Background: Improvement of sex education in schools is a key part of the UK government's strategy to reduce teenage pregnancy in England. We examined the effectiveness of one form of peer-led sex education in a school-based randomised trial of over 8000 pupils.
Methods: 29 schools were randomised to either peer-led sex education (intervention) or to continue their usual teacher-led sex education (control). In intervention schools, peer educators aged 16-17 years delivered three sessions of sex education to 13-14 year-old pupils from the same schools. Primary outcome was unprotected (without condom) first heterosexual intercourse by age 16 years. Analysis was by intention to treat.
Findings: By age 16 years, significantly fewer girls reported intercourse in the peer-led arm than in the control arm, but proportions were similar for boys. The proportions of pupils reporting unprotected first sex did not differ for girls (8.4% intervention vs 8.3% control) or for boys (6.2% vs 4.7%). Stratified estimates of the difference between arms were -0.4% (95% CI -3.7% to 2.8%, p=0.79) for girls and -1.4% (-4.4% to 1.6%, p=0.36) for boys. At follow-up (mean age 16.0 years [SD 0.32]), girls in the intervention arm reported fewer unintended pregnancies, although the difference was borderline (2.3% vs 3.3%, p=0.07). Girls and boys were more satisfied with peer-led than teacher-led sex education, but 57% of girls and 32% of boys wanted sex education in single-sex groups.
Interpretation: Peer-led sex education was effective in some ways, but broader strategies are needed to improve young people's sexual health. The role of single-sex sessions should be investigated further.