Right time to talk birds and bees

Bay of Plenty Times 8 Oct 2012
Conceiving from bathing in a hot pool and not getting pregnant the first time you have sex are among the myths dispelled by the Bay’s sex education teachers. The news comes as it is reported that Australian school children as young as 11 will be taught to “recognise sexual feelings”. Across the ditch, a new national physical education curriculum means sexuality will be explored in Years 7 and 8 but education experts here say setting sex education age limits is a complex issue.

Irene Lewis, who teaches sexuality education as part of physical education and health at Otumoetai College, said the debate had evolved over the years. “There’s been huge changes in the 34 years I’ve been teaching the subject,” said the teacher who is originally from the UK but has been at Otumoetai for 10 years. “In the UK, it used to be very much, ‘these are the facts’, ‘this is what happens’, now ‘don’t do it’. That was the message, full-stop. These days, it’s vastly different and to my mind much more healthy. “You’re teaching it through the fact that young people are going to have relationships and that’s a much better standpoint in my view.”

Mrs Lewis said “students seem to be younger and younger that are exploring relationships” and there could be a case made for introducing the topic earlier “in an appropriate way and with parental permission”. “In the UK, we used to talk about it when they were 12 and here it’s Year 9, which is 14. You have a wide range of children in any one age group though, in what they’ve experienced, what they know, or what they think they know. “I definitely think Year 9 is a good age to talk about the relationships and decisions which are coming up. If you go in earlier, you just adjust what you’re talking about and make it age and environment appropriate.” Mrs Lewis said she had tackled many misconceptions during her career. “A few years ago, one of our students said they had heard you could get pregnant if you were in a hot pool. How they got that misconception I have no idea. And one of the common misunderstandings is that you can’t get pregnant if it’s the first time you’ve had sex. That one’s still out there.” She said whenever the topic was broached it should be a partnership between school and parent. “We encourage students to go home and discuss with parents what they’ve been discussing in class. I think it’s a partnership and those involved in a young person’s life should be open about matters surrounding relationships and love. The more open and honest talk there is the better.”

However, Family First NZ’s national director Bob McCoskrie said sex education should be up to parents alone and not schools. “Our view is that parents determine that (the age) – not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach used by schools. Girls mature earlier than boys, and there can be differences among boys as to the timing of puberty. It can be embarrassing and inappropriate to discuss this material in co-ed classes. It also ignores the values and morals that families want presented to their children. “Children deserve the facts of life – from their parents. We should be resourcing parents to do this important task.”