Let’s talk about sex - Education Matters Magazine

Let’s talk about sex

When schools work in partnership with parents and the wider community to deliver relationships and sexuality education, they achieve the best outcomes, according to Family Planning Victoria.

Parents are often considered to be the primary educators when it comes to relationships and sexuality education, but Family Planning Victoria suggests that the best outcomes for young people occur when schools and families work together. In doing so, they open the doors for wider conversations around key topics that can continue both at home and at school.

While many parents are highly engaged in their children’s education in the early years, Bonnie Lee, Manager of the Schools and Community Team at Family Planning Victoria, says that opportunities for involvement often dwindles as students get older.

“At Family Planning Victoria, we recommend that schools provide parents with the opportunity to engage in their child’s relationships and sexuality education at all levels of their schooling. This could be as simple as providing information about a school program that is going to be run through to facilitating family and child sessions, both of which give parents the opportunity to support the program in the home environment by continuing with these important discussions,” explains Ms Lee.

She says that providing families with information can be effective in making parents feel comfortable and confident in having important discussions with their children.

“Some parents feel sexuality education is their sole responsibility, but we know that the best outcomes result from partnerships between the home, school and community. Research suggests that parents don’t require specialist sexual health knowledge and information, but just need to foster an open environment to allow for conversations to take place.”

The results of 6th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health, conducted by La Trobe University and released in early June 2019, indicate that young people for the most part are making responsible decisions about their sexual health and wellbeing. Conducted every five years, the research provides important insights into young people’s views and knowledge about this important topic.

A total of 6327 Year 10-12 students in government, Catholic and independent schools from across Australia took part in the survey. Results indicated that students are largely engaging in responsible behaviours. Nearly 47 per cent of those surveyed said they have had intercourse and 77 per cent discussed their sexual health before having sex.

But there is still room to improve young peoples’ knowledge about their sexual health, and to increase protective behaviour practices.

“As relationship and sexuality educators, this sort of research is vital for us because we can identify what’s working well and identify any gaps. There are lots of opportunities, as educators, to develop effective resources based on the latest survey results,” says Ms Lee.

One area identified in this latest survey is where young people are getting information from. Though the most trusted sources of sexual health information were GPs (88.6 per cent), followed by mothers (59.8 per cent) and community health services (54.7 per cent); most students (78.7 per cent) had used the internet to find information about their questions relating to sexual health.

When it came to speaking to others about sex, 74.7 per cent said they were most confident in speaking with a female friend and 58.7 per cent said a male friend.

“There is definitely a shift in where young people are getting their information from. In the past, research consistently ranked both school programs and mums as trusted and well utilised sources of information about sexual and reproductive health. That has now shifted. More young people are turning to the internet and their friends for information about their sexual health – but the web can be difficult to navigate in regards to accurate and appropriate information, and friends may also lack knowledge and experience when it comes to these topics. That’s why it’s so important for schools to work in partnership with parents and the community,” adds Ms Lee.

She says that although some parents are happy to leave relationships and sexuality education up to their child’s school, other parents feel it’s important for them to take on a more active role. “Some parents are hesitant about school programs because they don’t have a clear understanding of the curriculum, or the health and wellbeing benefits of comprehensive programs. Others may think that what is being taught in schools doesn’t align with the values of their own home environment. There is a common misunderstanding that programs don’t cater to differing values but that isn’t the case,” Ms Lee reveals.

Family Planning Victoria provides a range of teaching, learning and professional development activities designed to help teachers to deliver comprehensive, age and developmentally appropriate relationship and sexuality education. These provide evidence-based and scientifically accurate information that allows for values clarification along the way.

In delivering these resources, young people are encouraged to check in with their own values, as well as those of their family and the people around them. “When students are checking in with their own values, it can help them make meaning from the information being provided. Engaging with parents allows for that as well, and allows for these conversations to be had at home. Young people are constantly engaging with their home, school and community environments, so that is why it is so important for relationships and sexuality education to draw from all of these areas in relevant and meaningful ways.” says Ms Lee.

Among Family Planning Victoria’s suite of resources is a recently developed series of podcasts called ‘Doing It’. Designed for parents/carers and teachers, the podcasts discuss sexuality and relationships, by providing tips and tricks on navigating conversations and insights into how to answer questions with confidence. Upcoming podcasts will include interviews with a variety of experts from within the field.

To access the podcasts along with Family Planning Victoria’s full range of school resources, please visit the website below.