Teen sex lessons change the rules

By Simon Collins

Photo / Jason Dorday
Photo / Jason Dorday

A new state-funded experiment is turning traditional sex education on its head - abandoning lectures on the dangers of sexual activity and teaching young people how to get better sex through "ethical relationships".

The "sex & ethics" course, funded by $164,000 from the Ministry of Justice, is being piloted with people aged 16 to 25 at Victoria and Massey universities and two youth centres in Wellington.

Auckland-based Rape Prevention Education director Kim McGregor said she hoped it could be modified for eventual use in schools.

Parents Inc co-founder Ian Grant also welcomed the programme yesterday as "a step forward", but still advised teenagers to delay having sex for as long as they could.

The programme was developed by Australian criminologist Moira Carmody after young people told her in a survey that sex education focused too much on the risks of sex and did not prepare them for "the complexity of sexual intimacy".

The Wellington pilot, co-ordinated by the Wellington Sexual Abuse Network, aims to get young women as well as men to talk about what they want from a sexual relationship.

Its flyer lures people with the line, "If you are ever hoping to have good sex in your life, this is the programme for you."

Co-ordinator Sandra Dickson says it is "a new direction for sexual violence prevention."

"Instead of telling young people what not to do, it's looking at what we want in a sexual relationship and how to get it."

Male and female educators work with mixed-sex groups of 10 to 12 young people in six two- to three-hour sessions over six weeks.

Participants learn through role-playing exercises about topics such as people's differing values and the effects of alcohol and drugs.

"It's loads of fun," Ms Dickson said. "Most people find it quite amusing.

"For example, flirting with someone I just met at a bar. For some, it's unethical because they have a partner. For others, 'It's what I do every Friday night. What's wrong with it?"'

In another exercise using a plate of 12 kinds of food, one person has to let another know which is their favourite, which one they dislike the most, and rank those in between - all using non-verbal signals.

"It's easy with non-verbal communication to tell if you really like something or don't," Ms Dickson said, "but it's hard to work out whether you like this a little bit more than that.

"So people realise that non-verbal communication is never going to be enough."

The programme also teaches young people how to intervene when they see someone being pressured or tricked into sex.

"For example, you're at a party," Ms Dickson said. "One of your friends is taking home someone who is so inebriated that they can't stand up, or you see someone's drink being spiked."

Mr Grant, whose "Attitude" teen health programme runs in 86 per cent of New Zealand high schools, said it was great that the new programme was teaching about communication rather than just "being careful".

"Teenagers today are being ripped off because nobody is teaching them that intimacy is what they're looking for, and sex is only part of that," he said.

"We have to instil into our young people that committed intimacy is vital. This is a step better than the usual course, which just told you how to put a condom on a banana."

BIRDS AND THE BEES

The old way
Delay, but if you're going to do it, practise safe sex.

The new way
Find out how to get good sex in an intimate relationship.

- NZ Herald

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