Currently, there is no consistent standard of sex, sexuality, gender and respectful relationships education across Australian schools.
Each state and territory makes decisions about what they teach in schools. Additionally, religious schools have exemptions under anti-discrimination laws to decide how they approach these issues, and whether they include them at all.
But according to one expert, education about gender and sexuality does belong in the classroom at all.
In an article published in The Conversation, David Rhodes – a senior lecturer in Edith Cowan University’s School of Education – said that despite the gains made in the marriage equality debate, Australia has been unable to translate this into inclusive sex and sexuality education for young people.
“While countries such as England and Canada are adopting progressive, consistent sex education programs at a national level, Australia has not,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said that while the Federal Department of Education is spending $5m to develop resources to teach respectful relationships in Australian schools, these resources will not include topics on toxic masculinity, gender theory or case studies about young people’s sexual activity.
“Gender and sexual diversity are part of the rich multicultural landscape of contemporary Australian society, but research indicates there’s significant cause for concern about gender-based violence and family violence,” he said.
Rhodes pointed out that education about respectful relationships was identified as a key way to combat this in the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
“Likewise, current research about young people and sex, sexuality and gender diversity is alarming,” he said.
“There are still high levels of mental health issues [such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide] among LGBTIQ young people as a result of bullying, discrimination, and harassment at school and in the wider community.”
Rhodes said the data indicates increasingly high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young people are also a significant concern, adding that rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea diagnoses in Australia are highest amongst people aged 15-24 years.
“Sex, sexuality, respectful relationships, and gender all need to be discussed in schools as a component of a whole-school approach,” Rhodes said.
According to Rhodes, this should not only include in-class education, but should also be addressed in school cultures, policies and procedures, and in gender equity among the staff.
“This is important because we need safe, inclusive schools that celebrate diversity. It’s also important to raise awareness among young people to mitigate family, domestic and sexual violence,” he said.
This article has been edited for length