The vast majority of parents support comprehensive sex education programs starting in primary school, and rate topics such as birth control and communicating about sex above discussions about abstinence, a university researcher has found.
“The vast majority of parents want sex education to cover issues such as birth control methods and safer sex, and sex as part of a loving relationship (98 per cent and 97 per cent respectively),” said Allison Macbeth from the University of Sydney.
“In contrast, when asked to rate the importance of abstinence as a topic, just three in ten parents (32 per cent) said it was ‘very or extremely important’,” said Ms Macbeth, who is researching parents’ attitudes to sex education as part of a Masters in Sexual Health.
“A small but vocal minority of parents give the impression through the media that the majority of parents want abstinence-only education for their children. But my research shows parents who support abstinence-only education are a minority. In fact, 15 per cent of parents think the topic of abstinence should be banned outright from sex education classes.”
“The majority of parents support a comprehensive sex education curriculum beginning in primary school, before their children are sexually active, so they can make their own decisions about their sexual health, including the choice to be sexually active,” she said.
The study’s key findings
One-hundred and seventeen (117) parents across Australia, with children of any age, completed an online questionnaire. Key findings are below.
- The majority of parents support sex education in schools (97.4%) and a shared responsibility for this education between parents and schools (95.7%).
- When asked what year sex education should start, the most common answer was year 5 (23.9%), with 82.9% of parents wanting it introduced by year 6.
- The majority of parents are not satisfied (64.8%) with the sex education their children receive in school and most (80.9%) are interested in becoming involved in their children’s school sex education programs.
- When asked what topics they wanted included in school sex education programs, the vast percentage wanted all 27 listed topics included. Topics to note are that 100% wanted puberty, correct names for genitals, and dealing with peer pressure to be sexually active included. In addition to common topics such as menstruation, wet dreams, STIs, and reproduction and birth, the vast percentage of parents also thought the following slightly more controversial topics should be included in school sex education programs:
99.1%: teenage pregnancy and parenting
98.3%: birth control methods and safer sex practices
96.6%: how to communicate about sex
96.6%: sex as a part of a loving relationship
96.6%: sexual decision-making in dating relationships
91.5%: building equal romantic relationships
91.5%: sexual behaviour
91.5%: attraction, love, and intimacy
83.8%.sexual pleasure and orgasm
Ms Macbeth said that with Australian young people having the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the western world and ever increasing rates of STIs, it is clear that sex education in schools needs to be improved.
She said young people report that they want to learn about the emotional, relational, and psychological aspects of sex in school programs, but are not getting this information. Instead, the typical sex education class includes discussion on condom use, STIs, and biology. There are comprehensive sex education curriculums in place across Australia, but most parents are not satisfied with these programs.”
“It is essential that parents supportive of sex education get involved. It is this majority that needs to get active so that the minority of abstinence-only advocates do not gain control of school sex education programs, thus further reducing young people’s decision making abilities regarding their sexual health by limiting the information they are exposed to,” said Ms Macbeth.