Trained to shoot: the Utah teachers taking up firearms in their classrooms

To fight school shootings, Utah permits educators to carry a handgun at school and many are choosing to arm themselves and are taking combat shooting courses as preparation

Ryan Ferree, 33, is a keen shooter. If he was able to, he would shoot until the 160 -decibel sound of a gunshot didn’t faze him. He would shoot so often that he wouldn’t freeze up if he had to aim at someone he knew.

Ferree wasn’t always interested in firearms. He got his concealed-carry permit in March, after becoming a teacher. Three months later, in June, he’s taking a local combat shooting course offered to teachers in St George, Utah.

Utah is one of 14 US countries where educators can carry a handgun at school. Following the shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, Rowdy’s Range started offering the class- which normally expenses almost $800- free of charge to teachers.

One of the course teachers, Brett Pruitt, 38, believes that teachers have the right to be armed if they prefer:” We devote our children to educators for four to six hours a day and trust them with their safety. My personal opinion is we should give them the means to[ keep those children safe ].”

School principals aren’t allowed to ask educators whether they carry a weapon on premises, so there’s no official figure on how many do, but gun rights groups guess it’s around 1 %. In March, classes were often fully booked, but when I visit, five people turn out in total across two separate 12 -person classes.

‘ Gunfighting 101 for Educator ‘, a course taught by Rowdy Reeve and Brett Pruitt at a gun range in Hurricane, Utah. Photograph: Mikayla Whitmore for the Guardian

Regardless, range owned Rowdy Reeve, 41, insures it as his responsibility to provide the course:” If educators are going to take a weapon into school, they should be trained to use one ,” he says.

Ferree chose he wanted to carry after his first lockdown drill. The drills are designed to prepare teachers and students for an active shooter situation; the students conceal in blind spots in their classrooms while someone pretends to force-out entry. A former military man, Ferree didn’t like having to hide in the corner:” It attains me sick to think that if someone came in and tried to harm my children, I’d be nothing more than a meat shield .”

He is one of the many educators emboldened by President Trump’s proposition that highly trained teachers might be able to stop shootings in their schools. For Ferree, it’s all a matter of practice:” I didn’t know how to teach math before I tried it ,” he says.

Another math teacher, Michelle Oldroyd, 53, rebuffs him:” There are a lot more repercussions for get this wrong, than messing up a math class .”

The repercussions for carrying a weapon can, indeed, be taken seriously. When a Utah teacher, Michelle Montgomery-Ferguson, 39, accidentally shot herself in the leg at Westbrook elementary school in 2014, it didn’t matter that she didn’t remember pulling the trigger. It didn’t even matter that the gun, placed on the toilet paper dispenser in a school bathroom, wasn’t in her hand when it discharged. The mistake was enough for her to be charged with a class B misdemeanor, with the possibility of six months in prison. Montgomery-Ferguson escaped jail hour, but shortly after she was charged, she resigned from the school where she had taught sixth grade for 14 years.

Pruitt and Reeve are ex-law enforcement. During two days on the outdoor range, they indicate teachers how to effectively conceal themselves behind barrels that they pretend are bookcases, and how to dodge gunfire in a hallway. They will practise shooting while sitting behind a desk, and how to quickly draw a weapon and aim in one swift movement.

At hours, it feels like something out of a shoot’ em up video game. The course does not include any de-escalation train or lessons on how to safely store your handgun in the classroom, and there is no discussion of racial biases and how to militate against them.

Ryan Ferree, 33, during a train class for educators. Ferree, who teaches seventh and eighth grade math, said it’s all a matter of practice:’ I didn’t know how to teach math before I tried it .’ Photograph: Mikayla Whitmore for the Guardian

” That stuff’s supposed to come before this class ,” says Pruitt.” If you can resolve the situation any other way,[ you] should. But if a educator objective up in a gunfight, I want them to be able to fight their way out without getting harmed .”

On the car journey back, Reeve asks what I’m planning to write. I tell him about the concerns of some locals: that the existence of the class, whether intentionally or not, could pressure some educators to carry guns when they don’t want to, or pressure them to be heroes when they aren’t trained to.

I also tell him that in Utah, like the rest of the country, it seems like what constructs some communities feel safe against gun violence is exactly what constructs other communities feel unsafe.” I see that ,” says Reeve.

* * *

The idea of training teachers to shoot has been met with mixed reactions across America. The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ foyer, is against it. After the Parkland shooting, 14 states is moving forward bills to allow educators to be armed, but only one of them- Florida- passed the law. Students involved in the nationwide March for Our Lives initiative have expressed concerns about the proposals.

In Utah, at a suicide prevention meeting, many feel a suicide-focused strategy would help deal with school shootings.” Most mass shootings have been driven by suicidal ideation ,” says Craig Bryan, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Utah.

Cathy Barber, another member of the suicide prevention squad and an academic at the Harvard School of Public Health, believes that political polarisation between left and right has fueled an inability to move forward on firearm reform.” Sometimes I feel good-hearted anti-gun groups think agreeing to focus on suicide means they’ve confessed to the handgun hall ,” says Barber.

But while handgun lobbyists in the room are happy to discuss suicide prevention, discussions around police-on-citizen shootings, gang violence and mass shootings seem less welcome.

Catherine Voutaz, a mother who recently lost her 15 -year-old son Chandler to suicide, was surprised and disappointed to discover that Chandler’s school district expended grant money on training for live intruder drills.” Mass shootings make up a tiny proportion of gun demises ,” Voutaz says, outside the session.” Most people don’t even recognise how big a problem suicide is, because of the media focus on school shootings .”

While training teachers to shoot has been one of the more controversial recommendations for solving school firearm violence, it’s not the only option being discussed. Trump’s national school safety commission has been tasked with looking at everything from video games to how journalists encompass mass shootings. Schools across the country are installing facial recognition systems, metal detectors and more police officers in schools.

A newspaper target at the shooting class for educators. Photo: Mikayla Whitmore for the Guardian

The effectiveness of such police officers- called school resource policemen, or SROs- is debated. While Scot Peterson, the police officer at Parkland, became a figure of national hatred and ridicule for not entering the building where Nikolas Cruz was shooting students with an attack rifle, many pointed out there was little he could have done against an AR-1 5.

Justin Chapman, a captain at the Sandy police department in Utah, ran in schools for decades, and now operates a private business develop police to work in schools as SROs.

Chapman avoided his first school shooting 20 years ago, two days into his first role as an SRO, when he found an assault rifle on a student.

He believes developing relationships so students feel comfortable confiding in officers is the most important part of the role:” In many cases where there’s been a school shooting, a student has known[ it was coming] but didn’t feel safe enough to tell anybody ,” Chapman says.

Utah has a fraught history with law enforcement in schools. In 2014, SROs arrested 299 students. While school-related arrests have almost halved since 2012, racial gaps have gone up- Native Americans were 8.8 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested in 2014 and Pacific Islanders were 3.3 times more likely.

Chapman disagrees that SROs are racially biased:” If more Latinos are perpetrating more crimes in a school they’ll get arrested more .”

But the local non-profit Voices for Utah Children, which conducts research on the school-to-prison pipeline, disagrees.” Are non-white kids more violent, or more likely to commit crimes ?” asks policy analyst Anna Thomas.” There’s no data to show that’s true, all that’s shown is that they get caught more .”

* * *

When it comes to solving gun violence, many in Utah believe in putting the very best of the majority first, even if that entails some necessary evils. Anna Thomas believes that’s a problem:” When we’re talking about school security and how to keep children safer, we always have to ask: which children? If it’s always black and brown kids who feel less safe, those solutions are not appropriate for national societies .”

Saida Dahir, 17, is a March for Our Lives coordinator in Salt Lake City. For her, arming teachers and increasing law enforcement in schools will inevitably end up sacrificing the safety of minority students for the peace of mind of their white equivalents. She points out that the existence of these measures doesn’t build everyone feel most secure:” The dread of firearms, and the fear of policemen is in our blood. We watch videos of our communities torn apart by both every day ,” she says.

Dahir is a Somalian refugee who escaped to Kenya with her family as a newborn and came to the US as a three-year-old. She guessed the US was a mythical place of dreams:” I figured, people don’t die here, right? It’s all Hollywood and Disneyland ,” she says.

Today, Dahir receives her schools militarised, her school hallways a danger zone, and her black scalp and hijab an invitation for suspicion and violence. When she first got to the US, her mother, a housemaid, prayed in closets while on the job, for anxiety of being seen.

Like many students of colour in Utah, Dahir says that resource officers tend to treat minority students differently- detecting undue reason to chastise them, or to suspect they are up to no good. She isn’t reassured by the push for more security in schools:” If these rules attain everybody safer, why do I find myself cringing my way through school ?”

Shell casings during the class. Photo: Mikayla Whitmore for the Guardian

If forced to choose, she and some other minority students say they would rather have armed teachers in schools than more law enforcement.

Yet many people do feel safer around more cops, more firearms and less handgun limiteds, and believe the second amendment is intended to help American citizens defend themselves from the threat of tyranny.

In Utah, this is intensified. Many people in the largely Mormon state are shaped by tales of persecution in their family history. They tell narratives of how Mormons were terrorized and chased out of the eastern US and forced to settle in territories that weren’t for the purposes of the control of the US government at the time. Central to this story is how necessary firearms were, and still are, to protect Mormons from a tyrannical government.

Dahir feels that the same rights are not afforded to black people. In May this year, her childhood friend Elijah Smith was shot to death by Salt Lake City police. Smith, who had run away from police who suspected him of stealing a cellphone, was killed while raising his hands to surrender.

His death came months after Patrick Harmon was Tasered and shot to death by police for cycling in Salt Lake City without proper lighting in August 2017. The district attorney’s office initially refused to release footage of the arrest; after public protest, the footage, eventually released in October, indicated a man shot in the back while running away.

” Are these the people that they’re sending to protect us ?” asks Dahir.

* * *

Utah’s school safety commission recently voted for modest handgun reforms such as background checks for secondhand sales and extreme risk protection statutes, which let authorities to seize an individual’s guns if they are judged to pose a risk to themselves or others. But there is still a long way to go in Utah on firearm reform.

When March for Our Lives students marched in Utah, firearm rights proponents organised a March Before Our Lives counter-protest.

The Utah Sports Shooting Council chairman, Clark Aposhian, owned over 300 guns when he was arrested in 2014 after driving a 2.5 -tonne military vehicle on to his ex-wife’s property and allegedly threatening to run over her partner.( Aposhian was fined for disorderly conduct, but domestic violence charges against him were dropped .) After authorities confiscated his guns, Aposhian became a vocal firearm rights activist.

Aposhian, who was on Utah’s school safety commission, is adamant that schools can be made safer without firearm reform:” We need to enforce our the existing laws ,” he says.” Until then don’t start asking for any new laws that are gonna merely curtail me and not the criminals .”

He does accept that there are some limitations:” People who induce poor decisions shouldn’t be allowed to bear arms. For every right comes regulations ,” he says.

Here, he is referencing what he believes is a difference between the way that gun violence manifests itself in different cultures.” White people kill themselves. That’s not the same in African American or Hispanic communities. They’re preying upon one another ,” he says.

For Aposhian, the route that gun violence has to be dealt with is simple: more apprehends. He points out that out of tens of thousands of cases of offenders buying firearms during the Obama administration, merely 44 were ever apprehended.

These communities, says Aposhian, are mainly minority areas- in contrast to the white community, which, he says, has ” very few true firearm incidents; ours are largely related to drugs and alcohol “.

Aposhian doesn’t believe in taking a similarly heavy-handed approach when it is necessary to criminalising people who fail to lock away their guns, however:” I prefer the carrot approach. Let’s give these households some fund to buy a handgun safe, then talk about why they should lock it away .”

Aposhian’s blind spot seems to reflect a broader problem with the US’s gun culture- an inability to see why macho solutions to handgun violence, like arming educators, are experienced differently by people of colour.

When I ask him whether this is unfair, he’s frank in his response:” Well, to be honest, I haven’t thought about that ,” he says.

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Why would you trust a teen to raise a kid, but not to have an abortion? | Jessica Valenti

Laws that restrict adolescents access to abortion services construct no logical sense. Its time to repeal them all

Dealing with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy is a difficult experience for anyone. But for teenagers, who have to juggle increasing, and increasingly complicated, financial and legal barriers to abortion access, difficult becomes nearly impossible. And it shouldnt be.

For instance, 21 countries require parental consent before a adolescent can have an abortion; 13 mandate that at least one parent be notified; and five nations mandate both permission and notification. Nations that require parental notification and permission for a teen to have a child? Zero.

Surely if we believe young people are mature enough to mother or responsible enough to carry a newborn to word and thoughtful enough to induce the decision to set it up for adoption without parental or judicial intervention( though there are five states that require parental participation if a minor puts a child up with a view to its adoption ), they should also have to right to decide whether or not to get a 10 -minute medical procedure.

But lawmakers insist on legislating more and more roadblocks in between a young woman and her ability to choose what the rest of her life will look like.

In Texas, for example, new rules governing judicial bypasses for abortion which allows young people to get permission for an abortion from a magistrate rather than a mother went into effect on January 1. The US supreme court has previously ruled that the judicial bypass procedure must be anonymous and expeditious, but the new law in Texas requires teens to give the judge their names and address, and removed judicial deadlines from the process. That means that an anti-choice magistrate could forgo making a decision whether to allow or prevent a teens abortion as long as necessary to ensure its too late for her to even get one.

Tina Hester, the executive director of Janes Due Process, a Texas nonprofit that offer legal counsel to pregnant teens, said in a statement that judicial bypass protects vulnerable pregnant teens who cannot find or safely turn to a mother, but the legislature and Governor Abbott decided to go after abused and neglected teens by amending this law.

Indeed, multiple studies show that most minors trying abortions do tell their parents, and the individuals who dont want to consult their parents often are in dread of physical harm. Sometimes the teenager is a rape victim; sometimes, its even their parent or guardian who got the adolescent in question pregnant.

When Governor Abbott was set to sign the new rules into consequence last summer, Hester described in the Houston Chronicle some of the young women her organisation has helped: a 17 -year old college student whose mothers had died in a car accident; a minor who dreaded her religion parent would kill her; young women who would be thrown out of their homes should their pregnancies be exposed at all.

Having a process that is speedy, private and reasonable-to-navigate is vital for young people who find themselves pregnant and are already fearful and vulnerable. This is especially true because, as a whole, teenagers are more likely to find out about their pregnancies later on than adults do, and if they are to avoid afterwards abortions which are riskier and more expensive and which nation legislatures often stimulate more difficult to access they need to be able to obtain services quickly.

It is unreasonable and illogical to expect that teens create children or give birth and set them up for adoption but not be given the option to consider abortion. The longing for mothers to be involved in important decisions in their childrens lives is understandable, but parental protectiveness cannot trump a persons right to her own body and her own future.

We should do away with judicial bypasses wholly and let teens decide for themselves whether or not to carry a pregnancy. After all, part of the reason that teens face unwanted pregnancies to begin with is because adults have not served them well: we dont make birth control accessible and affordable enough for young person, and we teach them ridiculous and false ideas about sexuality. It is not a coincidence that states that mandate abstinence-only education are also the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates .

Policies put in place by adults that know little of “peoples lives” do not help young people; allowing them to build informed choices does.

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Facebook and Twitter ‘harm young people’s mental health’

Poll of 14 – to 24 -year-olds depicts Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter increased impressions of inadequacy and anxiety

Four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young peoples mental health, with Instagram the most damaging, according to research by two health organisations.

Instagram has the most negative impact on young peoples mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14 – to 24 -year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young peoples impressions of inadequacy and nervousnes.

The survey, published under Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five merely YouTube was judged to have a positive impact.

The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate children and young peoples body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep both problems and feelings of nervousnes, depression and loneliness, the participants said.

The findings follow growing concern among legislators, health bodies, doctors, charities and mothers about young people suffering damage as a result of sexting, cyberbullying and social media reinforcing impressions of self-loathing and even the risk of them committing suicide.

Its interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it is suggested that they may be driving impressions of inadequacy and nervousnes in young person, said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, which undertook the survey with the Young Health Movement.

She demanded tough various measures to stimulate social media less of a wild west when it is necessary to young peoples mental health and wellbeing. Social media firms should bring in a pop-up image to warn young people that they have been using it a lot, while Instagram and similar platforms should alert users when photographs of people have been digitally manipulated, Cramer said.

The 1,479 young people surveyed was requested to rate potential impacts of the five different forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing, including their effect on sleep, nervousnes, depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, body image and the fear of missing out.

Instagram emerged with the most negative score. It rated poorly for seven members of the 14 measures, particularly an influence on sleep, body image and anxiety of missing out and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. However, young people quoth its upsides too, including self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.

YouTube scored very badly for its impact on sleep but positively in nine of the 14 categories , notably awareness and understanding of other people health experience, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.

However, the leader of the UKs psychiatrists said the findings were too simplistic and unfairly blamed social media for the complex reasons set out above the mental health of so many young person is suffering.

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives .. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media good and bad to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.

Young Minds, the charity which Theresa May visited last week on a campaign stop, backed the call for Instagram and other platforms to take further steps to protect young users.

Tom Madders, its director of campaigns and communications, said: Inspiring young people about heavy usage and signposting to support they may need, on a platform that they identify with, could help many young people.

However, he also advised caution in how content accessed by young people on social media is perceived. Its also important to recognise that simply protecting young people from particular content types can never be the whole solution. We need to support young people so they understand health risks of how they behave online, and are empowered to make sense of and know how to respond to harmful content that slips through filters.

Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can stimulate young users feel worried and insufficient by facilitating hostile commentaries about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending.

May, who has attained childrens mental health one of her priorities, highlighted social medias damaging effects in her shared society speech in January, saying: We know that the use of social media brings additional concerns and challenges. In 2014, simply over one in 10 young person said that they had experienced cyberbullying by phone or over the internet.

In February, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, advised social media and technology firms that they could face sanctions, including through legislation, unless they did more to tackle sexting, cyberbullying and the trolling of young users.

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Five steps to put young people at the heart of development | Carla Kweifio-Okai

Responding to the needs of the worlds 3.5 billion young people will be vital in achieving the global goals. How do we get them more involved in policy-making?

With more than half the global population aged under 30, issues affecting young people are receiving greater attention from policymakers. Tackling high youth unemployment and low school attendance rates, and providing greater access to sexual and reproductive health services, are now top priorities. Leaders are beginning to realise that responding to young peoples needs is the only way to meet the biggest challenges facing the world.

But how involved are young people in the decisions that affect them? We asked campaigners involved with the youth-led NGO Restless Development what needs to be done to bring them closer to the heart of development.

Offer us a seat at the table

Though there are more young people than ever in the world, youth campaigners remain underrepresented in global decision-making. We feel that local and national leaders dont hear us, says Joseph Buyaga, president of Tanzanian NGO Youth Vision Sound. This comes from negative cultural perceptions of young people in society they dont always value our contributions at village meetings, for example.

Amro Hussain

Campaigner Amro Hussain, 25, agrees. I think the main issue facing young people is underrepresentation in the institutions that govern their lives, as this negatively impacts every other issue affecting young people, he says.

Dont make us your tokens

Once there are more young people included in policy talks, what next? Commit to it, says Hussain. Young people need to be offered a genuine opportunity to change the narrative that they are apathetic or incapable, but this requires both meaningful inclusion and time.

Ronagh Craddock

Ronagh Craddock, a youth delegate at the UN summit for sustainable development, says involving young people from the start is the most effective way to ensure their views are included. One of the main challenges, I find, is that young people are often involved by government and development organisations at a late stage to deliver development messages and enthuse the public but we need to be involved from the beginning.

Ani Hao, a 24-year-old researcher based in Rio de Janeiro for the youth-led project Case for Space, agrees that young people are too often add-ons to existing forums or policies: There has been significant tokenism and a lack of real space for young people to truly influence agendas and gain power and autonomy. Still, there is now more awareness and conversation about this.

Fund youth-led, grassroots projects

Ani Hao

The antidote to tokenism, Hao argues, is meeting young people where they are and that means venturing outside the formal NGO sector. Many youth-led civil society organisations around the world, especially in the global south, are informal that is to say, unregistered and there are a variety of reasons for this, Hao says. Many governments actively monitor and crack down on registered civil society organisations, knowing that these organisations represent movements and voices that criticise government activities and often corruption. Other youth activists simply prefer to remain independent and not become NGO-ised, or, in their eyes, increasingly divorced from grassroots activism and the real movements. These youth-led movements simply do not get the attention that they deserve from their own societies, let alone the world. They are starved for funding, capacity-building and networks.

Young men take photos in front of graffiti depicting poverty and homelessness in the Egyptian capital Cairo. Photograph: Amr Dalsh / Reuters/Reuters

Collect data on the issues that affect us

To engage effectively with young people, leaders have to know the issues that affect them most, says Buyaga. He recommends governments recruit young people to collect information in order to fill data gaps about under-30s, helping to inform national development plans in the process. We can collect and analyse the data that is missing on young people, and share this with the big decision-makers, he says.

Buyaga says this is particularly important in countries with hard-to-reach communities, or where young people feel marginalised and misunderstood by their leaders. Young people in Tanzania face various issues like youth unemployment, poor education systems, lack of livelihood or entrepreneurial skills, lack of capital. If given a chance, the young campaigners can improve this. We can provide a voice to government to inform policies that enable young people in Tanzania to participate effectively in the economy.

Teach us what you know

If young people dont know their rights, they cant improve their futures, saysPrince Mthandazo Khumalo, 29, from Zimbabwe. Many young people are still [languishing] in excruciating poverty without job prospects. They still lack the platform to exercise their rights and without that they lack prospects for change.

Young people are keen to learn how to campaign on their own behalf, says campaigner Hussain. States and development organisations need to target the factors that limit youth involvement. They need to empower youth through education, training and the creation of networks. Lots of young people are increasingly involved in development and social change but most are still held at arms length, either left in the dark about their roles as agents of change or limited in those roles due to lack of support.

Primrose Manyalo

Primrose Manyalo, global campaigns coordinator for Restless Developments Youth Power movement, says the perception of young people as leaders is improving, and was evident in recent consultations for the sustainable development goals.

In the spirit of leaving no one behind, she says, there were increased efforts by the UN, governments and civil society to increase young peoples participation in the SDG formulation process compared to the millennium development goals that came before them. Working directly with young people at grassroots, national, regional and global level, I have witnessed how, when young people are given enough capacity, support and trust, they are an unstoppable force for positive change.

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More to be done to help with sexual function as well as advice on STIs and pregnancy, say authors of survey

Large numbers of young people experience sexual problems such as pain or anxiety during sex, the inability to climax and finding intercourse difficult, a study has found.

A third (33.8%) of sexually active teenagers and young men aged 16-21 and 44.4% of sexually active young women the same age experienced at least one problem, which lasted for at least three months, with their ability to enjoy sex in the past year, according to the research.

Experts say the results, from the latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) study of sexual health in Britain, show that young people need help with their sexual function as much as advice on avoiding sexually transmitted infection or unintended pregnancy. They experience problems almost as much as older people, it emerged.

For women, the most common problem was difficulty in reaching climax, which 21.3% of female participants said they experienced. The next most common problems were: lacking enjoyment in sex (9.8%), feeling physical pain as a result of sex (9%), an uncomfortably dry vagina (8.5%), feeling anxious during sex (8%) and no excitement or arousal (8%).

Among men, the biggest difficulty was reaching a climax too quickly, which 13.2% had experienced. Smaller numbers reported difficulty in reaching a climax (8.3%), difficulty getting or keeping an erection (7.8%), lacking enjoyment in sex (5.4%) and feeling anxious (4.8%).

The Natsal surveys, the funders of which include the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health, are seen as the most in-depth portraits of sexual behaviour in Britain. This latest edition has been carried out by academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), University College London and NatCen Social Research. Natsal-3 is based on 1,875 sexually active and 517 sexually inactive men and women aged between 16 and 21.

Our findings show that distressing sexual problems are not only experienced by older people in Britain, said Dr Kirstin Mitchell, the lead author of the study. They are in fact relatively common in early adulthood as well.

If we want to improve sexual wellbeing in the UK population, we need to reach people as they start their sex lives, otherwise a lack of knowledge, anxiety or shame might progress into lifelong sexual difficulties that can be damaging to sexual enjoyment and relationships, she added.

Among the sexually active, 9.1% of young men and 13.4% of young women said that they had felt distressed about a sexual problem that had troubled them for at least three months.

Natsal-3 found some significant differences between men and women in the sexual problems they encountered. Far more women (9.8%) than men (5.4%) lacked enjoyment in sex, felt anxious during sex (8% compared with 4.8% of men) and experienced no excitement or arousal during sex (8% compared with 3.2% of men).

The same stark gender divide was also apparent in those who professed no interest in having sex. One in five (22%) of women said they lacked interest, while far fewer men 10.5% said the same.

Young people are very unlikely to seek professional help for their problem. Although 36.3% of women and 26% of men said they had sought help, this was usually from family, friends, the media or the internet. Just 4% of young men and 8% of young women had turned to an expert such as a GP, psychiatrist or sexual health professional about their sex life.

Prof Kaye Wellings of LSHTM, a co-author, said: UK sex education is often silent on issues of sexual satisfaction, but these are clearly important to young people and should be addressed. Sex education could do much more to debunk myths about sex, discuss pleasure and promote gender equality in relationships.

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