The Timeline: Sex education


1870s: Social purity

The social purity movement led to a wider crusade aimed at the moral regeneration of British society, which included the belief that it was necessary for parents, rather than schools, to give children healthy and moral information about sex.



1890: The birds and bees

Geddes and Thomson's The Evolution of Sex was an important work in providing ways of talking about "the birds and the bees". It approached the topic of sexual reproduction via forms of life remote from humans, in- cluding amoebas, plants, insects and animals before finally moving on to human beings.



1910s: Enter the speakers

From 1913 to 1916 a Royal Commission heard evidence that the solution to the UK's huge VD problem was sex education. The National Council for Combating Venereal Diseases organised courses for teachers, parents and youth workers and visiting speakers for schools.



1940s: Laissez-faire lessons

The 1944 Education Act gave lip-service to the need for sex education in schools. However, it was an extremely laissez-faire situation, with individual schools being allowed to choose how they wanted to approach the subject, and there was little government support.



1970s: Post-sexual revolution

School sex education was beginning to change significantly, largely in response to the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Biology textbooks started to provide fuller accounts of human reproductive systems, while methods of contraception began to be taught widely. Birth control was incorporated into NHS provisions and began to be included in sex education.



2010: Compulsory plans fail

Plans for compulsory sex ed classes (which included contraception, abortion and homosexuality) in schools were dropped by Labour before the election after being blocked by the Tories. The move was welcomed by faith groups, who wanted the choice to opt out.



2011: Modern sex ed hits TV

Channel 4 brought a modern take on sex education to the small screen with The Joy Of Teen Sex. The programme reached millions of teens and their parents but was criticised by a coalition of sexual health practioners for "portraying inaccurate or outdated and misleading representations of sex education".

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