“It says sexual education but all it is, is just puberty” The perspectives of secondary school students on the timing of topics in sexuality education

Year: 2012

Author: Duffy, Bernadette, Smith, Amanda, Burke Jenene, Fotinatos, Nina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Abstract:

Identifying appropriate curriculum content in sexuality education is often heavily contested and reliant on a number of factors within and beyond the school environment.  Despite the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) having sexuality education policy in the form of VELS and the School Policy + Advisory Guide, school curriculum in this area tends to be inconsistently delivered.  This is particularly evident in when a topic is introduced to students and how much information is provided.  While the perspectives of parents and school staff have often dominated this issue, the authors of this paper considered it essential that the perspectives of students were explored in determining the timing of sexuality education topic delivery.

This paper reports on a collaborative research project between the University of Ballarat (Victoria, Australia) and Ballarat Community Health, a key provider of sexuality education in the region.  The aim of the research was to investigate the perspectives of year 7, 8 and 9 secondary students in relation to their sexuality education learning experiences, needs and wants.  A mixed-method approach (quantitative surveys and focus groups) was used to explore sexuality education with the target group engaged at two regional government schools in low socioeconomic-status areas. Participants (n=103) were asked to identify the earliest year level that each of twenty-five named sexuality education topics should be introduced at school.

This paper examines the desired timing of sexuality topics as determined by students.  Over 50% of students identified that many of the provided topics should be introduced by the end of year 6 and at least two thirds suggested this should occur by the end of year 7.  Despite this desire for earlier timing of topic introduction, this data is in stark contrast to previous research with primary teachers in the same region.  In 2008, almost 15% of primary teachers participating in the research suggested that sexual intercourse and pregnancy topics were not relevant for their year 5 and 6 students.  Additionally, these teachers reported low rates of confidence in teaching numerous topic areas including reproductive systems, menstruation, wet dreams and sexual intercourse.

The responses of students in this research challenge us to reassess the current sexuality education content delivered in many primary and secondary school classrooms.   One of the greatest challenges in having student perspectives integrated into classroom practice will be the attitudes and confidence of teaching staff.  Perhaps this too, 'is a matter of time'.

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