THE BLOG

Why the 'Three Rs' Are Vital to Sex Education

22/04/2015 11:46 BST | Updated 21/06/2015 10:59 BST

After almost 50 years in nursing, it still worries me that not enough emphasis is placed on the 'Three Rs' when it comes to sexual health education in Britain.

It seems that we are so keen to teach our young people the mechanics of what is safe and what isn't, that we forget there is so much more they should, and indeed must, know.

Sexual education should be all about the 'Three Rs' - respect, responsibility and relationships. These are more important than ever in today's modern world.

All over the country we are seeing the damage to young people caused by trends such as 'sexting'.

New digital and social media is causing even greater problems for young people, with lurid stories about inappropriate image sharing on mobile phones, and the pressure being put on young people to become sexually active.

I fear that without an emphasis on the 'Three Rs', we will see more and more of our young people finding themselves in worrying and difficult situations.

As a society, I believe we should be doing all we can, not just to teach young people the mechanics of sex, but to help them grow as responsible people, and to make sure they understand the importance of relationships and respect.

As a former specialist nurse in sexual and reproductive health and a visiting speaker at the University of Sunderland, I have seen tremendous strides made in this field over four decades.

We have come a long way since David Steel introduced his Abortion Act to Parliament in 1967. The Pill has also given people freedom and choice that their grandparents could never have imagined.

Sexual wellbeing is now discussed openly and society is much better for it. However, I am increasingly concerned about the future.

There are still many issues and challenges to be tackled, and we don't seem to be making the progress we should.

Chlamydia was rampant in young people at one time and, despite increased awareness and efforts to educate young people, it still is a major problem today.

There is also a worrying lack of research into new methods of contraception.

Contraception is not seen as a political priority. And, the major pharmaceutical companies consider this field of research to be too expensive. So it is just not happening. This puts future generations at risk.

We cannot afford to ignore sexual health just because it's not important politically, or seems expensive to the drug companies.

Similarly, when it comes to nursing we have also made great strides. When I started out in the profession, half a century ago, nurses were restricted to basic caring duties.

Today, they have been given opportunities to become specialists, or consultants in their own right.

This is a great success for the NHS, and an example I will be highlighting tonight to an audience of health professionals at the University of Sunderland. However, I am now worried that training for new student nurses is not hands-on enough, and that they are not learning enough 'on the job'.

Everything now seems to be taught using video links, and there is a heavy emphasis on online resources. But, you don't learn to develop a patient-nurse relationship on a screen.

These relationships are key to the successful implementation of sexual health education based on the 'Three Rs'. It's well known that young people can feel awkward discussing sexual health, and so it's vital that nurses can approach the subject in a supportive and engaging way.

I think it would be good to get back to basics with training, but I wonder whether you can turn the clock back?