Bob McCoskrie: Sex education lets down young people

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Bob McCoskrie. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Bob McCoskrie. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Parents have every right to be upset with the current sex education curriculum in our schools - most of it delivered by Government-funded groups.

Judging by the results of the current approach, it has been an utter failure. New Zealand has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the OECD, our STD rates are out of control and the number of teenage girls having abortions continues to rise. Our teenage pregnancy rate is almost twice the rate of Australia and Canada and over four times the rate in Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

The current sex education curriculum operates under the assumption that everyone is doing it or about to do it and therefore they just need to know how to do it "safely".

Yet according to Auckland University's most recent National Secondary School Youth Health Survey which covered almost 10,000 students, only 16% - 25% of a typical class up to year 10 are or have been sexually active. For year 11, it is a third; and even among senior students, over half are not sexually active.

Why don't we support the majority of youth who are choosing to abstain, and encourage the sexually active students to delay further sexual activity?

Critics say "why wait". Teenagers can't control their raging hormones. As long as they are shown how to be "safe", it'll be okay.

For those youth who are sexually active, they are not being told the truth. Groups like the Family Planning Association and Rainbow Youth are perpetuating the myth that as long as you use a condom, you can pretty much do what you like.

In a government-funded No Rubba, No Hubba Hubba campaign, the message was simply "How can I protect myself against STI's?" The answer? "Use condoms. When condoms are correctly used, and used every time you have sex, they are effective protection against most STIs, including HIV/AIDs."

Yet a senior doctor with Family Planning stated in a radio interview that the chances of catching chlamydia, gonorrhoea, or herpes through a condom may be as high as 60% - but she was quick to reassure us, however, that 40% protection was still beneficial.

The Cochrane Collaboration on condom use shows only an 80% reduction in HIV incidence. And the World Health Organisation has stated that there is no protection against HPV which can result in cervical cancer and genital warts.

Do our young people know this? Is that really "safe" sex?

There is also the flawed and dangerous ideology that showing teenagers how to have sex will reduce their desire to want sex - just writing that sentence makes me laugh out loud. And the education should be explicit as possible. That will - apparently - discourage them even further. And the younger we start teaching them this, the better.

A University of Pennsylvania study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine published last year, found that sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity.

One of the largest and most comprehensive studies of teen sex education, conducted by the Institute for Research and Evaluation in Salt Lake City, followed the education and behaviour of over 400,000 adolescents in 30 different states for 15 years.

The Institute found that students in abstinence programs were far less likely to be sexually active, and those who were reduced their sexual activity by a large percentage.

They found that the most successful abstinence programs were those that showed how delaying sexual activity protects a young person from STD's, teen pregnancy and emotional trauma. They also underlined the importance of self-control and responsibility.
In the UK, the Government spent nearly £300m trying to slash teen pregnancy rates by handing out contraceptives and spreading explicit sex education. Pregnancy rates among girls under 18 in England are now higher than they were before the Government launched its Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. Attempts to cut teenage pregnancy by distributing contraception rather than discouraging teens from having sex was doing the most harm to the very youngest girls.

Similarly, the current approach in NZ sows confusion about right and wrong and says the moral absolute is - use condoms.

But it's not what parents want.
A recent poll found that three out of four NZ parents of young children want the abstinence message taught in sex education. The government should be demanding any government funding to go towards resources which empower parents - not schools - to be the primary sex educators of their children.
As a parent, I know we all dread the "sex talk". But after the evidence presented this week in the media, my dread is more about the "sex talk we had at school, Dad".

Of most interest is what our teenagers want.

A study last year in the UK by Hull University found that teenagers would rather be taught about family values than about sex. They see the responsibilities of being a parent as the number one 'fact of life' - ahead of sexual intercourse, contraception and sexually-transmitted infections, and they want sex education to focus on the consequences of pregnancy, not the biology of sex.

When we teach and expect the best from our teenagers, and force them to confront the consequences of their actions, we should not be surprised when they live up to our high expectations.

- Bob McCoskrie is National Director of Family First NZ

- NZ Herald

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