Relationships now the focus of sex education for young New Zealanders

Alex Iby/Unsplash

The Ministry of Education’s new guidelines on sexuality education, released last year, have put relationships at the front and centre for the first time. (File photo)

Sex education is no longer just about sex, with consent, gender, sexual orientation and healthy relationships now key issues concerning young Kiwis.

University of Canterbury lecturers Dr Rachael Dixon​ and Tracy Clelland​ are part of the team creating resources to help schools and teachers bring new relationship and sexuality education guidelines into practice.

The updated guidelines, released by the Ministry of Education last year, put relationships at the “front and centre” for the first time.

Clelland said young people wanted better sexuality and relationship education.

“Young people are becoming better aware of the world … so it’s a crucial time.”

The Ministry of Education updated the guidelines in 2015 and revised them again in 2020, but teachers still needed advice on how the guidelines could be used in practice, Dixon said.

The new resources, expected to be released in term three this year, would give teachers the skills, knowledge and understanding they needed to help their students learn, she said.

They would also give schools tools to consult with their community and to listen to their students about what they needed from that area of the curriculum.

The team would do extensive research and communicate with schools, communities and people of different cultural backgrounds to create the resources, Dixon said.

“It’s exciting to be part of the work that’s being done in relation to wellbeing.”

An important aspect was teaching students to “critique what they see”, Clelland said.

Young people had easy access to online content such as pornography, so it was important to teach them how to be critical thinkers, and discuss what healthy relationships and sex looked like, she said.

Clelland hoped it would reduce the taboos, stop judgement from parents, and give young people and parents the opportunity to discuss issues effectively.

Resources would be created for both primary and secondary schools. Primary schools would focus on relationships, which would lead into conversations about sexuality.

“Sexuality is part of relationships, and relationships are part of sexuality, but it doesn’t have to be the daunting, controversial, sensitive issue,” Dixon said.

Clelland said schools had to move away from solely focusing on the biological elements of sex education and society’s expectation that sex education was just about sex.

It now covered consent, gender norms, gender identity, sexual orientation and critiquing societies ideas of relationships, providing the skills needed to talk about such things.

The resources would cover three elements for teachers: Who am I? How can I relate to others? What are societies values of relationships?

Dixon said New Zealand’s school curriculum was world leading, but having more resources would better serve the needs of young people, especially in areas such as health, wellbeing, relationships and sexuality.

“We can always do better,” Clelland said.

“Relationships are so important for the functioning of everyone in society.”

Read More