SCHOOLS should shift the emphasis of sex education classes away from “fear, disease and shame” to focus on love and intimacy, according to researchers at Deakin University.
The study recommends that sex education should start in prep instead of years 5 and 6, but under a co-ordinated approach with parents, teachers and community health organisations.
The study found that 38 per cent of parents surveyed do not want sex ed taught in schools, but nearly 60 per cent want schools to give advice on how to discuss it with their children. Children said they wanted to learn more about love.
Victorian government schools are required to provide sexuality classes as part of physical education and health lessons, although each school designs its own program.
Deakin Burwood researcher Dr Debbie Ollis said every student had a right to sex education and schools needed programs that were age-appropriate and culturally sensitive.
The findings come after a sex ed program was introduced to 1700 prep to year 9 students at Geelong’s Northern Bay P-12 College.
Dr Ollis said schools still needed to address issues such as sexually transmitted infections, contraception and discrimination, but was surprised at how much students wanted to learn about love.
“In school-based programs, they forget about how important it is to learn about issues like love and intimacy,” she said. “By the time students move through primary school, they should have a sound understanding. They should have a positive view of sexuality rather than a negative one steeped in fear and shame.”
Education and parenting consultant Shona Bass agreed that a whole-school approach was needed, but said topics such as personal space and relationships were “the sorts of things which should come out naturally in the curriculum”.
“Basing research on what children say they want is tricky to interpret accurately. Most [primary students] would have no idea what sex ed is,” Dr Bass said.
Parents Victoria chief executive Gail McHardy said, “Whatever schools deliver has to be done in consultation with the school community. Not everyone is going to feel comfortable.”