There is no question that teens are becoming sexually active at a younger age.
With 27.4% of year 10 students and 56.1% of year 12 students reporting participating in sexual intercourse. This has called for an increase in sexual health education for young people but why aren’t we seeing this in our schools?
Whilst some people may imply that teaching sexual education at a younger age may encourage an unhealthy curiosity about sex, there is actually no evidence to suggest this. Dr Ollis, professor of education at Deakin University says, “in actual fact, what a number of studies shows is that by providing comprehensive sexuality education, young people actually delay the onset of sexual activity.”
Countries like the US which advocate abstinence programs actually has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world; by comparison countries like Holland and France which teach comprehensive sex education in schools have some of the lowest teen pregnancy rates.
Dr Ollis says the key is starting sexuality education at a young age, children should be taught the correct names of their genitalia and be taught about public and private behaviours. It is important to let children be curious and answer their questions without judgement.
Not only is there a lack of education about the physical side of sexual activity but the emotional side too. Whilst the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy is important, young people also need to feel comfortable with their sexuality and understand healthy sexual relationships.
WHO states that young people need access to specific sexual education in order to care for their own sexual health.
This includes the ability to;
Make sound decisions about relationships and sexual intercourse and stand up for these decisions
Deal with pressures for unwanted sex or drug use
Recognise a situation which may turn risky or violent
Know how and where to ask for help and support
Know how to negotiate protected sex and other forms of safe sex when ready for sexual relationships
Whilst the Australian schooling system generally supports these principles, research suggest that they are not being taught to students consistently.
Education for same sex students is often neglected and these students are more likely to report engaging in more risky sexual activity. Credible sources like teachers and parents are often not accessible for same-sex attracted young people, forcing them to rely on less dependable sources like the internet. When students were asked how relevant their school sexual education was, 41.2% said ‘somewhat relevant’, 16.8% said extremely relevant and 7.2% said they had not received any sexual education. One student said “the information that they gave us sounds good in theory, but in reality, it’s not at all realistic.”
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There is also major concern over the lack of sexual education in religious schools and often the contraceptive advice is abstinence. According to the science and health syllabi of the NSW study board, there is no requirement to teach sex education in Catholic schools. Many students in religious schools are taught that marriage is the only context where sex is appropriate whilst many teens will sexually experiment in their teens.
Dr David Rhodes, a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Edith Cowan University says, “I think that Australia is far too conservative in our approach, and that we start sex education too late. We should be introducing it early in primary school and we shouldn’t be shying away from sex education, sexuality, gender and healthy relationships.”
Sexual education is often taught by poorly trained, heterosexual and embarrassed teachers which reduces their ability to improve students sexual health knowledge. Experts state that sex education should be sex positive and delivered by experts who maintain clear boundaries with the students. Sexual education is often taught in the same manner as other classes which can make students feel vulnerable with boys fearing judgement about sexual ignorance and girls fear sexual harassment if they participate. This leaves students in an uncomfortable situation, making it difficult for them to get the most out of their sexual education.
Here are 7 things that should be taught in sexual education but isn’t
1. Gender does not determine who you’re attracted to
2. LGBT+ terminology
3. Asexuality is a thing!
4. Sex is more than penetration
5. You should talk about sex with your transgender partner
6. Condoms are key to preventing STIs
7. Consent is Non-negotiable
Read more about these topics here.
Research conducted in 2016 reports that students wanted more than ‘a biology lesson’ from their sexual education. UniSa’s Emeritus Professor Bruce Johnson says, “students were interested in more than the biology of sex or the usual run down on safe sex practices; they wanted to know about love, starting a relationship, gender diversity, breaking up, violence in relationships, sexual pleasure and range of other topics.” Young people should be more involved in their education and should be given the opportunity to ask about what they feel they need to know.
Australian schools are falling short when it comes to educating our young people and giving them the proper resources to understand and care for their own sexual health. Whilst the internet can offer some education, this is unreliable, and the wrong information can be dangerous. We need to encourage positive sex talk for young people both in schools and at home.
Elephant ed is a great resource for educating young people about sex, find more information here.