The Change in Relationships and Sex Education

Posted on September 20, 2018 by Gareth Cheesman

As you may have experienced, young people often want to talk about relationships, they are disproportionately more likely to be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection and, sadly, many believe that the adults in their life either don’t understand or aren’t willing to have conversations about these issues. As a community, we need to get better at talking about sex and relationships; the government is currently consulting on how it plans to make relationships and sex education (RSE) a compulsory subject across England. Now is the perfect time for Christian youth practitioners to navigate the changes to the curriculum and get equipped to tackle this issue with the young people they work with.

Not only do young people today need to negotiate the ‘age old’ ups and downs of puberty, they also now face levels of mass and social media never before experienced by a generation. The media is shouting its version of what relationships and sex should be like directly to young people. Yet many parents, teachers, youth workers and schools workers do not feel able to talk about these issues with young people.

Young people can sense that what the media is saying doesn’t add up, that it’s not the full story, and, when they try to live up to media’s image of good sex and relationships, they regularly feel unsatisfied, let down and hurt. Young people need to learn accurate biological facts about their bodies, reproductive and sexual health to protect themselves from risks but more often they are asking about relationships. How can they make and maintain relationships that will last? Relationships that build them up instead of pulling them down? Too many young people in school today have already suffered through an unhealthy or abusive relationship. They deserve better.


The curriculum

The change in the UK law from the Children’s and Social Work Act 2017 means that, for the first time, relationships and health education will be compulsory subjects for all children and young people in primary and secondary schools in England, with sex education also being compulsory in secondary. The government is currently consulting on what this will look like: the final guidance will be published by this time next year and all schools (local authority, academies and independent) will need to be following these guidelines from September 2020. The next two years is a once in a generation opportunity for schools workers to start supporting their local schools around this topic. Patterns of partnership between schools and outside speakers established in the next 12-24 months may persist for years to come.

The last few decades have seen huge changes in the topics young people need to hear about. 30 years ago, no one would have believed that we would need to be teaching children why it is a bad idea to create illegal, sexually explicit images of their classmates, yet sexting is now an essential topic for young people to learn about. The new statutory status of RSE will kick start the next few decades of change that we are just starting to see on the horizon.

On Friday the 5th of October, acet UK is hosting a special conference looking at “The future of RSE: The next 30 years”. Joining us, we have a variety of speakers including Rachel Gardener from Youthscape talking about how churches need to wake up to the reality of the world young people are living in. We will be discussing the future of STI’s, biotech, robots, changing social norms, urban gangs, genitals and self esteem, the future shape of romance and how to do ourselves out of a job! Find out more at

For those of us whose own sex education was at best patchy, this can mean first admitting we don’t know enough ourselves. Nothing beats high quality training but the first steps we can all take might be reading up on the topic (there are some links at the bottom of the post) or putting aside an afternoon to binge on the vast array of sex education vloggers on YouTube.

Young people have a range of questions they are waiting to ask. We can start equipping ourselves with the knowledge to answer what they are asking, and during a conversation with young people it is always ok to admit we don’t know something ourselves. Young people benefit from seeing adult role models admitting it is ok not to know everything, and we all need to be open to learn more.

Answering biological questions without embarrassment or flinching increases our credibility to speak with authority on emotional and social issues. God created us to connect with people in a variety of ways: emotionally, physically and spiritually. Sometimes, people try to separate these elements out into neat separate sections but that falls short of reality. Questions about how to ask someone out can blend into questions about kissing, erections, vaginal lubrication and sending nude photos.

Real relationships can be messy and young people are searching for the adult in their life who can help them makes sense of all these issues. Let’s be that adult to young people.


What’s out there?

To tackle these topics in a classroom setting, it is important to get trained in a programme such as our Esteem programme (, the excellent Romance academy ( or one of the other high-quality providers. But outside of a formal classroom, we can equip ourselves to talk more about these topics with young people. In lunch clubs, prayer space events, youth clubs and mentoring programmes we can start to prepare ourselves to have these conversations.

If you’re looking for a good read around this subject Youthscape has “A Parents Guide To Talking With Your Teenager About Sex” and Rachel Gardner has written a helpful guide for Christian young people, the “Dating Dilemma”. If you want to double check your facts and figures around RSE, Acet UK has also written a reference guide to help get you started

Do get in touch if you have any questions and we hope to see you soon!

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