Report finds sex education alone is not enough to affect teenage bevaviour

Published: 14 June 2002

This is the conclusion of one of the world's largest studies, led by University of Glasgow researchers, on the impact of sex education delivered by teachers.

Even when sex education programmes are specially designed, well delivered and well received, they do not necessarily override the influence of other social factors which affect decisions 13-15 year olds make about sex. This is the conclusion of one of the world's largest studies on the impact of sex education delivered by teachers.

The results of the Medical Research Council (MRC) SHARE* trial are published in the British Medical Journal this week.

Sex education is part of the school curriculum and teacher-led programmes are considered a practical means of delivery, but the assumption that they reduce risk behaviour had not been widely tested. The researchers found that the specially designed SHARE programme was better received than conventional sex education, it increased knowledge of sexual health and marginally improved relationships.

However, it neither encouraged nor discouraged sexual activity and there was no difference between the SHARE group and the conventional sex education group in sexual activity or risk taking by age 16.

The study was led by Dr Daniel Wight at the MRC's Social and Public Health Sciences Unit based at Glasgow University and involved 25 secondary schools and 5854 pupils who completed an anonymous pre-study questionnaire and follow up.

Pupils on the SHARE programme reported less regret about first intercourse with their most recent partner and felt their practical sexual health knowledge had improved. In comparison with conventional sex education, SHARE was evaluated more positively by the participants.

Further follow up will be needed to assess whether or not SHARE ultimately affects the behaviour and decisions taken about sexual activity by those not sexually active during the course of the programme.

Dr Wight said: "It's encouraging to know for future work that this type of education is acceptable and helpful to pupils. We should now explore how SHARE can be modified to further improve it. "But it also clearly shows we need to develop and assess other methods of helping young people to make responsible individual choices, if affecting behaviour rather than just their knowledge and attitudes, remains a core objective of school-based sex education."

The 20 session SHARE programme was designed and developed with the help of teachers and pupils and combined small group work, games, sexual health information leaflets, skills development through interactive video and role playing as some of the methods to engage the pupils in learning about all aspects of sexual health.

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* SHARE intervention - Sexual Health and Relationships: Safe, Happy and Responsible. More information and background on SHARE can be found at

1. The MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, formerly the MRC Medical Sociology Unit, studies the social causes and consequences of health and illness. Its work focuses on the ways in which social class, gender, age, ethnicity, area of residence and marital status are related to health and illness. The unit is jointly funded by the MRC and the Scottish Office Department of Health.

2. The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a national organisation funded by the UK tax-payer. Its business is medical research aimed at improving human health; everyone stands to benefit from the outputs.

The research it supports and the scientists it trains meet the needs of the health services, the pharmaceutical and other health-related industries and the academic world. MRC has funded work which has led to some of the most significant discoveries and achievements in medicine in the UK. About half of the MRC's expenditure of over ?367 million is invested in its 50 Institutes, Units and Centres, where it employs its own research staff. The remaining half goes in the form of grant support and training awards to individuals and teams in universities and medical schools. Web site at:

First published: 14 June 2002

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