But with the United Nations and World Health Organisation agreeing that young people have the right to learn about sexuality to help provide them the tools to prevent coercion, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, it’s important that the health of New Zealand children relies on a coordinated approach both at home and at school.
An Australian study which compared the effects of a comprehensive sex ed programme in Australia and The Netherlands as opposed to the US which includes abstinence-only education in some states revealed:
- Average age when teens had sex was lowest in the US (15.8) compared to the Netherlands (17.7) and Australia (16).
- The US had higher rates of teen births and terminations with just over three out of every hundred women aged 15-17 giving birth.
- The Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancy in the world at just 2.2 per 1000 women aged 15 to 17.
In The Netherlands, sex ed starts at primary school and continues through secondary school and involves incorporating discussions about issues such as pregnancy, STIs, sexual orientation, values, homophobia, respect for difference and relationship skills into existing subject areas.
In New Zealand sexuality education is compulsory up until Year 10 but parents have the right to withdraw their children from classes if they want. School boards have to consult parents and the community every two years to determine what is appropriate and there are a range of organisations who can then supply programmes for schools to use or adapt.
This means that children can learn about sexual behaviour, safety, decision-making, bullying, sexual orientation and identity and dealing with relationships at school. But the best benefits are had when that is also combined with healthy, open and accurate information at home.
In today’s technologically obsessed age, children are going to come across sex – if a family chooses to not talk about sex then that is not going to stop the children gaining the information, it’s simply going to prevent them gaining the guidance.
Especially problematic is the fact that research has shown that children who are more prone to feeling shame (which is perfectly understandable when they don’t have the right emotional or educational tools to deal with sex and sexuality) are more likely to engage in risky behaviour when they grow up – behaviour such as having unprotected sex or using illegal drugs.
The best form of sex ed keeps parents informed about what their children are learning at school and prompts them to help their children form and express their emotions, values and concerns openly. It creates children who have the ability to reflect on their own actions and emotions, the knowledge to keep themselves safe and the potential to create healthy sexual relationships.
Robert Street Clinic is home to world-renowned psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists who specialise in children, young adults and family therapy. If you feel you or your family are battling with issues around sexuality, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 09 973 5950, or contact us via the website.