Mounting evidence suggests Australia's school system is failing our young people when it comes to sexuality education.
Of course, in an ideal world, parents should be involved in these discussions. However, there are many reasons, including cultural or religious, that these discussions aren't being had. Often, parents simply aren't aware of the myriad issues young people face.
So, it's up to schools to pick up the slack and provide young people with the information they need to stay safe and healthy, and protect themselves emotionally and physically. Experts agree we need to start the conversations in early primary school, in an age-appropriate way.
School sex education programs are the number one source of information about sexuality and relationships for 77 percent of girls and 74 percent of boys, according to a recent report by the University of South Australia. It found young people believe sex education classes at school need to be about much more than just sex. They're also craving information about gender diversity, violence in relationships, staying safe online, how to have sex, masturbation and pornography.
What decision-makers need to keep in mind is that our school children are digital natives who are caught up in a world obsessed by pornography, social media and instant messaging.
And yet the current, ad-hoc approach to handling these sensitive lessons ranges from completely ignoring sex education altogether to religious brochures that spruik historic propaganda around why abstinence is the best approach for young relationships.
In one bizarre example, Pentecostal sex education saw educators tell Year 7 girls sex with multiple partners would destroy any chance of a close relationship in the future. The students were warned not to have multiple sex partners, because they risk becoming like overused sticky tape in a Christian sex education program at a public Victorian high school.
"Having multiple sex partners is almost like tape that loses its stickiness after being applied and removed multiple times. So the more you have, the harder it is to bond to the next," it read.
It also explained that a chemical called oxytocin is released when two people touch, and was produced more in women than men, making them needier.
"If a woman becomes physically close and hugs a guy for 20 seconds it will trigger the bonding process, creating a greater desire to be near him. Then if the guy wants to take the relationship further, it will become harder for her to say no," the booklet handed out to students read. Seriously, this is the tripe being fed to kids who have probably already seen porn.
The booklet was distributed during school hours during a weekly youth program as part of a Melbourne Pentecostal megachurch called CityLife. Alarmingly, the school had not sought parental consent to deliver the program.
Meanwhile, with reports that Australian students are among the most digitally literate in the world, the online world has also become a platform in which Australian young women and girls face abuse and harassment.
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In a new report, young students reveal it's common behaviour to be sent unwanted and uninvited sexually explicit content. It states that 81 percent of girls believe it's unacceptable for boyfriends to ask for explicit content, although they believe pressure to do so is now commonplace.
I believe that standardising sex education in Australia is only a matter of time, and pressure is mounting. New Zealand recently released a revised guide for schools to deliver sex education, which has been described by Family Planning New Zealand as comprehensive, sensible and "rooted in the issues facing young people today such as pornography, sexual bullying and bullying that supports sexuality education in schools, and across all year groups".
There is also a current push in the UK for standardised sex education. A report from the Britain's House of Commons' education select committee has called for age-appropriate sex and relationships education to be made compulsory in all schools, taught from the age of five.
What decision-makers need to keep in mind is that our school children are digital natives who are caught up in a world obsessed by pornography, social media and instant messaging. And that honest, open and accurate sexuality education is a basic human right.
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