Parents should be the masters at delivering sex education

Published in the Courier Mail 15 April 2009

ISN’T it amazing how a little thing like Queensland Education endorsing The Hormone Factory website can stir up so much controversy?

After all, sex is a part of life and we must have bright, animated websites to tell 11- and 12-year-old children all about it — mustn’t we?

True, it was a little disturbing that the website posed questions with completely nonsensical answers to select from. For example, in the multiple-choice section, one question was, “What age do people have sex? The three available answers were “I agree”, “I don’t agree” or “I don’t know”. With content quality like that, it’s no wonder people are upset Education Queensland endorsed this website.

However, there’s an even bigger question than the site’s obvious flaws, and that is the question as to just who is teaching our children about sex?

Tween magazines are certainly trying to do their bit. One of these is Girl Power, which describes itself as “the must-read magazine within the 7-13-year-old tween girls set”.

Girl Power recently directed its child readers to a fashion-oriented forum which also featured older teenagers talking about explicit sex acts. Whoops. That shouldn’t have happened, except it did, and it’s too late to undo inappropriate exposure.

In an increasingly secularised society, raising children with values is getting difficult. When governments and families have very different, often opposite, values, then teaching about relationships, when life begins and sexuality is challenging.

In Queensland, Parents & Citizens’ Associations have lost the right to help shape and approve content of material relating to sex education. It would seem that this important and far-reaching education is being taken out of the hands of parents and being put into the hands of bureaucrats and government ministers. However, is it really the job of the state to teach children about sex? Isn’t that what families are meant to do?

When society and social institutions shared a common world view, values promoted by the state and values promoted within most homes were widely consistent. There was a public understanding about what was considered the preferred value system to promote, and this was rarely one that parents felt uncomfortable with.

However, as we have moved away from publicly endorsing a Judaeo-Christian world view, we have struggled to replace it with a morally consistent framework of values at a social level.

This makes sex education difficult. Speaking about sexual expression doesn’t happen within a values void and we are absolutely fooling ourselves if we suggest it does. We would also be mistaken to suggest that we no longer have a sense of rights and wrongs relating to sexual expression. This was recently revealed in the public outcry over reports of the 13-year-old dad in England. However, if we shy away from the difficult and uncomfortable conversations about the values we teach a generation, I would suggest we lose the right to express shock at 13-year-old parents.

So, we have a problem. Who decides what to teach children about when sex is and isn’t OK? What happens when Queensland Education is implicitly teaching values that are different from, or diametrically opposed to, the values that parents are teaching their children?

Teaching children about sex and the context of sexual expression is important — too important to be left to websites that purport to teach children about sex but can’t even get their facts right.