Sex-ed is not often high on the priority list for Australian schools and, as teachers and students transition to online delivery in a COVID19 world, I imagine it has fallen even lower on the list – if not dropped off completely.
Now that kids are forced to do all their learning and socialising from home, their capacity to connect with others online is more important than ever – and the associated risks more amplified than ever.
The e-Safety Commissioner’s office has “recorded an 86 percent increase in image-based online abuse for the month of March…[attributing] this to an exploitation of our increasingly online lives.” Online pornography use has increased worldwide since everyone has been locked down at home, and we know porn was already being used by young people as a key source of information about sex.
It has always been important that parents and caregivers talk to the young people in their homes about sex, relationships and bodies – of course in an age-appropriate and responsible way. While there are significant benefits to using schools as the key site for delivery of relationships and sex education, the home plays a vital role in every young person’s sex education. A role whose significance cannot be overstated in ordinary times, let alone in these extraordinary times.
I know some adults feel uncomfortable talking to young people about sex, and some even fear that providing accurate, age-appropriate information will encourage sexual behaviour. The evidence demonstrates the opposite is true: young people exposed to comprehensive relationships and sex education are more likely to have later first sexual experiences, and less likely to have negative sexual experiences. The COVID19 pandemic has reminded us in sharp relief that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
It is critical that young people know the adults in their life are all comfortable talking sensibly about sex, relationships and bodies. It should not be something mysterious that a special teacher comes to talk to them about once or twice a year, and that everybody else is too embarrassed to discuss. If young people learn it is too shameful to even discuss the positive and healthy aspects of sex and relationships, how can we expect their courage in speaking up to trusted adults about concerning or potentially risky behaviour they might be exposed to? Put simply, if young people do not know what is appropriate, how will they know what is inappropriate?
Parents and caregivers are under enormous strain now, with many working while facilitating their kids’ learning. Rather than adding sex-ed to the home school curriculum, this is simply an invitation to an ongoing conversation. This is an opportunity get to know what the young people in your home think and understand about sex, bodies and relationships. And this is a chance to give them an alternative to potentially risky and inaccurate sources of information about this topic they may otherwise reach for.