Is religion getting in the way of sex education?

Is religion getting in the way of sex education?

Young people want sex education and religion shouldn’t get in the way. That’s the message from one expert as the topic continues to be a source of anxiety for parents.

Gary D Bouma, emeritus professor of sociology at Monash University, said that while many parents want to ensure the curriculum doesn’t undermine their moral and religious views, it doesn’t mean that it should conflict with students’ right to sex education.

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed the fears of many parents when he told 2GB’s Alan Jones he sent his two daughters to private school because he didn’t want the values of others being imposed on his children, or any others in Australia.

Morrison said the Victorian ‘Building Respectful Relationships’ program “made his skin curl”, prompting an outcry from various LGBTQI groups.

“While we should defend Morrison’s right to seek education for his children consistent with his values, the comments raise questions about how he will support LGBTIQ+ communities in his role as PM,” Professor Bouma wrote in The Conversation.

“It’s reasonable to not want others to impose their values on his kids. Equally, it would be unwise if he were to attempt to impose his values on others by limiting sex education to what he deems acceptable.”

Young Aussies want information

Professor Bouma said that young people, when asked in Monash University’s recent nationally representative survey, want information about sex, sexuality and gender diversity.

“They are familiar and comfortable with these matters,” Professor Bouma wrote.

“A small percentage of students [about 10%] are not comfortable with these topics. These survey findings were corroborated in nationwide focus group discussions and follow-up interviews.”

Additionally, a recent survey of 2,000 students from Victoria and South Australia found young people want more information about gender diversity, violence in relationships, sexual pleasure, intimacy and love.

Balancing quality sex-ed with religious freedom

The basic question, says Professor Bouma, is how to recognise and permit minority religious expressions, such as the PM’s, while also respecting the dignity and rights of all Australians.

“These are not easy issues to resolve. The Australian approach to satisfying religious and values diversity has been offering a diversity of schools with a diversity of ideologies for people to choose from,” he wrote.

“But when it comes to policies that affect all Australians’ access to education, employment, health and other services – let alone basic respect and dignity – we have a way to go to ensure the needs of all are respected and served.”

Professor Bouma said that while parents have the right to select schools whose ideology fits their own, real diversities need to be respected on a national level so that inclusive approaches to sex education are provided “for the sake of public health”.

“This is needed to accommodate minority religious views, but it’s important to make sure those views doesn’t unduly curtail the sex and sexuality education offered to everyone,” he wrote.