Achieving positive outcomes
Liz Walker is all for increasing the education, but expresses concern about how the messages will be presented.
“Large groups are not as effective as a small safe environment,” she says. “Young people are vulnerable when they talk about sex, so without a safe environment with a trained teacher, they tend to shut down and the messages don’t get through.”
The Commission suggests that involving young people in developing these messages will be a key to their success. Liz says governments also need to allocate sufficient time in the curriculum, provide teacher training and work with parents to overcome any hesitancy to discussing sexuality education.
One thing that should not be overlooked is the connection between better sexuality education and improved education outcomes.
“We’ve learnt that effective programs that improve student to peer and student to teacher relationships actually improve education outcomes by reducing teenage risk behaviours,” says Liz. “In other words, if a student is struggling with high risk behaviours, they’re not going to learn effectively.”
“I’d like to see sexuality education prioritised alongside other high risk behaviours such as alcohol use, as these activities often go hand in hand. It’s also essential to include conversations about unwanted sexual encounters (experienced by over one third of young women) and how to recognise and negotiate these boundaries, along with reporting incidences of abuse and talking it through with safe adults.”
Liz admits that sexuality education is a challenging task. Children develop at different rates and become aware of their sexuality at different ages.
“However, research has consistently shown that education does not lead to sexual activity, but rather delays activity. A child is more likely to be robbed of their innocence through premature exposure to graphic imagery. With the average age of exposure now 11 years of age for boys, children and teens need a safe place to deconstruct the messages they are receiving.”
Download the Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2008 study [PDF]
Liz Walker is the founder of Youth Wellbeing Project, which develops and implements innovative education programs focused on youth wellbeing. The leading product is GET A GRIP teenz™: a self-awareness & educational program on life, relationships and the body aimed at the 13–15 year age group. Visit www.youthwellbeingproject.com