Stephen Fry backs our call to revise sex education

No faith school exemptions. Restrict parental opt out


Advise about the risks of sex but also about the benefits & pleasure


London, UK – 8 May 2019

Stephen Fry is backing calls for the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, to undertake a further review and upgrade of relationship and sex education (RSE) in schools ahead of the roll out of mandatory RSE in 2020. The aim of this upgrade is to ensure the sexual and emotional health and happiness of young people.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, the Peter Tatchell Foundation says that political, religious and cultural sensitivities should not be allowed to thwart mandatory age-appropriate RSE in every school, including in faith and independent schools, from the first year of primary education onwards.

The letter is co-signed by five other people, including actor Stephen Fry and four others involved in education and school’s work and draws on their experience listening to pupils and teachers. See their names and titles at the end of this news release.

“We are proposing a restricted parental opt out, the promotion of safer alternatives to intercourse and overcoming sex shame to tackle abuse. As well as warning pupils about the risks of sex, lessons should also inform older pupils about sexual pleasure and how to achieve it for both themselves and a partner, with the aim of helping them secure mutual sexual happiness,” said Peter Tatchell Foundation Director Peter Tatchell.

“Schools should teach that heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are equally valid. We suggest a simple three-point ethical framework for RSE: mutual consent, respect and fulfilment. Our goal is to ensure that pupils leave school emotionally and sexually literate and are able to enjoy fulfilling, caring and enduring relationships,” he said.

Read below the full 15-point proposal to the Education Secretary from the Peter Tatchell Foundation and five co-signatories.

What should schools teach pupils about relationships & sex?

Peter Tatchell Foundation submission on relationship and sex education to the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds:

Dear Damian Hinds,

Ahead of the new relationship and sex education (RSE) guidelines for schools, planned for 2020, and the recent supportive vote by the overwhelming majority of MPs, we urge you to undertake a further review of the content of RSE, in order to ensure the sexual and emotional health and happiness of pupils.

We set out our proposals below for your consideration. The government is already committed to some welcome improvements but these do not go far enough.

The rationale for additional reforms is as follows:

Millions of young people enter adulthood emotionally and sexually illiterate. Many subsequently endure disordered relationships, ranging from unfulfilling to outright abusive.

The result? Much unhappiness – and sometimes mental and physical ill-health.

The lack of effective RSE in many schools is part of the problem. It is sometimes vague and euphemistic, and includes too little detail and not enough explicitness to be of much practical benefit.

A lot of current RSE concentrates on the biological facts of reproduction. Relatively little teaching is actually about sex – or relationships.

It frequently starts too late; after many young people have become sexually active and adopted bad habits such as unsafe sex. And it often does not adequately address issues of consent, grooming, abuse, internet safety, sexting and pornography.

While RSE should not encourage early sex (it is best if young people wait), it should prepare them for a satisfying, safe adult sexual and emotional life.

In the past the UK government’s education regulatory body, Ofsted, has said the amount of time spent on RSE in schools is inadequate and that much of it is poor quality.

Studies have noted that young people often say the relationship and sex education they receive falls far short of what they would like and need.

What, then, needs to change in order to make RSE more effective?

Young people’s health and welfare must take priority over squeamishness and embarrassment about sex. Political, religious and cultural sensitivities cannot be allowed to thwart mandatory age-appropriate RSE in every school, from the first year of primary education onwards.

We agree with the government’s differentiation between RSE at primary level and RSE for secondary pupils.

Broadly speaking, we believe that RSE at primary level should focus on physical changes at puberty, relationships, diverse families and advice about inappropriate touching, grooming and the importance of reporting sex abuse.

Specific sex education should begin from the first year of secondary school and become explicit from the age of 16 – not in order to promote sex, but to ensure happy and safe sexual and emotional relations for those teenagers who become sexually active.

These lessons should not be left to the goodwill of untrained individual school staff. To ensure that RSE is high quality, effective and achieves the desired goals, designated RSE teachers should be appointed in every school and these teachers should receive government-funded specialist training.

Based on listening to young people’s wants and needs, the Peter Tatchell Foundation’s proposals regarding what should be taught in schools, at age-appropriate stages in pupil’s lives, are as follows:

1 Mandatory Lessons In Every School
Sex and relationships are a very important part of most adult’s lives. That’s why education about them should be a mandatory part of the curriculum in every school, including religious schools and schools outside the state sector. The aim should be to prepare young people for adult life by ensuring they are sexually and emotionally literate. RSE lessons should be at least monthly all throughout a child’s school life – not once a term or once a year. And the lessons should be LGBT+ inclusive.

2 Restricted Parental Opt Out
We don’t let parents take their kids out of mathematics or history classes, so why should a parental opt out be permitted for RSE? Removing pupils from such lessons jeopardises their emotional, sexual and physical health.
Parents who want to withdraw their children should be required to come to each lesson and physically remove their child and then bring them back in good time for the next lesson. This way the parental opt out option is retained but the actual opt out rate is likely to be reduced.

3 Education From The First Year Of Primary School
RSE needs to be age-appropriate; starting from the first year of primary school by talking about love and relationships, including different types of families (single parent, extended and same-gender families).
It should also discuss the correct names for body parts, physical changes at puberty – and, to tackle abuse, inappropriate touching and grooming, in order to teach children the differences between caring and exploitative behaviours.
One reason for starting at a young age is that many children now begin puberty between the ages of eight and 12. Long beforehand, they need to know about the physical and hormonal changes they will undergo and the feelings and desires they will develop. Keeping them ignorant threatens their happiness and welfare.
Children of all genders should share RSE lessons and not be segregated, to enable them to learn about each other’s bodies from the start, including boys learning about periods and girls learning about wet dreams.

4 Sex Is Good For You
RSE lessons should acknowledge the risks and dangers of sex, but from the age of 16 should also acknowledge that sex is good for us. It is natural, wholesome, fun and (with safe sex) healthy. Quality sex can have a very beneficial effect on our mental and physical well-being.
Young people have a right to know that sex is not essential for health and happiness. Some people are asexual. They get by without sex and that’s fine. However, pupils should be informed that most people find that regular, fulfilling sex lifts the spirit and enhances lives and relationships.

5 Overcoming Sex Shame To Tackle Abuse
Sexual guilt causes immense human misery – not just frustrated, unhappy sex lives but actual psychological and physical ill-health. It also helps sustain child abuse.
Adults who sexually exploit youngsters often get away with it because the victims feel embarrassed or guilty about sex and are therefore reluctant to report it.
RSE needs to encourage young people to have more open, positive attitudes towards sexual matters and to teach them how to accurately name their body parts, in order to effectively report abuse. Pupils who are knowledgeable about their bodies and feel at ease talking about sex are more likely to disclose abuse.

6 How To Have Sexual Fulfilment
Sexual literacy is important. Good sex isn’t obvious; it has to be learned. In the absence of sufficient practical information from parents and teachers on how to achieve shared sexual pleasure, to get this information many young people are turning to pornography, with its unrealistic and often degrading images.
To ensure happier, more fulfilled relationships in adulthood, RSE for pupils aged 16-plus should include advice on how to achieve mutually-fulfilling, high quality sex; including the emotional and erotic value of foreplay; the multitude of erogenous zones and how to excite them; and methods to achieve pleasure for one’s self and one’s partner. This is particularly important for boys who often know little about female sexual anatomy and how to give a female partner fulfilment.

7 New Ethical Framework: Mutual Consent, Respect & Fulfilment
It is important that RSE acknowledges diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and relationships, while also giving teenagers guidance on their rights and responsibilities – including teaching about consent and abuse issues.
A positive ethical framework can be summed up in three very simple principles: mutual consent, reciprocal respect and shared fulfilment.
The great advantage of these principles is that they apply universally, regardless of whether people are married or single, monogamous or promiscuous or hetero, bisexual, homo, trans or intersex.

8 Promoting Safer Alternatives: Oral Sex & Mutual Masturbation
If schools are serious about cutting the incidence of teen pregnancies, abortions and HIV and other sex infections, they should highlight to pupils aged 16 and older the various safer, healthier alternatives to vaginal and anal intercourse.
Oral sex and mutual masturbation carry no risk of conception and a much lower risk of HIV.
The most effective way to persuade teenagers to switch to these alternatives is by making them look and sound appealing, glamorous and sexy; explaining that they can be sexually fulfilling and emphasising their advantages over intercourse: no worries about unwanted conceptions, reduced HIV risk and no need to use the pill or condoms.
While mutual masturbation is safe, oral sex can transmit sexual infections. Young people should be made aware that oral is safer than intercourse but not risk-free.
Lessons ought to also include the advice that if young people become sexually active it is recommended that that they get vaccinated against HPV and hepatitis.

9 Sexual Rights Are Human Rights
RSE should be based on, and espouse, the principle that it is a fundamental human right to love an adult person of any gender, to engage in any mutually consensual, harmless sexual act with them and to share a happy, healthy sex life. These are the sexual human rights of every person.

10 Hetero, Homo and Bi Are Equally Valid
When based on the three principles of mutual consent, respect and fulfilment between adults, all relationships with persons of any gender are equally morally valid.
While schools should not promote any particular sexual orientation, they should encourage understanding and acceptance of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual and pansexual orientations – and transgender and intersex identities. This is vital to ensure self-acceptance by pupils with such orientations or identities and to help combat prejudice, discrimination, bullying and hate crime.

11 The Right To Sexual Self-Determination
‘It’s my body and my right to control it’ should be promoted in every school to ensure
that young people assert their right to determine what they, and others, do with their
body – including the right to abstain from sex, say ‘no’ to sex and report sexual
This ethos of sexual self-determination is crucial to thwart people who attempt to pressure youngsters into unwanted sex, abusive relationships and risky sex.

12 Live & Let Live
Human sexuality embraces a glorious diversity of emotions and desires. We are all unique, with our own individual tastes. People are emotionally and sexually fulfilled in a huge variety of different ways.
Providing behaviour is consensual, between adults, where no one is harmed and the enjoyment is reciprocal, schools should adopt a non-judgemental ‘live and let live’ attitude.

13 Advice on internet safety
Widespread access to the internet and social media has exposed many young people to pornography, sexting and the risks of grooming, abuse and online harassment. These issues, and how to stay safe online, need to be a cornerstone of RSE lessons, so that teens can be aware of the dangers and protect themselves.

14 Respect For Sexual Diversity
Our desires and temperaments are not the same. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to sex, love and relationships. If they fall within the ethical framework of adult mutual consent, respect and fulfilment, it is not the business of RSE to neglect sexual diversity or to endorse sexual conformity.

15 Give Pupils All The Facts
Sex education from the age of 16 ought to tell the whole truth about every kind of sex and relationship – including sexual practices that some people may find distasteful.
The purpose of such frankness is not to encourage these practices but to help pupils deal with them if they encounter them in later life. This includes advising them of their right to refuse to participate in sexual practices that they dislike or object to.

Over to you, Education Secretary:

Young people are saying they want earlier, more detailed and frank RSE lessons. We need to listen to their concerns and needs, to protect them and their partners. Please ensure that these proposals, deriving from the expressed wishes of present and past pupils for much improved RSE lessons, are a statutory requirement in all schools (including faith and independent schools) and are LGBT+ inclusive.

Thank you.
Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation

Dr Elly Barnes MBE, CEO & Founder, Educate & Celebrate
Stephen Fry Actor, Writer, Comedian
Daniel Hugill, Religious Education specialist
Annette Pryce National Education Union LGBT+ Executive Member
Sue Sanders Professor Emeritus, Harvey Milk Institute, Chair Schools OUT UK