Up Front by Emma Hart


It's Not Sex, and It's Not Education

I really do need to give credit to The Herald. They were, as it turns out, perfectly prepared to do the work to generate their own moral panic. They even took the hardest route, and made it out of actual thin air.

 I mean, okay, you start with a parent appalled – appalled, I tell you – to discover what their child is being taught in school. That hardly ever happens, apparently, and it's so newsworthy you can basically run the same story two days in a row. Appalling! Twelve year olds being told it's okay to touch clitorises if you have consent! Being given information before they need it, instead of much too late! This is an issue so immediate and important that people are actually phoning talkback radio to complain about it.

Okay, I got tired. Turns out, even while being sarcastic, I cannot keep up the breathless hysteria for as long as the Herald. Because the next day it turned out that it was vitally important we realise that sex education isn't a contraceptive in and of itself. About here, it threatened to stop being funny and just become cringingly embarrassing. Luckily, we weren't done. Because it turns out if talkback is news, then so is Your Views. Seriously, "here's a non-story based on the reaction to the non-story we brought you on Monday, where we get to say "clitoris" a few more times in case it ups our page views." (Who would do such a thing, etc.)  

 That was about the point at which I was going to column about this. (This also might be some indication as to how long it takes me to recover from a trip to Wellington. Yous are all so delightfully hospitable.) And then something very peculiar happened.

 I won't keep you in suspense. It was this. And we all sat around going, "Wait. What the fucking FUCK?" That's information, on sex education. It's all true. And it entirely contradicts the Week of Screeching.

 American researcher Douglas Kirby, a leading expert on the effectiveness of school programmes in reducing teenager sexual risk-taking behaviours, studied 48 comprehensive sexual education programmes and found two-thirds had positive effects.

Forty per cent delayed sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners, or increased condom or contraceptive use.

Nearly a third reduced the frequency of sex - including a return to abstinence - and nearly two-thirds reduced the amount of unprotected sex.

 This is, or should be by now, in the "blindingly fucking obvious" category. Comprehensive sex education produces better results for sexual health than abstinence-only "sex education".

 Abstinence-only programs show little evidence of sustained (long-term) impact on attitudes and intentions. Worse, they show some negative impacts on youth’s willingness to use contraception, including condoms, to prevent negative sexual health outcomes related to sexual intercourse. Importantly, only in one state did any program demonstrate short-term success in delaying the initiation of sex; none of these programs demonstrates evidence of long-term success in delaying sexual initiation among youth exposed to the programs or any evidence of success in reducing other sexual risk-taking behaviours among participants.

 Also, turns out NOT giving kids comprehensive sex education may violate our responsibilities under United Nations Guidelines on children, health and human rights.

 The United Nations Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights... call on states to “ensure that children and adolescents have adequate access to confidential sexual and reproductive health services, including HIV/AIDS information, counselling, testing and prevention measures such as condoms,” and to “ensure the access of children and adolescents to adequate health information and education, including information related to HIV/AIDS prevention and care, inside and outside school, which is tailored appropriately to age level and capacity and enables them to deal positively and responsibly with their sexuality”

 And you know what? Yes. That's going to include information on anal and oral sex. Of course it bloody is. I cannot emphasise this strongly enough, for those parents who are a little iffy on any "education" that isn't confined to "penis in vagina" sex.

 Not all kids are straight.

 Okay? We've got that? LGBT kids are, by international convention, entitled to sex education too. Of course, in New Zealand, even if you're straight getting decent sex education is a complete lottery.

 My only real problem with that final Herald article, (okay, apart from their reporting on their "reporting") is their definition of "work" and "help" for sex education:

 International research shows good quality sex education programmes can:

* Delay sexual initiation.

* Reduce the number of sexual partners.

* Increase contraceptive use.

* Reduce the frequency of sex, including a return to abstinence.

Now, increasing contraceptive use is awesome. That's an unconditional win. But "reducing the frequency of sex"? This is like John Pagani saying he wants the age of consent for his (of course) daughter to be 30. Good sex is wonderful. I want my kids to have lots of it. I'm also fully approving of them both having a solid understanding of the clitoris. (It's alright, Herald readers. Turns out having a mother like me also "works" when it comes to sex.)

     Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.
(Click here to find out more)

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