Does sex ed need to include lessons on pleasure?

Schools shouldn't only educate about the potential risks of sexual activity but also 'acknowledge the rewards'.
Schools shouldn't only educate about the potential risks of sexual activity but also 'acknowledge the rewards'. Photo: Getty

A British social science lecturer from Durham University says that school based sex education should include the “pleasurable aspects of sex.” Writing for the academic site The Conversation, Mark McCormack outlined an argument for the overhaul of sex education, saying that classes should not only educate children about the potential risks of sexual activity but should also 'acknowledge the rewards'.

"We need to move beyond sex education to sexuality education that engages with the centrality of sexuality to social life.

"From Shakespeare's sonnets to episodes of [soap opera] Eastenders, and from Rihanna's latest single to a Tchaikovsky symphony, we are more rounded, fully realised people when we are able to engage with sexuality in a mature and sophisticated manner," McCormack explains.

McCormack also believes that school based sex education should support “sexual minority students” by accommodating the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and “questioning youth.”

Relationships counsellor and educator Liz Dore agrees with McCormack and says that the Australian sexual education curriculum would also benefit from an overhaul.

“The Australian school curriculum needs to include relationships skills and all aspects of sexuality, not just how birds and bees reproduce.

“Topics such as masturbation for pleasure will help teenagers relax, get to know their bodies and have more positive intimate relationships when they partner,” says Dore.

Dore also agrees that sex education, which is covered during Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHEE), should support “sexual minority” students. “Schools should stop presenting the heterosexual view of sex in isolation. Pre-teens and Teenagers learning about their sexuality is about discovering who they are, what feels good and what sex they are attracted too.”

In addition to this, Dore also notes that teenagers with autism and learning disabilities need better access to thorough sex education.

“Schools have an obligation to teach what is in the PDHPE curriculum especially to children with disability who are less likely to gain the correct information from other sources,” says Dore.

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It is also vital that parents take an active role in sex education, says Dore. This is echoed by Sally Sweeny, a senior educator from Interrelate, a not for profit company that supports Australian primary schools with sex education.

“We cover a lot of sensitive areas with very honest factual information. We teach kids to take care of themselves and give them the information they need to make healthy, informed choices as they get older,” explains senior educator Sally Sweeny

Parents are encouraged to attend classes such as ‘where did I come from’ and ‘preparing for puberty,’ with their children so that they know exactly what has been discussed.

Sweeny’s advice to parents is to keep the lines of communication open.

“If your children ask you a question give them an age appropriate answer. Parents worry that they have to talk in reams about things, but kids just want to hear the truth.”

Parenting blogger and mother of 4 Maria Tedeschi agrees that parents should take an active role in educating their children about sexuality, and that “ongoing discussions” should compliment information provided at school. However she does admit that at times it can feel a bit uncomfortable.

“Personally I’m not embarrassed to have the sex talk but it is awkward and I think finding the 'right' time to have these discussions can be hard,” Tedeschi explains.

Tedeschi firmly agrees that the sexual education provided in high school PDHEE should include “the pleasurable aspects of sex,” and cater for “sexual minority” students as suggested by McCormack.

“Students with a sexual orientation other than the norm aren't an anomaly. Not anymore. If nothing else, I think it would help teach those heterosexual kids, who never have to deal with LGBTI issues, some empathy towards people who are different to themselves.”

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