MORE than a quarter of Scottish secondary school pupils believe that saying no to sex does not always mean no, according to a major survey of teenagers’ attitudes.
A study of more than 1,000 pupils in S3-S6 found that 27 per cent believe that when a girl refuses consent she does not always mean it.
The survey also found that a third of teenagers do not know about the dangers of sharing needles and almost 20 per cent do not realise that using a condom can help them avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The findings were published by the Scottish Government after it surveyed teenagers about their knowledge of sexual health.
The results show that while sex education in schools is reaching the majority, many are still ignorant of the health risks associated with drug use and unprotected intercourse.
The children were questioned as part of the Ipsos Mori Young People Omnibus Survey, which saw questionnaires handed out at 59 secondary schools across Scotland.
While more than 80 per cent of children recalled being taught about the risks of illegal drugs, contraception and avoiding STIs, just over two-thirds recalled being taught a “few” or “many” times about how to say no to sex and how to avoid catching HIV. Just over four in ten (42 per cent) recalled being taught about how to avoid Hepatitis C.
When presented with the statement “When a girl says no to sex, she always means no”, 73 per cent of pupils said it was definitely or probably true.
Just over half (55 per cent) said they agreed that when a boy says no to sex, he always means no.
When asked whether it was difficult for girls to say no to sex or any other sexual activity, 43 per cent agreed.
The survey also found that 89 per cent agreed that a person could change their mind about having sex at any time, even if they had previously consented.
Heather Coady, head of children’s policy at Scottish Women’s Aid, said the survey’s findings were worrying.
“This speaks volumes about attitudes towards sex that are played out day in, day out, and which normalise all kinds of unwanted sexual behaviour,” she said.
“The shocking thing is that having to put up with unwanted sex is seen as normal for girls, and for boys believing no really does mean yes, which can legitimise a whole raft of behaviour.
“It is one of the most prevalent rape myths – the belief that a woman was ‘asking for it’ and no really meant yes. We need to ask ourselves as a society why our young people take these messages on and start to address that.”
Laura Tomson, senior development officer at Zero Tolerance, said the charity’s own soon-to-be-published research showed that sex education in schools was failing to keep pace with the amount of information available about sex elsewhere.
“Our research with over 270 young people across Scotland found that they are heavily impacted by the way that pornography and popular culture show women as objects and ‘real’ men as sexually predatory,” she said.
“At the same time, many do not feel that school-based sex education is delivering the information they need and are instead turning to friends, sexual partners and pornography to learn about sex.
“In this environment it is worrying but not surprising that so many young people do not understand the importance of obtaining consent or think that ‘no’ can sometimes mean ‘yes’. We need to start listening to young people and addressing the issues that are important to them if we are to enable them to have healthy, respectful relationships.”
Zero Tolerance, which hopes to publish its own report in the coming weeks, said its research conducted with 14 to 19-year-olds showed many children were frustrated that sex education in school failed to cover issues other than pregnancy.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This report highlights current levels of knowledge and understanding amongst pupils, and while there are areas where further work is needed in general, we are reassured by the level of recall of teaching on sexual health.
“Our Sexual Health and BBV Framework recognises the importance of evidence-informed Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education (RSHPE) and education about blood-borne viruses is included in this.
“RSHPE is an integral part of the health and wellbeing area of the curriculum in Scotland. The curriculum is not statutory and it is for local authorities and schools to decide how to deliver the curriculum based on local needs and circumstances.
“However, we are specific about the need for children and young people to gain knowledge appropriate to their age and stage of education.
“This aspect of the curriculum is intended to enable children and young people to build positive relationships as they grow older and should present facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and an awareness of the law on sexual behaviour.”