Education about sex and respectful relationships should be compulsory in all Queensland schools, a non-profit community organisation has argued.
Protect All Children Today, which provides support for child victims and witnesses in court, said lessons about sex and relationships should be compulsory and added to the curriculum, providing they were age-appropriate, relevant, meaningful, accurate and engaging. Sex education and respectful relationships classes are not compulsory in Queensland state schools. Instead, they are options within the curriculum.
But PACT said the Queensland government had a responsibility to ensure all school children received the classes. PACT's submission was made to a Queensland parliamentary inquiry investigating how to improve the delivery of respectful relationships and sex education in regards to the use of technology in Queensland state schools. The inquiry is not considering sex ed classes in independent or faith-based schools. PACT's chairperson Alexandra Marks and chief executive officer Jo Bryant said they were concerned about the sexualised use of technology and criminal trials involving young people as a result of sexting, revenge porn and viewing sexual content online. PACT said it seemed sexting and non-consensual sharing of sexual images in state schools was prevalent, especially for students between the ages of 12 to 16. Burnet Institute research showed up to 46 per cent of Victorians aged 15 to 29 years old had sent or received a sext, while 87 per cent had viewed pornography.
Almost 40 per cent of 15- to 29-year-old young men watched porn daily, compared with 4 per cent of young women. Preliminary results from another Burnet Institute study showed some young people said they learnt more about the mechanics of sex from porn than at school. North Queensland Women's Legal Service supervising solicitor Sharell O'Brien said the group had learnt, through its work with schools presenting respectful relationships programs, that risky behaviour was highly prevalent. During the discussions, staff explain the potential legal consequences of sexting and sending, storing or producing sexual images.
"The students do not seem to shy away from discussing the topic and often talk about the topic as though it is a 'normal' part of growing up," Ms O'Brien said.
"It is not until we discuss and explain the legal implications of the behaviours, that their opinions often change."
A 2005 comparison of sex education policies and young people's sexual health in France, Australia, the Netherlands and the US indicated youth pregnancy, births and abortions were higher in the US where an abstinence-only sex education policy was widespread. A UNESCO review of 22 curriculum-based sexuality education programs found 80 per cent of those that addressed gender or power relations were associated with a significant decrease in pregnancy, childbearing or STIs.
High school students surveyed in Victoria and South Australia reported they wanted less repetition of biology in their sex ed classes and more information about gender diversity, violence in relationships, intimacy, sexual pleasure, love, online safety, and starting and ending a relationship. However, a submission to the inquiry from a Queensland couple implored the government to leave sex education to parents, after their eight-year-old daughter was "shocked" by what she was taught at school. "We find it offensive, that you wish to steal our young girls [sic] innocence prematurely, andvagainst [sic] our wishes, and to shock our child," the parents wrote. "And that you wish to force a somewhat sheltered child, down a murky pathway - too soon, simply because many other parents, cannot, or will not, teach their own children about sex, whenever that will be."
The inquiry will hold public hearings from next month.