Recent reports revealed a Victorian school allowed a Christian group to teach sex education using materials of scientifically dubious origins which would certainly be offensive to many.
The misinformation, including that females have chemicals that make them more needy and if they have too many relationships they will be less likely to form bonds with future partners, reinforces the need for consistent sex education for all Australian schools.
Information about sex and sexuality is often plagued by irrational fears when children and young people are involved. Sex and sexuality are sometimes viewed as taboo subjects in schools. When they are discussed, there are times when rational discussion becomes elusive.
The Australian national curriculum aimed to achieve some sense of conformity across states, so that students across the country were receiving similar messages about sex, sexuality and healthy relationships.
The Australian Curriculum Health and Physical Education addresses how factors such as human biology, gender and sexuality influence the health, well-being and physical activity patterns of individuals, groups and communities.
There are some barriers to consistent messages about gender, sexual health and identity, sexuality, and safe-sex being transmitted to young people.
Anti-discrimination exemptions for religious organisations
Each state and territory has its own anti-discrimination laws. In Victoria, despite the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 making it against the law to discriminate against people, it also suggests that discrimination may be justified in certain circumstances. Even in 2015:
Religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, martial status, parental status or gender identity where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion.
That religious schools can still legally discriminate against staff and students who may be engaging in legal – but “unacceptable” – behaviour remains remarkably uncontroversial.
That myths are still being presented as “facts” in an attempt to scare young people away from sex outside of marriage is disturbing. But it is not surprising while religious schools still have exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation.
Sex misinformation presents risks to young people
Sexuality is a poignant topic for young people and warrants attention and space for discussion in the classroom. It’s important that young people are educated about sex, sexuality and gender in an appropriate and honest way. There is too much at risk for young people not to be aware of their own biology, sex, sexuality and awareness about safe-sex.
Sexually transmissible infections are on the rise in Australia among young people. The Kirby Institute estimates the chlamydia diagnosis rate in the age groups 10–14 years, 15–19 years and 20–24 years, increased every year over the past ten years, from 2002 to 2011.
Young people need facts about sex education and sexuality, to enable them to make informed decisions and to develop healthy relationships. Wrapping messages about sex and sexuality in vague and negative metaphors is unhelpful.
Extreme examples like that seen in Victoria are dangerous:
Having multiple sex partners is almost like tape that loses its stickiness after being applied and removed multiple times. So the more you have the harder it is to bond to the next.
As a society we are grappling with issues related to violence against women, largely perpetrated by men, with staggering statistics about domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment. We also seem to find it challenging to conceive of two persons of the same gender being legally allowed to marry. Australia seems caught in a time-warp of sexual and gender taboos.
The road to progress can only come through rational, honest and accurate educational information.
It is perhaps time that religious exemptions to the anti-discrimination acts in each of the Australian states and territories were ended. There are problems with misinformation and fear-mongering.
If one parent at one school had the courage to come forward and openly expose the misinformation that is being transmitted, then it can be imagined that this propaganda is being transmitted elsewhere.