Australian sex education
Sex education has always been considered to be a little awkward. Kids are awkward about it and adults really don’t know how much information is too little or too much. With growing moral panic, increased pornographic culture alongside growing awareness of sexual abuse teaching an Australian sexual education has become an even larger minefield to navigate.
We know kids turn to porn to help answer their questions about sex. We know they google “know to kiss” “what is a clit” and young boys look at many pictures of nipples before really seeing one and knowing what to do with it.
Sex educators on the front line in Victoria, Australia’s most progressive state when it comes to sex education have commented that children are becoming less “giggly” and awkward when it comes to sex education, but they still laugh at the word “nipples.” These women from the sexuality educators collective work independently as consultants for the state, private schools and conservative catholic schools. They are one of our last chances in Australian sex education.
While they feel changes within teens and adolescents and their responses to sex education, it’s clear that their jobs are getting harder. After the controversy over safe schools, an initiative to support same-sex attracted, intersex and gender-diverse students, parents and principles have a narrowed description of what they are comfortable with being taught about sex. The 8 million dollars federally funded initiative barely even made it into the hands of students, as most of its material was for schools to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQI students. It was saving the lives of students who were pushed to extremes such as suicide, and opening up students to a better understanding of sexuality and their identities. The curriculum hasn’t been shown to students, as it has been criticised for being inappropriate - having an animated penis dance about warning that “pornography makes the penis the boss of the whole show and leave out the heart stuff.” While over 500 schools volunteered for the program, many parents, pollies and principles took offence to material that states that gender can change over time and exist outside of the male-female binary. While all material was considered to be “age-appropriate, suitable and educationally sound” the federal government ceased funding in 2017 and replaced safe schools with a broad anti-bullying program.
One of the educators explains how a principle requested sexuality be replaced with puberty in promotional material for parents on the program. Words such as ‘safe schools’ or ‘respectful relationship’ are avoided with younger students as they came under target publically. It seems unhealthy to not teach kids to create safe schools and foster respectful relationships early on. Family planning victoria has found may principles have questioned their programmes especially ones about the vulva, clitoris, masturbation or the concept of pleasurable sex. Therefore, many students are still learning the functions of sex rather than the emotional and social aspects of sexuality.
While Australia votes for same-sex marriage to be legal, jumps behind equality movements within all industries and fosters a spirit of the #metoo movement in conquering domestic violence and violence against women, Australian Sex education is teaching our children a program that lacks relevance and brushes over the important obstacles that even adults fight for within sexual equality.
Educators have to stick to the “plumbing” education, while they notice students are more interested in gender diversity, violence in relationships, intimacy, love and sexual pleasure, all the things scraped from curriculums. Sadly students are turning to porn for their unanswered questions, and with such over the top, crafted displays of intimacy as their first representations its no wonder there are increased cases of girls feeling pressured to perform like a pornstar, boys becoming addicted to porn from as young as 11, and porn-induced erectile dysfunction. With Porn becoming a default educator for youths, parents and educators must address its influence and problematic messages of power, pain, pleasure, consent and gender roles. More ethical forms of porn are now available, and there are sex educators out there on the web, but on the whole to access this knowledge one must go looking. Even more so, sex educators are being censored in the way that sex workers are facing censorship read more about that here: Sex Censorship Online: Artists, advocates and educators affected.
In Australia, sex education sits between health and physical education. It has moved away from just being functionalist sex education (puberty, STI’s, condom use) towards a broader definition of sexuality including relationships, gender, violence, power imbalances, and factors that influence their “changing identities.” The bulk of sex education happens between the years 7-10 however NSW and Victoria’s official policy is to introduce puberty in years 3 and 4, teaching children about their body parts, how they change and how to stand up for themselves. In Victoria, students must learn about Respectful Relationships until year 12, while in NSW senior students must complete a 25 hours Life Ready course, covering drugs, alcohol, respectful relationships and mental health.
However, there is no regulation to ensure that the system is implemented properly, with some students receiving sound education from first to last years of schools while others miss out for a few years due to an “awkward conversation” and a few laughs about hormones or nipples. Discussions around consent should be outlined to students, detailing more than a simple yes or no, but outlining sexual assault, unwanted touching, taking advantage of someone under the influence and more. Thus the “enthusiastic consent” movement was born on social media encouraging kids to get an enthusiastic yes before moving forward.
If you believe that children and teens should be learning sex education for their own safety and security as well as confidence, make your opinions known to your local politician.