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We need proper sex and relationships education in schools

Hull North MP Diana Johnson has written the article below, jointly with Helen Jones MP, on the need for compulsory sex and relationships education for young people. It can also be read at


We live in a society where women are increasingly presented as objects, rather than as people to be respected. Pornography is available by pressing a few keys on a computer. Anyone going into a corner shop or a supermarket can see images which objectify women and reduce sex to a mere transaction.

Yet these images present the kind of women our daughters are supposed to aspire to be. It's this view of women our sons are encouraged to see as "normal". Women are presented simply as objects to be used and men are taught that it is acceptable denigrate them.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that, in this climate, violence against women is increasing. Women aged between 15 and 44 are more at risk from domestic violence than from cancer. One in three teenage girls has experienced sexual violence from a boyfriend. One in three 16-18 year olds has experienced "groping" or other unwarranted sexual touching while they are at school.

Sadly, some of our young people are starting to accept this as normal. The recent report from the Office of Children's Commissioner into child sexual exploitation in gangs revealed that abuse was rife and that the majority of victims are women. 65% of the young people questioned for the research knew young women who had been pressurised or coerced into sexual activity. Half spoke of incidents where sex had been used in return for status or protection. Research by London Metropolitan University found that there was some uncertainty amongst the young people interviewed about what is and what is not rape.

The prevalence of violence against women and this latest research ought to shock us out of our complacency. We simply cannot go on shutting our eyes and hoping the problem will solve itself.

As well as tackling violence when it occurs, we must seek to prevent it happening in the first place. Compulsory sex and relationship education in schools is key to this. Unless we teach our children about healthy relationships, respect for one another and the importance of sexual consent, we will not make progress.

Our girls need to grow up confident about their own bodies and secure in their right to make choices. Our boys need to see girls and young women as fully-rounded human beings, not as commodities, and not to confuse masculinity with the use of force.

We cannot understand why the government is so opposed to this. There is already guidance in place recommending schools teach the broader aspects of sex and relationship education and many schools already do so.

Our education system has a vital role to play, especially for those young people who do not receive proper guidance at home.

We do not believe we should neglect our duty to the next generation. We don't want their views on the relationship between men and women to come from violence they see, the pornography they can access or the pressures of their contemporaries. We want to offer them something better. They need to grow up learning about healthy relationships, respect for one another, and the right to set their own boundaries.

That is why we support Labour's amendment to the Children and Families Bill, due to be debated in the Lords on 28 January which would support compulsory sex and relationship education at all stages of education. It would also see statutory guidance updated to reflect the changes the internet and technology have on our behaviour.

We hope many others including women's groups, organisations representing children, the churches and others will join us in our efforts to get this amendment passed into law. You can show your support by signing our petition at:

Our children, the young people being exploited, the many women who have suffered violence, deserve our best efforts.

Diana Johnson is a shadow home office minister and Labour MP for Kingston-upon-Hull North
Helen Jones is a shadow home office minister and Labour MP for Warrington North

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