I was pleasantly surprised to see that the topic of sex education was covered in a reasonably sensitive manner by the SST. Instead of the ohmygodthekidsarehavingsex, there was a concern that sex education in this country was failing to grapple with the early onset of puberty.
I count myself as very fortunate to come from a crazy liberal background when it comes to sex ed. I knew where babies came from at the age of six after my three year old sister saw two dogs fucking and wondered out loud what they were up to so my parents explained it. If my brother hadn't been bought into this world by c-section, my sister and I would have been with my mother when he was born. In fact I would say that my parents stumbled onto the best form of birth control for young girls, watching a live birth. Because after watching many a video of the birthing process while waiting for mum at the outpatient ward during her pregnancy with Brother of ExExpat, both Exexpat sisters not only made it through to our teenage years without a pregnancy but still have no plans for procreating in our late 20s. Hmm perhaps my parents sex ed worked a little too well.
If repeated viewings of women experiencing the agony of labour weren't enough to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, then my friendly high school sex education teacher made sure I had the technical know-how to avoid pregnancy as well as STIs by getting us to practice putting condoms on wooden penises (or should that be penisi?) during fourth form. As you can imagine this part of the curriculum always caused a stir with some parents who weren't at all happy with their little girls learning how to do this during school hours.
As the student member of the Board of Trustees, I had to listen to an irate mother who was appalled at the comprehensive nature of the sex education at the school. The chairperson, who happened to be a no-nonsense midwife, thanked for contribution and said that while half of the girls who start high school do so clutching their teddy bears another half had hormones raging through them and she was far more interested in stopping them from getting pregnant than upsetting peoples morality or something along those lines.
But I can't say that my school's thorough approach to sex ed is replicated around the country and it is one area where parents can and do pull their munchkins out of class for if they don't feel that the lessons are appropriate. I've always wondered why parents have still have that 'right.' To me learning about the birds and the bees is as fundamental as maths and reading. If children grow into young adults without that knowledge, they run not only the usual risks of becoming pregnant or contracting an STI (which in both cases New Zealand has shocking high rates of) but the information vacuum also creates a healthy environment for sex abuse because the abusers are setting the tone for what is 'normal' sex.
Unfortunately we still seem content to put sex education into the 'too hard' basket because it might make parents, and for that matter teachers, uncomfortable with what needs to be taught. It should go without saying that if you actually want teenagers to use contraception in order to avoid getting pregnant, then they actually need to know how. While condoms are easy to apply once you've learned the art or application, they do take some practice and the best time to practice isn't in the heat of the moment.
But perhaps more important than scaring teenagers about the dangers of sex is teaching them vital relationship skills so that if they decide to have sex (because not having sex is a valid choice), it is a decision both of them make in order to make the experience safe and even *gasp* pleasurable for both parties. But the groundwork for that type of sex education starts far earlier than the teenage years and does require parents/teachers to swallow their embarrassment on the topic.