US psychiatrist: Sex ed failing Kiwi teens

By Martin Johnston

United States psychiatrist Dr Miriam Grossman. Photo / Supplied
United States psychiatrist Dr Miriam Grossman. Photo / Supplied

Teenagers are being let down by sex education that doesn't tell them it's best to wait until you're an adult and have one sexual partner for life, a visiting physician says.

But Family Planning disputes United States psychiatrist Dr Miriam Grossman's characterisation of New Zealand's sex education. She has been brought here by the conservative lobby group Family First to speak at a conference in Auckland on Thursday.

Dr Grossman said she took up writing and speaking on the "harms" of sex education after her experiences as a campus psychiatrist at the University of California.

She saw many female students who were panicking about having, or possibly having, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), being pregnant, having had an abortion, or being confused about their emotional attachment to a man who had no intention of becoming emotionally attached to them.

"They didn't understand we are wired, both men and women, but especially women, to become emotionally attached to people we are intimate with."

She said this was omitted from the range of sex education materials produced in New Zealand that she had viewed.

Dr Grossman said sex education, like other public-health initiatives, should present the "ideal", such as in nutrition.

In sexuality - "and I'm not talking about morality, I'm a physician" - the ideal was one sexual partnership for life, delayed until adulthood.

"People that are able to achieve that - not that this is so easy - never have to worry about these myriad health issues."

Health issues included STIs and human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a key factor in cervical cancers.

Dr Grossman cited a Family Planning website, theword.org.nz, and pamphlet, both aimed at young people, which encouraged those considering becoming sexually active to make sure they were ready and to talk with their partner about contraception, but did not tell them to talk to a responsible adult.

And she said sex education materials in New Zealand dangerously overstated the degree of protection people could expect from condoms, even when correctly used.

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said, "We support telling people to have loving, caring relationships and young people to delay having sexual onset.

"We don't aspire to talking about the ideal of one sexual relationship. We are pragmatic - and we are dealing with young people."

Family Planning referred to condoms as providing "safer" sex, not "safe" sex.

"You can get HPV through genital contact; condoms don't necessarily protect against that."

- NZ Herald

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