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Sexuality Education - What young people think

Friday, August 1, 2014


As a young person – what do you think about sexuality education?

Sexuality education is a topic that’s often in the media. It seems everyone has an opinion about it.

But one group we don’t really hear from is you – young people who have recently had sexuality education in New Zealand schools.

We asked some of your peers who’ve recently left school about what they learned in their sexuality education lessons. Now they have some real life experience behind them, we also asked them what they wished they learned.

Tell us more about pregnancy

You say

“I think they should go into pregnancy a bit more. They don’t generally give you much info about where to go, what to do and what your options are if you do get pregnant.”

Woman, 21 years.

We say

Schools make decisions about what programmes and lessons they will teach to meet the curriculum. This means that some schools go into more or less detail about different topics.

Young people can also go to a Family Planning Clinic for advice about an unplanned pregnancy.

Anyone (New Zealand Resident) who has a positive pregnancy test will not be charged for their visit to any of our clinics.

We also have a lot of information on our website about where to go and what to do if someone is facing an unplanned pregnancy.

We have recently introduced a workshop for teachers called Teaching about the A Word. This is a one-day workshop to help teachers clarify their own values and to give them skills to teach about topics such as abortion. This course helps teachers teach young people in their sexuality education classes.

It was all about anonymous questions

You say

“Sex ed was not about discussion, it was about listening to what the teacher read to you from a powerpoint, maybe answering a few questions because you have to, but other than that not much interaction.

If we had questions, we wrote them down and put them in a box for the teacher to read out and answer, all anonymous, which suggested to us that it shouldn’t be something we feel comfortable talking about with an adult. All taboo and secretive.

I think the teachers wanted us to think they thought that none of us were sexually active. Also of note, only heterosexual sex was ever discussed. I hope this isn’t the way of 2014!”

Woman, 25 years.

We say

Good sexuality education uses a range of teaching techniques which involve interaction with the young people in the class. This starts with what young people want to learn about.

A key part of sexuality education, both in school and at home, is making discussions about sexuality and relationships a normal part of conversation.

Group discussions, scenarios and practicing skills encourage young people to think about situations they might find themselves in and to think about things from other people’s point of view.

Many of the resources we develop for schools to use as part of their sexuality education programmes use these tools.

Being horny

You say

“I think a lot of young guys just don’t know what to do with themselves when they’re horny.

Masturbation isn’t really talked about in sex ed, and I think there’s just this assumption that young guys will “deal with it” by going out and having sex….

I think some guys are willing to disregard the fact that a partner is drunk because they think that having sex is just what men do when they’re aroused, like they can’t be expected to control themselves.

I really think young guys need to be told that being horny is a normal part of life, it happens to everybody, and it’s not a licence to act irresponsibly. You’re not “thinking with your other head” – you’re in control.”

Man, 24 years.

We say

We agree that society is wrongly portraying young men when we suggest they can’t control themselves or their sexual behaviour.

Consent is a really important message for young men and young women to learn. Consent is enthusiastically saying and showing “Yes”.

Masturbation is normal and healthy for everyone, regardless of sex or gender.

Where’s the emotional safety?

You say

“I definitely agree that the “emotional safety” aspects of sex are neglected in most sex ed (not just in religious schools from what I’ve heard).

It seems like the idea of sex as something that all parties should enthusiastically consent to gets lost in amongst all the scary STI/pregnancy stuff.

People might have been told that “no means no” but there’s not a whole lot of “yes means yes” and most 16-year-olds have no idea what the hell to do with a maybe, whether it’s from themselves or others.”

Woman, 23

We say

Consent is an incredibly important part of sexuality education. This includes talking about giving and getting consent which means showing you are saying “Yes” both verbally and physically.

And, through the teacher training we’re doing, we hope learning about consent will become an even bigger part of sexuality education in schools.

Orientation and Identity

You say

“Bisexuality and homosexuality just coz a lot of people don’t know about the psychological reasons for it (some men were born in women’s bodies etc) and ways around problems to do with puberty (guys getting boners in public, how to control it and periods).

And also porn. I watched that documentary about how porn is majorly affecting a whole generation of mainly teenage boys. The puberty stuff in third or fourth form while it’s actually happening and the rest probably not until seventh form.”

Woman, 24 years.

We say

Good sexuality education includes teaching about sexual orientation, sexual identity and gender identity.

We have a course for teachers and a teaching resource called Affirming Diversity. This course helps teachers understand these topics and include it in their sexuality education classes.

We’ve recently developed a resource for teachers to help them to talk about pornography with young people. It starts with being able to understand the media and working out what’s reality and what’s not. Learning about respectful behaviour and relationships, and consent is really important.

Research shows that it’s effective to learn about sexual relationships and activities BEFORE someone begins a sexual relationship. But it’s a lifelong thing, and learning more at different ages and stages is important too.

Male v Female

You say

“A lot of sex ed at schools is largely geared towards avoiding pregnancy, which results in an automatic heteronormative stance in education. I feel that sexuality and gender identity could be more widely discussed and catered to.

Also, there seems to be a large disparity in what girls and boys are taught in school. Young women get given a wider education with a more in depth understanding of anatomy and contraceptives than young men, who from my experience are taught the basics of wearing a condom and avoiding STIs but little else.

At my intermediate we were separated by gender as well, which felt unnecessary and only contributed to this difference in education. It puts an unfair pressure on the woman in the relation to be knowledgeable (and given how little power women may have in sexual relationships, can cause this knowledge to be ignored), and removes a certain amount of safety and agency from men in sexual relationships.”

Woman, 18 years.

We say

Good quality sexuality education is way more than biology. We prefer all schools to teach comprehensive sexuality education. This includes

  • exploring attitudes and values
  • relationships
  • communication
  • identity
  • gender and gender roles
  • responsibilities
  • understanding differences
  • the emotional and spiritual aspects of sexuality. 

It also includes the physical elements such as anatomy and physiology, reproduction and contraception.

Comprehensive sexuality education includes looking at our attitudes and values and our knowledge and skills - such as the way we make decisions, communicate and negotiate with others and how we resist pressure. These are really important as young people grow up.

We know it can be difficult for schools to cover a broad range of sexuality education themes because it is hard to fit everything into the school timetable. However we encourage schools to teach comprehensive programmes to both boys and girls.

Ensure young people get the best possible sexuality education

Thank you to the young people who shared their thoughts with us. It was a great chance to explain our point of view and to show that through our resources, our work with schools and with teachers, we are working hard to ensure that you – our young people – are getting the best possible sexuality education.

Thanks to Stephanie St George for her assistance with writing this feature.

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