Western Bay educators are concerned teenagers are forming unhealthy attitudes to sex thanks to explicit material available on the internet and television.

Early next year, the Government will issue new guidelines for sex education in schools and school principals say it needs to cover the influence of social media.

The Ministry of Education says the revised guidelines will provide greater clarity for teachers on issues to tackle on the subject, including consent, coercion and sexual violence.

The ministry says the revised guidelines take account of "changing social climates" and follow an 18-month inquiry, which found sex education in schools was "fragmented and uneven".


Bay of Plenty schools agree the social environment for young people is changing thanks to the prevalence of social media, and educators spoken to this week expressed fears about the influence of the internet - including online pornography - in determining teens' sexual attitudes and behaviour.

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell would like to see stronger guidelines for schools and parents on the pressures of social media.

He says research shows 50 per cent of young people experience sex while still at school, and teen attitudes to sex are being formed by explicit material they are being exposed to on social media and music channels.

"For some of these kids, that's the norm. There's the pressure of being accepted and it's trying to get that balance of awareness and [teach them] that there are issues of responsibility."

He says his school focuses on reinforcing messages of "no means no" to boys and girls, and talks to students about the influence of alcohol in diminishing people's sense of responsibility.

Mr Randell, whose school also runs the School for Young Parents at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, says his school consults with parents, but sex education is a difficult balance between the needs of students and what their parents are comfortable with them being taught.

A parent to three grown children and grandparent to 14 grandchildren, he says parents need to play a greater role and build a model of trust with their children.

He says the key is being careful not to prejudge anything their teens say to create an environment where the teens feel comfortable talking to their parents about sex-related issues.


"Don't just leave it as the school's responsibility," he says. "It's a matter of sitting down with your own children and giving them guidance."

Ideally, teens should feel comfortable enough to allow their parents to stand over their shoulders when using their phones or computers.

"We're not checking or caring enough about them," Mr Randall says. "We need to tell them, 'I want to check you are safe'."

At Mount Maunganui College, issues of peer pressure and sexuality are covered in the school's Year 9 health education programme, followed by a module called "Decision Making - Sex and Drugs" in Year 10.

Principal Russell Gordon says the school's goal is for students to understand personal rights, laws and responsibility.

"The issue of consent with students saying no, etc., is discussed in the course and tools provided to avoid unwanted situations. The students are aware they have options."


Mr Gordon says his school regularly consults with its community and parents are offered the opportunity to attend a meeting to discuss the health programme.

Tauranga Boys' College provides a "raging teens" programme in Year 9, covering topics including friendships, puberty and types of sexuality, before teaching sexuality in Year 10, when topics include sexual views, intimacy and affection, sexual diversity, negotiating sex, sex and the law, and contraception.

"I see our responsibility in this regard is to present information and grow boys' knowledge," says principal Robert Mangan.

Years 11, 12 and 13 get presentations from Auckland-based not-for-profit organisation Attitude, which provides sex education presentations and resources to 250,000 high school students nationwide.

Tauranga Intermediate also uses Attitude and deputy principal Kathy Colville says the presentations at intermediate school level focus on the physical changes of puberty and are well received by pupils. "It's about self-esteem and feeling good about themselves during those years."

Attitude, a 16-year-old organisation which runs on a combination of funding from schools and corporate sponsors, aims to tackle unhealthy views of sex and relationships in its programmes.


"We reinforce the idea that your body is your own and only you should be making decisions about yourself," says presenter Dave Atkinson.

Mr Atkinson says although research shows New Zealand teens are generally making good choices, Attitude is looking at focusing more on the issue of consent in its presentations.

The 30-year-old says he is concerned by the increasing influence of pornography in shaping young people's expectations of sex and views of what is and isn't healthy sexually.

"All technology use is increasing and just that level of access young people have to pornography is different to what it used to be."

A Tauranga high school nurse also says she is troubled by teenage attitudes to consent - something she believes is being shaped by music videos and song lyrics that are degrading to women.

"They're just about having casual sex and they're crossing barriers of what's acceptable and what's not," says the nurse, who did not want to be named.


She also believes parents need to do more to educate their children about sex, saying young people are getting most of their information from the internet.

"People don't talk about it anymore. It's very much brushed under the mat."

Family Planning tackles consent as a key theme in its sex education programmes and says it is important for young people to know that sexual abuse or coercion is not okay.

"That's why it's so important to start sexuality education young, so young people begin with knowing what feels okay to them and what doesn't," says chief executive Jackie Edmond.

The Ministry of Education advocates a community approach to sex education.

"Parents, teachers, the media and society all have a part to play in helping young people understand how to have safe, healthy relationships," says head of student achievement Dr Graham Stoop.


"We all have a responsibility to help young people understand sensitive issues such as consent and respect."