Women's health advocates call for sex education to teach pleasure

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Matthew Raggatt

Greens' senator and co-deputy leader Larissa Waters told the forum there was still need for better education about ...

Greens' senator and co-deputy leader Larissa Waters told the forum there was still need for better education about respectful relationships. Photo: Michelle Smith

Are school students missing out on all the good sex talk?

Women's health advocates have called for secondary school students to learn about pleasure and orgasm in sex education classes.

The limitations of today's perceived "risk averse" sex education model were shared at a forum in Canberra on Thursday as part of the launch of a national survey asking women aged 16-21 to have their say on what they got out of the school classes.

Sex education advocate Katrina Marson, who runs forums with uni students on active consent and sexuality for pleasure, as well as being a lawyer with the ACT Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, said reforming sex education to include discussion about pleasure and desire was important to equip men and women with the skills to communicate.

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"It's [now] very risk based – don't get pregnant, don't get an STD," she said.

Narrabundah College student Manon McPherson, 17, said classes she attended at other schools covered the basics of anatomy, safe sex and consent, but teens were often divided into male and female sessions which discouraged conversation down the track.

"It perpetuates the idea that we're not meant to talk to boys about sex, we're just meant to do it," she said.

Women's Centre for Health Matters health promotion officer Angela Carnovale said sexual education and discussions should start from infancy and embrace the full spectrum of sexuality, helping to move away from cultural expectations such as women being the ones responsible for contraception.

Last year's national curriculum review found no need for major changes in sex education, but recommended schools should be given greater flexibility to determine the level where the topic was introduced and how education was delivered. The report said it was a "challenging" area for teachers, as many had little or no undergraduate training in sexuality.

Greens' senator and co-deputy leader Larissa Waters told the forum there was still need for better education about respectful relationships, as one in three women in Australia experienced domestic violence and one in five suffered sexual violence in their lifetime.

"It was really disturbing that [a 2013 national survey found] boys between 16-24 were more likely than other Australians to hold attitudes that support men having more power in relationships," she said.

The survey, the work of Equality Rights Alliance's Young Women's Advisory Group, closes on July 31.

A spokesman for the ACT Education and Training Directorate said the government was in the process of transitioning to the Australian Curriculum on health and education, including sex education, and had "full confidence" in this curriculum.