When should sexual education begin?
The original suggestion was that this curriculum would be introduced from year 3. Unfortunately there has been some recent backlash against this ‘new’ curriculum being introduced to children “as young as seven” and the latest news is that “the Australian curriculum authority says it has listened to feedback from parenting and school groups, and will introduce sex education in grades 5 and 6, not in grades 3 and 4, as earlier recommended.”
For the last 8 years I have taught sex education to classes of children from as young as prep in Melbourne. These classes are fun, non-threatening and age and stage appropriate. I have no hesitation in suggesting that there is a problem with and for parents fighting against such classes as part of a whole school curriculum. Perhaps the first thing we need to do is find out exactly what those opposing sex education for year 3 or 4 children (and younger) think that sex education actually involves. It should be no surprise to parents that young children gather lots of information, both sexual and otherwise, on a daily basis; they talk to their friends, they listen to conversations happening around them, they see tv shows, movies and videos not necessarily intended for them. Do you have the radio on in the car? Have you ever left a magazine open on the coffee table? Were you talking to your friends over coffee about childbirth or periods? Do your children see their parent(s) in the shower, accompany them to the toilet, jump into bed with them for a morning cuddle? Even before children begin their ‘formal’ education at school they are constantly learning; they are also hearing about and being exposed to sexual topics whether you choose for this to happen or not. In fact, parents begin their child’s first sexuality education in the earliest days of life; from the moment of birth, whether they intend to or not. Even if you can swear that your child has never heard a discussion of a sexual nature it is impossible for you to hide your own attitudes; be they embarrassment or supreme comfort, openness or reservation, honesty or fumbling, bumbling hesitation. Non verbal language cannot be disguised and even if parents don’t provide information or answer questions, even if schools don’t provide classes or they introduce topics too late, children will continue to gain their (mis)information from a huge variety of sources as well as from just observing the way the significant people in their lives behave towards them and each other.
Opponents of sexual education in primary schools, whether from years 3 or 4, or indeed from prep, need to be aware that sexual education is not just about providing simple information about reproduction, menstruation, diseases and ‘sexual feelings’.
Sexuality education involves:
- Positive messages about the child and their body.
- An appreciation of family values about sexual matters.
- Practice at making decisions, solving problems and communicating comfortably.
- Understanding, acknowledging and managing feelings.
- Reassurance about the child’s welfare and safety.
- Thinking about friendships and relationships and responsibilities.
- Consideration of tolerance and prejudice.
- An atmosphere of openness, honesty and trust.
- Clear factual information, support from the adults around the child and a solid foundation to discover their own values and beliefs.