Schools' sex education under fire

Schools are being accused of going too far in what they teach children about sex. Children as young as 12 are being taught about oral sex and, in other cases, 14-year-old girls are being taught how to put condoms on plastic penises.

The often graphic nature of today's sexual education lessons is considered perfectly acceptable, and necessary, by some parents, but many others are shocked and say it has gone to far.

One concerned father, who did not want to be identified contacted Newstalk ZB last week saying he took his 12-year-old son out of a sexual education class after he came home upset about what had happened during one of the lessons at his all-boy school.

Other parents who phoned the radio station agreed sex education had gone too far.

One said her 14-year-old daughter came home on Tuesday saying "she had been applying yucky and sticky condoms to a plastic black penis".

Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh said sex education was taught as early as intermediate school, and was different from what many parents would have learnt.

The focus was no longer on reproductive health but on sexually transmitted diseases, sexual practices and keeping safe.

"It's becoming a bit more graphic and a bit more hands-on, I guess."

Mr Walsh said there was considerable latitude in what schools taught, and the things the father of the 12-year-old boy described were not uncommon.

"I don't know if I am being prudish but I have some difficulty with it as well."

He said deciding how far to go was difficult, but the message from those teaching the classes was "they have to be graphic and be upfront to get the messages across".

Family Planning's health promotion director, Frances Bird, said New Zealand had one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates and children as young as 12 were sexually active.

She said international research showed a good, quality, comprehensive programme could make a significant difference.

"It delays the first time people have sex, it reduces the number of partners they will have, it reduces the frequency of intercourse ... and it also increases condom and contraception use, so programmes are particularly effective if they begin before young people have sex."

The Ministry of Education's acting curriculum, teaching and learning group manager, Margaret McLeod, said while schools could decide on the kind of sexual education they taught, they were expected to consult their communities first.



• Today's sex education is less about human reproduction and more about sexually transmitted diseases, sexual practices and keeping safe.
• Schools can decide when and how they give sex education and what they teach, but they are expected to consult their communities before developing the programme.
• Parents have to sign a consent form and can withdraw children from a programme if they are unhappy with it.

- Elizabeth Binning


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