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“Please Teach Students that Sex is a Healthy Part of Growing Up”: Australian Students’ Desires for Relationships and Sexuality Education

A Correction to this article was published on 28 May 2021

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Abstract

Introduction

Relationships and sexuality education (RSE) for young people in Australia and elsewhere is a contentious topic. While focus has been on sexting practices, curriculum and policy and teachers and schools, few studies have examined how discourses of silencing are reflected in what young people want from their RSE.

Methods

Using thematic analysis on 1258 open-ended comments from a 2018 survey of young people and sexual health and a theoretical framework of ‘Thick Desire,’ this paper explores what students in Australia desire from a RSE program and how they have come to understand those desires.

Results

This analysis reveals that young people in Australia understand and are articulate about the gaps in their RSE. Young people are negotiating a ‘silencing’ of knowledge and education around several important factors and are drawing from broader social, cultural and political influences that shape their experiences. Specifically, young people actively desire a RSE that includes more in-depth information about sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and sexual health issues, programs that are inclusive of diverse genders and sexualities, RSE that is delivered by qualified providers and programs that include discussions concerning relationships, consent and pleasure.

Social and Policy Implications

The findings of this study suggest several important policy recommendations to improve RSE education, particularly focusing on the sexual rights of young people, the lack of consistency and clarity in existing RSE national policy and the impact that silencing can have on young people’s knowledge and safety in engaging in sexual activity.

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Data Availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Change history

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Acknowledgements

We wish to acknowledge the following people for their contributions on this project: Gosia Mikloczjak, Wendy Heywood and Denisa Goldhammer. We also acknowledge the input and feedback of the numerous governmental and non-governmental organisations across Australia.

Funding

This project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

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Correspondence to Christopher Fisher.

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Waling, A., Fisher, C., Ezer, P. et al. “Please Teach Students that Sex is a Healthy Part of Growing Up”: Australian Students’ Desires for Relationships and Sexuality Education. Sex Res Soc Policy (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-020-00516-z

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Keywords

  • Qualitative methods
  • Adolescence
  • Education
  • Childhood
  • Teen
  • Sexuality
  • Desire
  • Relationships and sexuality education
  • Sex education
  • Thick desire