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Facts of Life

Sex education is too important to do badly

Yesterday The Age reported that a school-based program had distributed a booklet to school students claiming that “girls are needier than guys in a relationship and always want to be close” because of higher levels of oxytocin; and that having too many relationships could break the woman’s special chemical bond with her partner and harm her capacity to form future relationships.

The program has since been cancelled in response to concerns raised by parents. An Education Department spokesperson commented that the materials were “completely inappropriate and in breach of department policy” and “totally out of step with department approaches to sexuality and relationships education”.

So what’s interesting about this “bad-sex-ed” story, apart from the obviously dodgy interpretation and simplistic application of the complex neurobiology of social attachment?

It raises two important points:

1. If we’re going to provide sex education, let’s do it properly

The National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2013 found that less than half (45%) of students rated their sex education as very relevant or extremely relevant to them. In Australia and overseas young people have increasingly relied on school lessons as an important source of information about sex, but young people still feel they need more, and more relevant information, particularly about ways to reduce risks, and how to initiate and maintain respectful relationships.

2. Parents want to know about the sex education their children are getting

Research has shown that parents want their children to be well informed about sex, sexual health and relationships.

They also want the diversity of values among students and their families to be acknowledged and to have a chance to talk to their children about sex in the context of their own family values. They also want there to be good communication between the school and parents who are concerned about content or other aspects of sex education programs. Parents want to know about the sex education their children receive at school, and they want to know that the people who deliver the sex education programs are doing a good job.

Sexuality education at home and at school should help young people think critically and equip them to make sensible decisions about sex when the time is right. We all want to give our children the tools they need to develop into sexually healthy people capable of having satisfying and respectful relationships.

So, if we’re going to do sex education, let’s do it properly.

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