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September 25, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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Let’s talk about the the clusterfuck that is The Sexual Education Curriculum

Last year, I spent three days with over 300 sexual health clinicians, educators and big players in reproductive health, and it wasn’t until halfway through the last day that I heard someone say “We need to be teaching our young people to have good sex. Are we telling them sex should be fun?”

Sex education needs to start early in order to be effective. How early? Early childhood education. I am talking about encouraging our children to be self-aware, respectful of themselves of others, and to learn that sex is about feeling nice with someone you like, but that it’s for older people. The key is that they learn that sex is meant to be good and fun. Not shameful and bad. It’s also important that children know their bodies are their own.

The primary school sex education curriculum needs to be about the fact that humans are often sexually interested beings from pretty early on. They need to know that the sex they are having with themselves is normal and fun, but that it’s personal to them. They should know what consent is, how to make decisions around sexual activity when they feel ready, what ‘ready’ and ‘age appropriate’ means, and how to communicate around this.

There was clitorally curious 12-year-old in the news recently. He had heard about clitorises and he understood that it made ladies feel nice. He wanted to make his girlfriend feel nice. And he wanted to check that that’s okay. That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in a long time and I want to throttle the Herald for admonishing this poor kid for his natural curiosity.

Should two 12-year-olds be touching each other’s genitals? Well, a surprising amount of them are having intercourse. If we can encourage these kids to potentially plateau at mutual fun-touching, then that’s a really good thing. Rather than accepting—but also ignoring—the quintessential hand shoved down someone else’s jeans at a third-form dance, then deciding that maybe the other gender is gross, before getting drunk on scrumpy at someone’s party a month later and deciding to do it, can we just stop for a second and celebrate this beautiful 12-year-old?

Being given a condom and encouraged to try it on a banana or a wooden penis—and please, let’s all just cringe at the casual racism with the villainous, gross “big black [wooden] penis” described by a horrified mother in the media recently—is not going to suddenly make your 13-year-old decide to have sex. They probably want to have sex. And if they want to have sex, they’re going to have sex. So you better hope that Mrs Palmer in Health Sci gave them a lecture about using condoms. Saying that sex education increases young people having sex is like blaming umbrellas for rain.

If you have any doubt about that, look at the proudly abstinence-only education state of Texas and their unfathomably huge unplanned teen pregnancy rate. Then take a look at the Netherlands, which has some of the best sex education in the world, starting very young and making contraception and reproductive health choices taboo-free and easily accessible to all. They have one of the lowest unplanned pregnancy rates in the world.

To complement the potential for great, age-appropriate self-awareness based sex education in primary school, the secondary school curriculum should go further than that just safe sex. In year 9 young people should start talking about sexual and gender identities and getting to know themselves and what floats their boats. They should be talking about negotiating relationships, communicating what they enjoy and what they don’t enjoy, and what the difference between love and control is. They should feel confident in knowing what to do if they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship. They should discuss how to avoid ‘grey areas’ of consent. They should learn about the mixed messages in the media around sexuality, and they should be able to recognise the harmful beliefs those messages come from.

These conversations shouldn’t stop at year 10. Don’t pretend that parents are going to jump at the idea of having these conversations at home, or that groups of 14-year-olds themselves, who are exposed to the bullshit ‘1782 tips to please your man’ and “Gz up hoes down” culture are going to take it upon themselves to discuss what confuses them about sexual expectations.

We need to change out education legislation to require schools, all schools (because little Timmy at Saint Sacred Heart of the Angels in the Divine Family is still going to fuck Dylan from up the road) to teach not just the mechanics, not just safe sex, but the intricacies, preferences, conversations and joys of sexuality and gender. We need to start young, in an age-appropriate and open way. We need to accept that children of many ages and stages are having sex, and we need to encourage them to do it in a healthy, respectful way. Rather than shaming them and the people who try to help them.

If we don’t change this, then those horror stories you’ve got from your high school – about the girl who lost her virginity in the bush by the skatepark, or the dude who caught an STI from someone in the bathrooms at the ball—they’re going to be your kids. So you better start telling the horrified suburban Suzuki Swift brigade to stick their scaremongering bullshit where it can’t hurt any more young people.

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