OPINION: What’s wrong with making sex education more inclusive?


gossiping women talk about sex shocked
Photo: Denis PC/Adobe Stock

One of the most salient fears of marriage equality opponents was that success for the “yes” campaign would lead to a radical age-inappropriate sex education curriculum.

There were wild claims made — students asked to role-play same-sex relationships, boys encouraged to wear dresses, sex toys in primary school health classes… (All since quietly filed under “things that never actually happened.”)

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There was talk of the good old days, a golden era of decent value-based education which made me wonder, how was sex education done in the past?

In my teaching career, the approach has varied widely — from absolutely nothing, we-don’t-talk-about-that-here, to a comprehensive program that included relationship and sexual health topics over the seven years of primary school.

For students, I guess, what you know kind of depends on where you go.

Still, I pondered. If political pundits were comparing present-day programs unfavourably to “back in the day,” what actually happened then that was so wholesome? Was it worth revisiting?

The early 20th century was the “silent era” — not only for movies, but also for sexuality education. Human physiology was an academic discipline, but the study of the birds and bees was reduced to mere mechanics.

School authorities cringed at the thought of female teachers discussing germination, let alone reproduction involving actual genitals.

Basically, the subject was ignored. No one wanted responsibility for the discussion, though eventually some church groups produced somewhat-less-than-candid handbooks for the benefit of graduating students.

Too little, too late.

When World War I happened, servicemen, far from home and facing their own mortality, sowed their wild oats with abandon. Many returned home with a souvenir of their good times — venereal disease — something a little education may have helped avoid.

Another blast from the past is how expectations varied based on a person’s gender. Modesty in all things was demanded of women. Casual sex meant social ruin.

Men however, benefited from a collective blind eye. There was unspoken agreement that male sexual experience contributed to marital success.

One partner would know what to do. While some frowned on any form of premarital sex, few men suffered the shame and stigma visited on promiscuous women.

But if women were expected to be chaste and men experienced, where were the men to gain that experience?

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I guess we’ll never know.

1961 introduced a step forward — the contraceptive pill. It allowed women to participate more freely in the workforce and control their reproductive outcomes.

Nonetheless, this wonder of medical science incurred a 27% luxury tax and was only available to married women.

Of course, one way or the other, unmarried, sexually active women were going to get access to the contraceptive pill, and they did.

Beg, borrow, steal, have premarital sex… No worries!

I don’t think we will ever return to that educational era, but if my same-sex marriage sparks a more comprehensive approach to the situation, then the next generation may just benefit.

Perhaps the naysayers don’t know what really happened in the good old days and simply invent a glorious past that supports their personal beliefs.

RJ Miles is a Brisbane mum, author and educator. To read more from RJ Miles about her experiences as a same-sex parent, click here.

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