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Sex and Relationships Among Students: Summary Report

  • 29 April 2021
  • By Nick Hillman
  • HEPI number Policy Note 30

The key findings of a poll of students’ personal lives published in Sex and Relationships Among Students: Summary Report (HEPI Policy Note 30) by Nick Hillman, HEPI’s Director, include:

  1. most students (58%) regard making friends as more important than finding sexual partners and just one-in-ten students (10%) expected to have sex during freshers’ week while a similar proportion (9%) did so
  2. only a small minority of students think their prior education prepared them for the reality of sex and relationships in higher education (6% of respondents ‘strongly agree’ and a further 21% ‘slightly agree’)
  3. a majority of students think it should be compulsory to pass a sexual consent assessment before entering higher education (26% ‘strongly agree’ and 32% ‘slightly agree’)
  4. most students (59%) are ‘very confident’ about ‘what constitutes sexual consent’ but only half as many (30%) are ‘very confident’ about how to navigate sexual consent after alcohol has been consumed
  5. two-thirds of students say they know how to challenge inappropriate sexual behaviour (with 23% saying they feel ‘very confident’ in doing so and 43% ‘fairly confident’)
  6. four-in-ten female students (40%) report that their periods may have hampered them in assignments and over one-third (35%) say they have missed an academic appointment due to their periods
  7. around half of students (52%) say their universities provided ‘good messaging about the importance of wellbeing’ during lockdown and nearly as many (48%) say it was ‘easy’ to maintain friendships
  8. only a small proportion of respondents agree their university has told them ‘how to have safe intimate and sexual relations online’ (5% ‘strongly agree’ and 9% ‘slightly agree’ while 45% ‘strongly disagree’ and a further 17% ‘slightly disagree’)

Acknowledgements: Michael Natzler, Policy Officer at HEPI, prepared the survey questions and reviewed the document. He is working on a more detailed analysis of the results, which we plan to make available on the HEPI website. We are grateful to Professor David Evans OBE at the University of Greenwich for input throughout the project. We also thank the many other individuals who provided thoughts on the survey design and results. At the beginning of the process, we learnt much from a survey by the University of Bristol Students’ Union, published as Let’s Talk About Sex (2018), and we are grateful to them for giving us permission to draw upon their work.

The data used for the report are also available below.

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