Sex education is too much about the mechanics of sex and not enough about relationships, the Families Commission says. An issues paper published by the commission yesterday says the health education curriculum is sound, officially covering relationship skills as well as sex. But it quotes high school students who say they learn little about relationships in practice.
"The teacher gets a condom, gives a demonstration on how to use it, but they don't talk about the emotional side," one group of Wellington teens said. "They tell us you have sex, get pregnant or you get Aids and die. They don't teach how to deal with a breakup."
The report reveals new findings from a study of 2174 young people that even at 10 and 11, 26 per cent of boys say they have girlfriends and nearly 21 per cent of girls say they have boyfriends. Those figures rise to 32 per cent of both boys and girls by ages 14 and 15. Such early relationships are not necessarily sexual. But the Youth 2007 survey of 9000 high school students found 38 per cent of the boys and 35 per cent of girls said they had had sex.
The commission interviewed 77 teenagers in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and found that their three key relationship issues were breakups, sex and texting. The Wellington group said texting meant "you are constantly in touch and it gets intense really quickly and can break up really quickly".
An Auckland youth worker said some teens had intense relationships on Bebo or Facebook with people they might know only by their online nickname.
A Wellington youth worker said: "They don't know how to interpret texts. It's the worst medium for expressing emotion. They get confused by the lack of emotion. It can make and break a relationship and it can happen very quickly."
The teenagers said they looked for help with relationship issues from their parents and friends, but many said they would not go to school counsellors because they feared information would be passed on to other teachers.