Sex education in nowadays – What teenagers need to be taught in class nowadays

Article by New South Media (Blog) /
November 02, 2016 /
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It is often controversial and sensitive to the society and the parents when it comes to issue related to sex education and teenage sexuality. This, in nowadays’ digital era where information is ubiquitous and freely accessible on the internet, can no longer be discussed behind the curtain. Adolescences, in particular young male, are being exposed to sexual content on a substantial level, whether inadvertently or deliberately, according to the study of Australian Institute of Criminology. During the developmental period, teens are vulnerable and easily influenced by external factors, the exposure to sexual information such as pornography will pose hindrance to them in building healthy sexual knowledge. There has been a frequent news reports about teens involved in sexual intercourse and suffered from sexual harassment, with the easy access on sexual information on internet, concerns over the effectiveness of sex education in school have arisen.

Many articles address the notion of current sex education approach not comprehensive and that the outcome failed to meet expectation and adolescences are still lack of sufficient knowledge on dealing with sexual matter, while at the same time, reportage over teen sexual assault associated crime has been mounting, revealing an urgency for better sex education is in need for school kids. The two articles that will be analysed in the following alike present same perspective that current sex education is not enough for teenagers and it needs to be reconsidered. The first article that will be examined is a commentary piece from Sydney Morning Herald, and the second one is a soft news article also from Sydney Morning Herald. Interestingly, although they are journalism articles of different styles, they both draw attention to the problems teenagers are facing on sexual issue and what current sex education is deficient of, providing compelling arguments in reviewing the subject. One portrays the situation with construction of personal opinion and arguments, while the other illustrates the scenario based on experts’ research and project. This analysis will support the conclusion that sex education for todays’ young generation requires a reform and more coverage on content of handling pornography and sexual relationship and meaning.

The commentary piece “Sex ed in schools is still missing the point” is written by Sarah Gill, published on the website of Sydney Morning Herald in October this year. Explicitly stated in the headline, Gill tells her stance towards current sex education in this opinion piece. In light of the recent speech given by BBC presenter Dame Jenni Murray in the radio in which she suggested that pornography could be shown to the school children as part of the sex education, Gill highlights her perspective in the outset of the article: “…outside the classroom, for the most part, they’re already watching (pornography) it in droves”, indicating that kids exposing to pornography is not something new and we ought to do something about this.

She adds “In Britain – though – where even basic sex education remains woefully inadequate – the proposal went down like a lead balloon” in comparison to Denmark, where same suggestion had been brought up as well, in order to draw to the claim that she thinks thorough sex education is crucial on this matter. There is an informal fallacy in this argument where Gill comes to conclusion that the suggestion went unsuccessful in Britain due to the “woefully inadequate sex education”, while supplying no explanation on the example of Denmark and in what ways it can be put in comparison with the case in Britain.

In backing up her claim that “teens are already exposing to pornography on internet and it is not surprising”, she addresses the severity of teens’ exposure to sexual material with appeal to authoritative support, outlining that the average age of exposure to sexual material is around 12 years old. In addition to this point, she subsequently supplements that the free source of pornography on internet is what worth worrying, together with her own experience. Also, with the use of emotive language and description of pornography on internet: “if that’s not worrying enough”, “the stuff our children are most likely to source for free – is also the worst” and “smorgasbord of unsavory content is just a click away”, she intensifies the situation and puts readers into reflecting the internet as a contributing factor to the situation, and convincing them into agreeing her ideology.

What about the consequences if we don’t provide youngsters a robust sexual knowledge, especially in relation to pornographic material?

Gill demonstrates her interpretative claims on this in reinforcing the urgency of the issue.

“The more we refuse to engage, the more pervasive – and the more subversive – its influence may become.”

“…by the time Australian schools enlist our teens in any kind of dialogue about sexual attitudes and behaviour – and heaven knows, we wouldn’t want to do that before they’re ready – most of them will have been exposed to, or consuming, pornographic material for years.”

Why is it an urgent issue? Gill also draws out her claim, suggesting that “the norms of teenage sexual behavior, including attitudes to consent and sexual aggression – are fundamentally shifting”. This is backed up by a study which reveals that “one-quarter of young people now think it’s acceptable to pressure a woman into sex”. However, an uncertainty of the supporting source needs to be marked here – where does this research come from?

There is another informal fallacy and over-generalisation where she attributes the reason of public attitude on “sexist peer norms and cultures of group disrespect” to pornography.

“If the prevailing attitudes on display – what researchers term “sexist peer norms and cultures of group disrespect” – are not all down to porn, there’s little doubt pornography consumption can supercharge the mindset. Seriously, how could it not – when almost 90 per cent of pornographic content includes depictions of verbal and physical aggression against women?”

It is telling that Gill attempts to further persuade readers with strong emotive-provoking language and a question and answer style that pornography shapes the mindsets of teenagers nowadays.

In addition to the fallacies of the article, there is a false analogy where she compares the case of Sweden to our Australian society, when two societies have different views on sexual issue. She quotes a line from the video which is part of the sex education teaching materials of Swedish schools, that implies obvious sexual message: “It’s as simple as tea. if they don’t want to drink it, don’t make them drink it. If they’re unconscious, don’t make them tea. Unconscious people don’t want tea, trust me on this.”. She underlines that: “Too obvious, you say? Actually, sadly, not.”, and operates this under an assumption that Australian society and our teenagers are in same circumstance as Swedish, while she does not demonstrate more detailed analysis and examination into these cases.

It is not until the end of the article has Gill revealed her central claim over the role of pornography in the sex education, which she proclaims that “porn already is the new sex ed” and suggests readers take this into consideration and open up conversation with children about this matter in order to teach them the critical analysis skills regarding the pornographical material and message that can be found elsewhere in today’s culture.

Let’s take a look of the second article “Sex education needs radical overhaul, say experts” written by Jill Stark and published on SMH’s website. Much different from comment piece, soft news doesn’t present explicit personal opinion on the matter, however, it positions and directs the readers into its point of view frequently with the use of factual claims, statistical support, authoritative and credible opinion on the issue.

The primary claim of the article is revealing in the headline and from the outset that current sex education is imperfect and needs to be redesigned. From the choice of words, Stark adopts a strong and insistent tone in illustrating the situation:

“Australia’s outdated sex education system must be radically overhauled to include lessons on sexual assault, consent and ”sexting” in a bid to address rising rates of violence against women, leading experts have claimed.”

The term “must be” expresses a strong obligation to the course of the action making it sound necessary. It also operates under a circumstance that the readers almost certainly agree with the obligation.

With reference to experts’ viewpoints, the article clearly highlights what students need to be taught at school and in what aspects can the current education be improved in the beginning of the article: “anti-rape message” and “information on sexual pleasure, masturbation and pornography”. Following this claim, the article points out the flaws of the current sex education approach as “teaching only about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease” and “leaves young people ill-equipped to negotiate the complexities of sexual relationships” that only focuses on risk management, indicating that the current approach is insufficient in teaching teens about sex.

To support the article’s argument, it draws on to the example of Professor Lumby who has been working for an Australian Research Council project and is knowledgeable in gender issue, and includes substantial direct quotes from the professor. Professor Lumby stresses her concern over the confusion the children are having when dealing with sexual message and relationship in the quotes, which these quotations underpin the claim of this argument with credible source of information and opinion.

It reveals what the current sex education is lacking of through the quotes from a professional:

“’The young men we’ve talked to understand that no means no, but what about when a girl doesn’t say no.”

“Our sex education needs to teach the ‘no means no’ message, but we also need to teach what does ‘yes mean yes’ look like?”

Not only one source of professional opinion does the article employ, but a total of three, and each builds on each other.

The article sources a quote from Stef Tipping, an expert of sexual assault issue in secondary school, which this quote also plays a role in consolidating the claim as she agrees to better education is crucial since “entrenched double standards” that seen sexually active girls as “slut” and boys as “legend” often happen, which exacerbates the confusion to children when they come across sexual subject.

Another professional source that the article uses in supporting the claim and finishing the argument is the opinion from Lauren Rosewarne, who is an expert from the University of Melbourne specializing in the field of gender politics, in which she emphasizes sex education needs to be taught to children at an early age, considering that the average age children get exposure of pornography from internet is young. The author ends the article with a quote from expert to readdress the importance of the issue, without passing on her own explicit personal judgment, however, it is straightforward that the author’s view towards the issue is embedded throughout the construction of the article.

Sex education is a broad and sensitive issue implicating some other relating topics, such as government policy, school policy, education system, teenagers’ well-being, popular culture and internet influence. These two articles put focus on the problems the children are encountering in relation to sexual attitude and relationship, which then unveil the drawbacks of the current sex education system that is limited in teaching a thorough understanding of sex to the students and without taking into account of the social culture and the norms towards sex that are influenced by it. Although the two articles are written in different journalistic styles, one is an opinion article that argument is built upon author’s personal viewpoint with minimal reference to reliable source, while the other is a soft news style that addresses social issue and constructs its argument substantially with help of professional quotes and sources, they both present compelling angles and perspectives in reviewing and comprehending the foundation of this subject.