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Survey prompts call for uniform sex education -

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Survey prompts call for uniform sex education

The World Today - Tuesday, 28 October , 2008 12:46:00

ELEANOR HALL: Health experts are calling for uniform sexual education programs in Australian
schools in response to a report which has found a serious lack of awareness about sexual disease
among teenagers.

The Marie Stopes International study surveyed 1,000 teenagers and found that while more than a
third of them are sexually active, many have misconceptions about sexual health.

The survey also found that children who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to delay
having sexual relationships.

Michael Edwards has our report.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: It may come as a surprise to some, but according to a new survey on teenager's
sexual lives carried out by Marie Stopes International, teenagers who have had "the talk" with
their parents on average become sexually active later than those who haven't.

On the streets of Sydney, a number of parents told The World Today of a variety of ways in which
their children learnt about sex.

PARENT: We made them aware of sex, well of relationships between men and women and what we
considered appropriate behaviour and they got a certain amount of education at school 'cause they
went to an all boys single-sex school and things sort of evolved. They just seemed to handle it
quite well.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: So you never had 'the chat' so to speak.

PARENT: No, no, never sat down and had 'the chat'.

PARENT 2: It really isn't something that we have discussed extensively and I know that they have
had a lot of sexual education through their school and I'm fine with that and I know that they have
had some sexual education from other children in the playground which I'm not particularly happy
with that. But that's just life and they came home and asked me oh mummy what's a vernacular word
for a sexual act and I told them what it is.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The study surveyed 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 to 18 and their parents.
It asked questions about their sexual activity, their knowledge of sexual health and what they
spoke to their parents about in relation to sex.

Jill Michaelson ran the study, she says it found discrepancies between what parents thought they
knew and the reality.

JILL MICHAELSON: Around about 22 per cent of parents think that their teen is sexual active and
these are 13 to 18 year olds that we were surveying. But in reality about 31 per cent of teenagers
claimed to be sexually active, so that's one of the disparities.

Also a large majority of parents in fact 90 per cent though that they were approachable on the
topic of sex whereas only about 74 per cent of teenagers agree.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Jill Michaelson says one of the discoveries the study also made was what she
describes as an 'alarming' lack of awareness about sexual diseases.

JILL MICHAELSON: The major thing that came out of it was some lack of information of knowledge on
behalf of the teenagers which is a little bit disturbing in that about 45 per cent of them were not
aware that they could be infected with Chlamydia and have no symptoms.

About 30 per cent were unaware that they could contract sexually transmitted infections from oral
sex, so you know there was a lack of awareness that we were really concerned about.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: And on the issue of 'the talk' 20 per cent of parents admitted that they have
never had such a conversation with their teenage children.

Jill Michaelson says it's clear that sex is still a 'taboo' topic for many families.

JILL MICHAELSON: Talking about sex is still a pretty much a taboo thing and very difficult to
tackle for any adult with their teenagers.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The research also raised the issue of sexual education in Australian schools.

The study also found one in 10 teenagers haven't been taught sex-ed at school. It's called for a
uniform sex-ed curriculum to be adopted around the country. It's an idea with parental support.

PARENT 3: I know some parents do find it difficult to have 'the chat', some people avoid it at all
costs. So yeah I think that school is a good place to start, but I think it needs to start fairly
early.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Another backing the calls for a uniform approach to sexual education is Professor
Basil Donovan from the National Centre of HIV Research.

BASIL DONOVAN: Quite separate to issues such as contraception and infections and other biological
consequences, I think people need to be prepared for the fact that through their lives they'll have
relationships and going into those blind and ignorant, I find a rather sad situation.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Basil Donovan from the National Centre of HIV Research ending Michael
Edwards's report.