Why pleasure should be part of sex education in schools

Sexual Health Victoria's CEO Claire Vissenga spoke to The Australian newspaper about the concept of pleasure, and why it belongs in sex education.

Sexual Health Victoria wants kids to learn about pleasure in sex education

Rebecca Urban, The Australian, January 2, 2018. Republished with permission.

Teachers would be given a ­licence to talk to students about pleasure during sex education classes, under a bold push to overhaul the way in which the subject is taught in schools.

Sexual Health Victoria is spearheading a campaign for a more integrated approach to sex education that would promote the positive aspects of sexual ­relationships in addition to teaching young people about reproduction and guarding their sexual health.

The publicly-funded group, which provides sex education in schools and professional development for teachers, wants to see the concept of pleasure embedded in sex education policy and the subject given greater prominence in the curriculum.

Sexual Health Victoria chief executive Claire Vissenga said it was astonishing that pleasure — “such a fundamental part of the human experience” with “links to positive health and wellbeing ­outcomes” — was largely absent from conver­sations about sex ­education and reproductive and sexual health.

“I think education is missing in schools, where you have to be very biological in relation to sex education; talking about conception, and how that occurs, and prevention of STIs,” Ms Vissenga said. “What we don’t talk about is the pleasure of intimacy and why that is important, and how you develop and maintain intimate relationships.”

Sex education is a compulsory part of the Victorian curriculum, but content varies across schools and sectors. The Department of Education’s sexuality education policy does not expressly stipulate what schools should teach, pointing out that programs are more effective when they are developed in consultation with parents and the local community.

While the Department of Education’s sexuality education policy makes no mention of the word “pleasure”, the Catching On Later sex education resource promoted by the department does, containing activities that “give students the opportunity to learn and ­discuss the intimate and pleasurable aspects of sex”. “We need to understand that sex is about many things,” the guide says. “It can be about reproduction or pleasure or both. It is timely to remind ourselves that sex, as well as being the means to reproduction, is also a way of expressing intimate feelings for another person of the opposite or same sex.”

Ms Vissenga said educators typically approached sex education with caution, not wanting to be seen to be teaching “risque” content or promoting a lifestyle “not appropriate”.

Updating policy to acknowledge that sex could be pleasurable and bring health and wellbeing benefits would help to alleviate this, she said. “There’s so much anxiety around what we teach children and the notion that if you talk to kids about sex they’ll have sex — which disregards the fact that some kids are having sex anyway,” she said. “We should definitely use the word pleasure and we should be upfront about it because unless we have an enabling environment we’re not going to get anywhere with this.”

While the organisation is hopeful the government will be ­receptive to the idea, a government spokesman distanced Labor from the proposal. 

The spokesman declined to say whether the government would be open to considering policy changes but said there were no plan to alter “current ­resources”.

“Age-appropriate sex education is an important component of the health and physical education curriculum taught across government, Catholic and independent schools,” he said.

“It focuses on understanding puberty, conception and pregnancy, as well as safe choices and how to seek help and advice.”

Opposition education spokesman Tim Smith said he was concerned by the proposal, which risked “undermining the role of parents in talking to their children about sensitive topics when they believe they are ready”.

This article was published in The Australian newspaper and republished with permission.

Categories: Talking about Sex