CommentHealth & Wellbeing

History of Sex Education in Australia: Let’s Get With The Times

Jayme Zimmermann discusses the history of sex education in Australia, how it has changed over time and what she believes is needed moving forward.

Sexual education has existed in Australian schools for over a century, yet the curriculum has only explored the basics of human reproduction. Additionally, I believe content such as sex for pleasure and masturbation has been wrongly taught as evidence of moral deterioration cured only by self-control and abstinence.

Sex ed began as a controversial addition to the Australian curriculum as a result of advocacy from outside organisations. According to Sexuality Education in Australia in 2011, the main issue with sex ed is that it was “centred around the importance of moral instruction and the degree to which it could be balanced against scientific information.” This was not only super dangerous for young people but put shame on people who were sexually active. Students could be taught about eggs and sperm, but not about sex and orgasms.

In the late twentieth century, amazing things were happening in the world. There was the introduction of the oral contraceptive pill and the sexual revolution. There was also more advocacy for and promotion of health due to the rise of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In today’s curriculum, especially in public schools, there is more of a focus on medical and scientific information, rather than focusing on what’s right or wrong. However, schools have the choice to teach whatever they feel is appropriate to their school. This is the case with both private schools and public schools. The Feed states that “according to the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA), schools are best placed to decide the time and emphasis given to teaching topics within the curriculum. The benefit of this is that schools – religious or not – have the flexibility to teach sex education in a way that reflects their school’s ethos, cultural sensitivities and community values. But this can be a double-edged sword. There is also the risk of sex education becoming an afterthought, or simply not being taught at all.”

Sex ed today still needs a lot of work. According to the Australian Federation of Aids Organisations (AFAO), “sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have risen sharply among young people in Australia in recent years, leading to calls for more effective and targeted approaches to sexual health education in schools.”

Sex education also needs to adapt to changing times. LGBTQIA+ individuals have been around since the dawn of time, but sex ed still fails to address information that ensures all students know what they need to know surrounding sex and their bodies. The AFAO states “current sexual health programs for Australian school students are also failing to address the needs of same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people”.

The AFAO and World Health Organisation (WHO) (1998) share the stance that young people need access to specific skills-based education in order to care for their sexual health. Young people must be able to:

  • Make sound decisions about relationships and sexual intercourse and stand up for those decisions.
  • Deal with pressures for unwanted sex or drug use.
  • Recognise a situation which may turn risky or violent.
  • Know how and where to ask for help and support.
  • Know how to negotiate protected sex and other forms of safe sex when ready for sexual relationships.

The AFAO states “these principles are generally supported by education authorities in Australia. However, research suggests that they are not being taught consistently to all students.”

It’s important for all young people to be taught inclusive and comprehensive sexual education in schools and I strongly believe the curriculum needs to be reviewed so that individuals can be informed about all they need to know and make safe decisions.


Feature Image: Michael Prewett via Unsplash, no changes made 

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