Sex education is something all young people should get, but I fear many do not.
Known as relationships and sexuality education in our education system, it prepares young people to feel normal about growing up. In theory, it covers consent, puberty and how the body changes during it, human reproduction, diverse sexualities and genders, sex and romantic and intimate relationships, contraception and using the internet safely.
And no, primary school students are not taught all the above topics.
Age-appropriate teaching is set for primary, intermediate and secondary school students. Any worries that students as young as 6 are taught they can and should be transgender is a myth.
I have always thought that sex education is essential to young people’s growth. It seems natural that parents would be enthusiastic that teachers are tasked with having awkward conversations with students about what it means to grow up. It turns out I am wrong in some cases.
An attendee at a public meeting asked National Party leader Christopher Luxon for National’s stance on LGBTQ “woke ideology” in schools. He replied: “Those sexuality issues should be dealt with in the home, and by parents and within their own family environments in the home.”
A few weeks before Luxon’s comments, a woman at a public meeting expressed concern about “the indoctrination of the kids”. She said she understood a charity whose website says its mission is to “provide safer schools and communities for rainbow [LGBTQIA+] and takatāpui young people’' was involved in designing the curriculum.
National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis replied: “Here’s how I feel about sexual education. That’s the job for me and my husband to do with our kids, based on our values and our views of the world … I want my education system focused on teaching my children how to read, how to write and how to do maths.”
If parents prefer to home-school their children on relationships and sexuality, they can. They can write to the school’s principal and request that their children be excluded.
I don’t believe Luxon and Willis should not use their personal views to comfort voters opposed to sex education in schools.
If I were in the audience, Luxon and Willis’ statements would give me the impression that a National government would repeal relationships and sexuality education and expect parents will fill that enormous gap in their children’s knowledge.
It doesn’t require much thought to see why this approach fails. Some parents will find talking to their children about puberty too awkward. Others may not have the appropriate knowledge to impart or the time to do the topic justice. Some parents will not be accepting of queer people and will hinder their children’s learning due to their prejudice.
What is the “woke ideology” in relationships and sexuality education? Is it to prevent boys from turning into incels? Is it to ensure young people understand consent and boundaries? Or that young people understand what happens to their bodies during puberty? Or that young people know that, as a matter-of-fact queer people exist? These all seem like great things to me.
I think many people who label the education woke believe that if you do not tell young people that queer people exist, they will not become gay or transgender. That’s delusional. Gay and transgender people have existed for as long as humans have walked on earth, including times it was a crime to be queer, and there was zero queer representation.
Conservatives need to stop pearl-clutching at everything they don’t like. Everything they don’t like is woke. Sex education is too important to be left to chance, and a few conservatives’ discomfort is not a valid reason to deprive young people of education. Denying young people will simply turn them to the dark fringes of the internet, and trust me, conservatives will not like what they might find.
The Ministry of Education should continue training teachers and strengthening the relationships and sexuality curriculum to ensure young people receive crucial education.
Shaneel Shavneel Lal (they/them) was instrumental in the bill to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand. They are a law and psychology student, model and influencer.