“We must provide students with an ideal to strive for, one that offers them the healthiest option physically and emotionally. The healthiest ideal is to postpone sexual activity until adulthood, and ideally, until marriage.”
This is the recommendation of Miriam Grossman and Christopher White in a report entitled “Sexuality Education in New Zealand: A Critical Review”, which was commissioned by Family First NZ.
The report is an analysis of various sex education resources promoted to New Zealand adolescents and used in a number secondary schools. The resources reviewed were typically websites and included curious.org.nz, iwannaknow.org, getiton.org.nz, sexnrespect.co.nz and publications from Family Planning, an affiliate of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).
The analysis found that information presented to adolescents “is not accurate, comprehensive, or up-to-date.” Permeating the sexuality education resources was the message that sex is “risky only when it’s ‘unprotected’”. The materials overstated the efficacy of condoms, “in some cases vastly so”.
Grossman concluded that “the sexuality education programmes that have been reviewed are seriously flawed, with both sins of commission, and sins of omission,” and “students are left misinformed, and with a false sense of security” as “critical life and death information” is “distorted or ignored”.
While the Ministry of Education states that “a key message” is the “need to delay the start of sexual activity”, resources given to adolescents promote sexual activity and only have a cursory mention of abstinence being a sure fire way to avoid STIs and pregnancy.
Using iwannaknow.org as an example the report points out that abstinence is defined correctly “but the message is ambivalent, and the expectations are low. Delaying sex is ‘good’ – but at the same time, know how to use a condom.” This approach “is merely a wink and a nod, before a much longer and detailed instruction on how to go about having sex with your partner(s).”
Discussed in the report is the overriding belief held by many sexuality educators that adolescents should be treated as adults, with the right to engage in sexual activity when they consent. Grossman states “We cannot expect teens to delay sexual activity while instructing them, ‘only you know when you’re ready’. It is the nature of adolescence to feel ‘ready’ for just about anything.”
The report examines the biological differences between boys and girls, exposing the fact that “girls pay a higher price than boys for early sexual debut and multiple partners.” That price includes both emotional ramifications and the physical consequences of STIs and pregnancy.
Many of the resources analysed are explicit and discuss the “how to’s” of sex, including homosexual sex and other risky sexual behaviours, all the while failing to adequately warn adolescents of the dangers and facts surrounding contracting STIs such as Chlamydia.
Grossman points out that even though every young person may not postpone sex
we are still obligated to inform them of the grave risks they face, to teach them biological truths about their physical and emotional vulnerabilities, to warn them in a no-nonsense manner about avoiding high risk behaviours, and to encourage the highest standard.
The report has been labelled in part, homophobic by Shaun Robinson, executive director of the Aids Foundation who says “it [the Foundation] encourages behaviour change – celebrating condoms as a normalised part of sex.”
But the Sexuality Education in New Zealand Report concludes that
adolescents look to adults for authoritative guidance. It is our responsibility to do precisely that –guide them with authority, firm rules and high expectations. That is not accomplished by telling them ‘only you know when you’re ready’. When we provide that message, we fail young people. When we teach them to rely on latex, we fail again.