The comprehensive sex education curriculum to be launched in schools in 2020, is stirring up the much-needed conversation about sex education. What do we say? When do we say it? What is appropriate and what is not?
I feel the curriculum is a proactive and preventative initiative by the Education Department and I am in whole-hearted support of its implementation. I have not had the opportunity to read through the entire curriculum so much of what I am saying is based on what I perceive the government is trying to do.
I feel the parts of the curriculum which have been “leaked” to the public have been misused and misrepresented, intentionally, to promote personal or organisational agendas. In my opinion this is not useful nor supportive, it is disruptive and unproductive. I ask, for you, as parents and teachers to be discerning about the information which is shared in the media and online.
The important thing to remember is that education is about providing children with accurate information about the world around them and giving them the opportunity to discuss in a shame-free and accepting environment how this is or may affect them.
Creating safe emotional spaces for children and teens to talk about subjects which they may find difficult to navigate is essential for their emotional and mental wellbeing. The purpose of education, in my opinion, is to equip children and teens with the skills, they need to navigate a world which is constantly shifting and changing.
If we are not open to having conversations about oral sex, masturbation, same sex relationships, body autonomy, consent and the list goes on. Where exactly are they going to learn the necessary skills to have these conversations with their peers or deal with situations which may arise in the future?
Sex education is about so much more than naming body parts accurately, although please do not misunderstand my words, naming body parts accurately is essential from an early age to encourage kids to engage with their bodies without shame and to develop body autonomy.
Sex education includes how to deal with peer pressure, set boundaries, say no, deal with conflict. This is the time when children and teens can talk about and practice these skills in a safe environment.
As I read about teachers protesting the curriculum, what I see is teachers feeling ill-equipped to teach and share this information. I see teachers who feel out of their depth and teachers who need support. If this curriculum is going to have the impact we are wanting, then the teachers need to be trained, and have support groups where they can discuss some of the tough situations they experience, groups where they can ask advice and lean in when they feel challenged.
I am of the strong opinion that with the right training this curriculum can have an impact on reducing gender-based violence, rape and teenage pregnancy to name a few hot topics. This is not about telling your children what their values should be, it is about sharing accurate and honest information and creating safe spaces where they can explore how is impacts them and their values system.
It is not replacing their value system it is about giving them the skills they need to live their personal value system.
I taught an LO class of 16-year-olds, where one of the questions in the anonymous question jar was: “Why is masturbation considered bad?” It was my privilege to facilitate and hold a safe space for these teens to explore this question. We had at the beginning of the term established a set of agreements which said that everyone’s opinion is heard and not judged, even if you disagree with it.
What unfolded in this lesson was that many different views were shared. Everything from it is okay to watch porn, I choose not to masturbate because of my religious views, I think it is a good idea to get to know your own body, to it is something we can do instead of having penetrative sex.
The gift was that each teen was able to explore what it meant for them and make a choice on how they wanted to engage in or with masturbation according to their own value system.
For teachers to be able to create this unbiased environment they need support to look at their own stories. If you show up in a classroom with judgements and biases which you are not aware of, you can do damage to children and young emerging adults.
This is going to take courage; it may be uncomfortable and awkward. Do it anyway. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand when it comes to talking about sex, sexuality and relationships. The core of what this is shaking up is our inability to have uncomfortable and tricky conversations.
We can learn how to navigate this. It takes willingness and courage to put children’s well-being above our shame, programming and fear. The solution is not fear mongering and finger pointing.
The solution is having more connected conversations and empowering ourselves with the tools and skills so we feel capable to engage in topics which we may find uncomfortable.
* Kate Rowe is the founder and chief executive of Explorare - an online portal that grows authentic relationships between parents and children.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.