – but the improvements at Hydebank, since transforming to “secure school” status, demonstrates what can be achieved when reform and rehabilitation are encouraged.
About The Author
Michelle Templeton, Research Fellow in Nursing and Midwifery, Queen's University Belfast
It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends (The Family Library)
- Michael Emberley
Young children are curious about almost everything, especially their bodies. And young children are not afraid to ask questions. What makes me a girl? What makes me a boy? Why are some parts of girls' and boys' bodies the same and why are some parts different? How was I made? Where do babies come from? Is it true that a stork brings babies to mommies and daddies?
IT'S NOT THE STORK! helps answer these endless and perfectly normal questions that preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary school children ask about how they began. Through lively, comfortable language and sensitive, engaging artwork, Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley address readers in a reassuring way, mindful of a child's healthy desire for straightforward information. Two irresistible cartoon characters, a curious bird and a squeamish bee, provide comic relief and give voice to the full range of emotions and reactions children may experience while learning about their amazing bodies. Vetted and approved by science, health, and child development experts, the information is up-to-date, age-appropriate, and scientifically accurate, and always aimed at helping kids feel proud, knowledgeable, and comfortable about their own bodies, about how they were born, and about the family they are part of.
Back matter includes an index.
Studio: Althea Press
Label: Althea Press
Publisher: Althea Press
Manufacturer: Althea Press
A contemporary guide to sex education that answers the most pressing questions teens and young adults have about dating, relationships, consent, and sexual safety.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to sex education―anatomy, communication, safety, and more. In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Jennifer Lang delivers a frank, compassionate, and evidence-based guide to healthy sexual relationships, focusing on the crucial role of consent in sex education.
A board-certified OB-GYN, Dr. Lang breaks down confusing concepts into factual and clear guidance. She outlines not only what consent looks and sounds like, but the importance of recognizing when a person has the capacity to give consent, and when they don’t. Written for all teens, and inclusive of all sexual identities and orientations, Consent is a reference guide to healthy sexual expression and relationships.
This book’s approach to sex education covers:
- An overview of human sexuality including what sex is and how it feels, separating sex education fact from fiction.
- A discussion about relationships & dating and the various forms they take during adolescence, including some of the most common scenarios and healthy ways of handling them.
- Tools for communicating and understanding consent, as well as critical information about the capacity to give consent, the language surrounding it, and what constitutes abuse and assault.
The way that teens think and talk about sex today has changed. Sex education needs to change, too. Teens and young adults will find the sex education information they need to make empowered choices about their bodies, their desires, and their boundaries in Consent. You’ll never think of sex education in the same way again.
- Barron s Educational Series
Brand: Barron s Educational Series
Studio: B.E.S. Publishing
Label: B.E.S. Publishing
Publisher: B.E.S. Publishing
Manufacturer: B.E.S. Publishing