Photographer : ap.
Some (not so) sexy facts
- 30% of Australian teens are not sure if they can contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from oral sex
- 45% of teens are not aware that that they can be infected with Chlamydia but have no symptoms
- 52% of teens think that by using a condom, they won’t contract herpes
- 22% of parents think that their teen is sexually active, but in reality 31% claim to be.
(Source: Marie Stopes International)
What’s the issue?
More than half of young Australians are sexually active by the time they’re 16. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also on the rise amongst young people, as are teen pregnancy and abortion rates. Considering these trends it may come as no surprise that 69% of teens in Australia feel that sex education in schools is not up to scratch.
In Australia, there is no comprehensive sex education syllabus. This means that while there are broad policy statements that set curriculum standards, individual schools are given a lot of freedom to teach whatever they feel is relevant. There is also no requirement for when, and at what age, sex education should begin.
It’s more than just the birds and the bees…
Sex education means a lot more than just explaining where babies come from. It can involve information about safe sex practices, different sorts of STIs, female and male anatomy, and legal issues surrounding consent and abuse. Sex education can also involve a more general discussion about relationships. While sex is a physical act, there are emotional and psychological factors to consider.
Teachers all over Australia are feeling the pressure of having their lessons monitored by the government and the community. Some think that there is not enough time put aside to deal with such an important subject, and others seem relieved to sidestep the issue. Either way – there is no assurance that students will have sufficient sexual knowledge by the time they leave school.
A touchy topic
You may have noticed that sex education is a lot more controversial than other school subjects. The big problem is that there are loads of different opinions about what is appropriate for young people to be learning. Sex is obviously a touchy topic and it is often hard to separate education methods from moral or religious values.
In Western Australia in 2008, parents and community religious leaders were outraged to learn that students as young as 14 were being taught to put condoms onto plastic penises in sex education classrooms. Margery Evans from the Education Department claimed that it was consistent with the department's health and physical education syllabus.
At the other extreme, in 2006, representatives from Muslim schools spoke out against the overwhelming influence of ‘Western’ sexual values. Students in Muslim schools are taught that pre-marital sex and homosexuality are strictly prohibited by Islam. Catholic schools offer similar advice. Condoms, safe sex and STIs are strictly off the agenda because it’s believed that speaking about such issues encourages promiscuity.
Experts in teenage sexual health have expressed concern at this approach. They feel that without a universal sex education policy enforced by state governments, sexual diseases will become even more widespread.
What does the research reveal?
Many people argue that if sex education provides options other than abstinence (not having sex), more young people will become sexually active. Research has shown that assumption may not be as logical as it sounds.
In 2006, Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia (SH&FPA) released a position statement which called for a comprehensive approach to sex education in Australia. They published the following findings about sex education:
Do schools and sex really go together?
- Comprehensive sex education increases knowledge of STIs and reduces vulnerability to abuse
- Learning about sex does not promote earlier sexual activity
- Sex education increases the use of safe sex practices
- Education policies are more effective when they go beyond the promotion of ‘abstinence’.
With such easy access to magazines, books and the internet, is it really necessary to put such an emphasis on sex education in schools? What could you learn from a PE teacher that you couldn’t learn from Girlfriend
magazine in the privacy of your own home?
Apart from the moral objections to a national sex education syllabus, many people also believe that such a personal topic is best left to parents and guardians. Yet while 90% of parents rate themselves approachable on the topic of sex, only 74% of teens agree. It’s also a little unrealistic to expect parents to understand and explain detailed information on sexual health and disease.
With sexual health becoming such a widespread and risky issue, school-based education may be the only way to ensure that sexual education is covering all the essential issues. In the end, the embarrassment of speaking about condoms in classrooms could mean that all Australians stay sexually safe, informed and healthy.
Feel like your school is skipping some of the facts? Check out www.likeitis.org
for some down to earth info.
How do I know this?
Marie Stopes International, ‘Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare’ http://www.mariestopes.com.au/news/136
Milburn, Caroline, ‘Muslim sex education: just say no’, Sydney Morning Herald
, 29 May 2006, http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/muslim-sex-education-just-say-no/2006/05/28/1148754873032.html
Mindel, Adrian and Kippax, Susan, ‘A national sexually transmissible infections strategy: the need for an all-embracing approach’, Medical Journal of Australia
, Vol.183 No.10, 21 November 2005 http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/183_10_211105/
‘Position Statement: Sexual Education’, Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia (April 2006) http://www.fpv.org.au/pdfs/SHFPA%20Position%20Statement%20Sexuality%20Education%202006-04.pdf
Welch, Dylan, ‘Let’s talk about it’, Sydney Morning Herald
, 11 June 2005, http://www.smh.com.au/news/Employment-News/Lets-talk-about-it/2005/06/10/1118347577924.html
‘Stir over sex education in Australia’, The Times of India
, 25 August 2008 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/Stir_over_sex