Parents want complete sex education

19 May 2008

Parents would prefer sex education classes to focus on topics such as birth control and safe sex rather than abstinence, a university researcher has found.

Most parents support comprehensive sex education programs starting in primary school, said Allison Macbeth from the University of Sydney.

"The vast majority of parents want sex education to cover issues such as birth control methods and safer sex, and sex as part of a loving relationship (98 per cent and 97 per cent respectively)," she said.

"In contrast, when asked to rate the importance of abstinence as a topic, just three in ten parents (32 per cent) said it was 'very or extremely important'," said Macbeth, who is researching parents' attitudes to sex education as part of a Masters in Sexual Health.

"A small but vocal minority of parents give the impression through the media that the majority of parents want abstinence-only education for their children. But my research shows parents who support abstinence-only education are a minority. In fact, 15 per cent of parents think the topic of abstinence should be banned outright from sex education classes.

"The majority of parents support a comprehensive sex education curriculum beginning in primary school, before their children are sexually active, so they can make their own decisions about their sexual health, including the choice to be sexually active," she said.

Ms Macbeth said that with Australian young people having the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the western world and ever increasing rates of STIs, it is clear that sex education in schools needs to be improved.

She said young people report that they want to learn about the emotional, relational, and psychological aspects of sex in school programs, but are not getting this information. Instead, the typical sex education class includes discussion on condom use, STIs, and biology.

"There are comprehensive sex education curriculums in place across Australia, but most parents are not satisfied with these programs", she said.

"It is essential that parents supportive of sex education get involved. It is this majority that needs to get active so that the minority of abstinence-only advocates do not gain control of school sex education programs, thus further reducing young people's decision making abilities regarding their sexual health by limiting the information they are exposed to."

Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 0434 606 100