The Puberty Issue

1 in 4 girls start their periods before learning about it at school

Media release
Embargoed until: 00:01am Thursday 3rd March 2016

Schools are leaving discussions about puberty too late, say experts, as a survey of young people suggests that nearly a quarter (24%) of girls start having periods before the subject is covered in sex and relationships education classes at school. Almost 15% of young people said they were taught nothing at school about menstruation.

The pattern is repeated for boys with 38% experiencing wet dreams before having learnt about them. Over 50% of young people go through school without this aspect of puberty ever being mentioned.

The results are published by the Sex Education Forum in The Puberty Issue, a resource for teachers that aims to counter a national tendency to leave puberty education to the last minute. The resource shows how teachers can help prepare pupils for puberty by treating the topic as an ongoing conversation, instead of a ‘big talk’. 

The survey of over 2,000 young people aged 11-25 found that nearly a third of young people (30.4%) did not learn all they needed to at school about how their body changes during puberty – this rose to 46% for young people who identify as transgender, non-binary or other genders.

The Puberty Issue provides teachers with ways of introducing puberty in an age-appropriate fashion. It includes features on:

  • The factors that may be contributing to a current increase in early onset puberty in girls.
  • How the adolescent brain develops during puberty.
  • Using art to express the emotional aspect of puberty
  • How a child in every class could start menstruating before leaving primary school, and the practical steps schools can take to support them.

Lucy Emmerson, Coordinator of the Sex Education Forum said:

‘A question at the heart of many children’s feelings about puberty is ‘am I normal?’ and too often this goes unanswered at school and home. Leaving education about puberty too late can cause unnecessary fear and confusion, and is a failure to prepare children for adult life. With spring around the corner, we hope that schools will take the opportunity to talk to children about how things are growing and changing in the world around them, and how puberty is a natural part of life.’

The Puberty Issue is available at www.sexeducationforum.org.uk/resources/sex-educational-supplement.aspx 

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Notes to editors 

For more information or a copy of The Puberty Issue please contact the National Children's Bureau's media office on 0207 843 6045 / 47 or email media@ncb.org.uk. For urgent enquiries out of office hours call 07721 097 033.

About the survey
The Sex Education Forum ran an online survey for 6 weeks, from 2 November 2015 to 10 December 2015.  The survey was open to young people aged 11-25. 69% of responses were from young people aged 13-18 years old. A total of 2,648 young people took part in the survey, but those who had not been to school in England have been removed from the survey data, this leaves 2,326 responses. Because not all respondents completed every question the total number of respondents for each question varies.

Other findings from the survey have been published in the report: ‘Heads or Tails: What young people tell us about sex and relationships education’ availableat www.sexeducationforum.org.uk

About the Sex Education Forum
The Sex Education Forum is the national authority on sex and relationships education (SRE). We believe that good quality SRE is an entitlement for all children and young people and we are working with our core members, who all support statutory SRE and include local authorities, children’s, religious, health and family organisations, to achieve this. The Sex Education Forum is based at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB). For further information visit: www.sexeducationforum.org.uk      

About the National Children's Bureau
The National Children's Bureau (NCB) is a leading charity that for 50 years has been improving the lives of children and young people, especially the most vulnerable. We work with children and for children, to influence government policy, be a strong voice for young people and practitioners, and provide creative solutions on a range of social issues. For more information visit www.ncb.org.uk