Majority of students want peers to pass sexual consent test before freshers’ week, survey suggests

Fewer than a third of students report being offered sexual health and consent education at university, but the majority said they would like this to be provided

A majority of undergraduates think all students should have to pass an assessment “to show that they fully understand sexual consent” before freshers’ week, a Youthsight survey suggests. 

The survey found that 58% agree with mandatory consent assessments, including 26% who strongly agree: just 20% said they disagreed with the premise. A similar proportion (51%) agreed that relationships and sex education should be compulsory during the university induction period – compared to 21% who did not – and nearly half (46%) think sex and relationship education should continue throughout university.

The finding came from a survey of students’ views and experiences of sex and relationships commissioned by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), which concluded its findings, “suggest students are less hedonistic than is sometimes supposed”. 

The survey of undergraduates, carried out last summer, suggested 43% had not had sex before going to university – and 25% had never “intimately kissed” anyone. Two-thirds (66%) of males and 52% of females claim not to have had sex during their undergraduate years. Nearly six in 10 say it was more important to make friends rather than to “find people to have sex with” when first going to university.

Youthsight polled more than 1,000 students last August – but the report’s release today comes after the Everyone’s Invited website published the testimonies of thousands of victims of assault, harassment and rape. The site lists incidences at 111 HE institutions in the UK, including dozens of anonymised accounts of higher education students who were the victims of abuse alleged to have taken place on university premises, privately-owned halls of residence and in nightclubs. Universities UK – the collective voice of 140 HEIs – acknowledged that the Everyone’s Invited testimonies showed “there is a long way to go in ending harassment” in higher education. The Office for Students has instructed universities in England to urgently review “by this summer” how they handle complaints of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment

As universities look to end sexual harassment, the Hepi report says its survey implies “there is considerable scope for additional support on perhaps the most personal and important issues of all” for the students of tomorrow. 

Sexual health and education

The survey suggests universities could do more to help students locate sexual health support: 57% said they had not received clear education on the availability of sexual health services while at university. Just under half said they knew where to access HIV and STI testing and get free condoms. 

The poll indicates that although many students believe there should be opportunities to learn about sex and relationships while at university (67%), far fewer report being offered workshops, talks or clinics (30%). 

Schools could do more to prepare students for adult relationships, poll findings indicate. Few students (27%) report that pre-18 education “prepared me for sex and relationships” – and as many students reported learning as much about sex from pornography as they did from formal education.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) statutory guidance on relationships sex education in England states: “We are clear that parents and carers are the prime educators for children on many of these matters.” Despite this, only a third of students think their parents or guardians played a significant role in their education about relationships. 

Attitudes on sex, relationships, hookups and pornography

Although many students surveyed want their peers to undergo sexual consent assessment, most were confident they understood and could identify what constituted harassment, sexual pressure, and consent. Nine in 10 said they knew what constitutes consent – and knew “how not to put pressure on others”. More than eight in 10 said they knew what constitutes sexual assault, harassment, and violence. 

The responses suggest that the majority are also confident they know how to recognise an unsafe relationship (78%) and how to intervene (66%). There was near-unanimous agreement among respondents – 87% – that alcohol and drugs “can lead to risky sexual behaviour” and seven in 10 said they could “navigate” sexual consent under the influence of alcohol. 

Respondents also provided their views on gender roles, stereotypes, pornography and risk-taking. There was a clear view that pornography does not represent accurate sexual behaviour (78%) and impacts wellbeing, mental health, sex and relationships (63%). The majority disagree that it is harmless to stereotype others (70%) or support “rigid gender norms” (52%).

On sexual encounters, 21% of students had used an app or website to meet partners for casual sex, though this figure was slightly higher among female respondents. Just 19% had had more than five sexual partners while at university – the majority (52%) had had no more than one sexual partner. A third of all students – and four in ten female students – reported being in a relationship. When they 

With incidences of so-called ‘revenge porn’ reportedly on the rise, the sharing of nude images is fairly commonplace among students, the survey suggests. Four in ten students shared nude photographs of themselves over the internet – and this figure was higher among female respondents. 

Read more: Book extract – Addressing Student Sexual Violence in Higher Education: A Good Practice Guide

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