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Students and teachers worldwide think sex ed sucks

Thursday 27th October 2016

Whether it's how it's taught in Iran, Japan or New Zealand, sex ed is often described as embarrassing, heterosexist and out-of-touch.

 

“The gap between what students think they know and what they actually know is tremendous"

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Recently a teacher told me ﹘ with a slight hint of dread ﹘ that it was time to teach their class about sex.  

As part of the curriculum, the class of 30 boys and girls got to put anonymous questions into a box for the teacher to answer.

“Can you pregnant from eating cum?”

“What’s an orgasm?”

“Why do girls get periods?”

The students, some of whom were possibly already sexually active, were a sea of giggles and nervous laughter.

“The gap between what students think they know and what they actually know is tremendous,” says the teacher.

“And it seems like a lot of their questions are based on what they’ve seen in porn.”

Sex education has been taught in New Zealand schools since 1999 and last year, the Ministry of Education released an updated guide for schools which addresses issues of consent, coercion, and cultural differences as well as your standard sex stuff.

While this is a great move, schools are in New Zealand are free to decide how they teach it so what students learn (and don’t learn) can vary wildly from one place to the next.

With schoolyard discussions, easy access to porn, and a sea of (mis)information online, sex and relationship education is as important as ever. 

But a recent review of international research has found school sex education is often negative, heterosexist, out of touch and taught by poorly trained, embarrassed teachers.

Sex education in schools, say the study’s authors, remains a fiercely debated topic. “Despite evidence that the reverse is true, some commentators believe that teaching young people about sex and relationships will encourage sexual activity.”

The findings of the review, published in BMJ Open, are based on 55 qualitative studies which explored the views and experiences of young people who had been taught sex and relationship education in schools in the UK, Ireland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Iran, Brazil and Sweden between 1990 and 2015.

Most of the participants were aged between 12 and 18.

What was surprising was the “remarkable consistency” of the findings across different countries and the 25 years spanned by the studies.

“It might be imagined that some studies would produce highly contrasting data, such as the studies from Japan or Iran, but this was not the case; Japanese and Iranian students' main concerns reflected those of their peers elsewhere.”


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The review found the topic of sex within classroom often leaves students and teachers embarrassed and nervous.

One young woman told researchers that her teacher couldn’t address the topic properly because “the boys start making snide remarks and everything like that … so you get to the stage where if you do want to ask anything you won't ask it because the boys will start making remarks”.

Another said it was a “horrible” experience: “We had Miss Plum she was a PE teacher but she cried…we just felt sorry for her … it was so horrible”.

Sex is often discussed scientifically with little attention given to pleasure and enjoyment, the analysis found. One student noted, “they never really talked about sex … like the sperm goes up the fallopian tube, hits the egg … we don't care about that”.

However, sex and relationship education was valued by young people from ethnic minorities who found information they were unlikely to get from home.

“All my mother would tell me, she would tell me like myths, hypothetical things, things that old ladies from generation to generation will tell her. Like ′Mom, that's not even true!’’.

Both students and teachers spoke about wanting “outside” people to teach the topic to reduce shame and nervousness.

One teacher said: “If your teacher who's a grown up can't talk about it, how are you (supposed to)? That gives you the impression that, oh I'm not really supposed to talk about it”.

The authors say major improvements are needed across countries’ sex ed programs including the possibility of adding sexting and online safety to the curriculum.

“Unless we get the delivery, right young people will continue to disengage from [sexual and relationship education] and opportunities for safeguarding young people and improving their sexual health will be reduced.”



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