New research report: ‘How do young people learn about sex?'

Date: 23rd April 2021
Category: Health and health services, UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimin


Sex education relates to gender inequality, as the ways we learn about consent, pleasure and desire can be gendered and adhere to gendered stereotypes. It is for this reason, Zero Tolerance heard from 118 young people aged 18–25, on how they learnt about sex as teenagers.

The data gathered also uncovered what methods young people relied on for this education, and how this consequently informed their attitudes as adults.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Most participants (84%) felt that there were better ways they could have learnt about sex as teenagers.
  • When learning about sex, 36% of participants said they were ‘shown without their asking about it’.
  • Almost all (96%) respondents learnt about ‘penetrative sex’, just over half learnt about ‘non-penetrative sex’, and under 25% learnt about ‘gay’ sex, or ‘lesbian’ sex.
  • Revealing a gender bias when it comes to sexual pleasure - 58% of participants responded learning that ‘sexual desire’ was ‘normal for boys’, as opposed to only 21% who had learnt that this was ‘normal for girls’. Almost twice as many respondents learnt about ‘male masturbation’ (61%) than ‘female masturbation’ (33%).
  • Highlighting the difference LGBT+ participants’ experience of sex education versus heterosexual participants, 54% of LGBT+ participants said learning about sex had made them feel ‘confused’, in comparison to 36% of heterosexual participants.

These results highlight the importance of ensuring young people have access to and receive adequate sex education, which is representative and informative.