1.1 Sexuality Education

What's my question? An example from S.C.N.W. (TK) Cram

Initially I was asked to look into what sort of sexual education programmes existed in New Zealand and how they were failing the Indigenous population. This question was intended to look at another aspect of Māori seuxal health data, primarily the high teen pregnancy and STI rates. A quick look at Stats NZ website was quickly able to confirm these facts.

I figured the best place to start looking about there programs would be at ERO, or the Education Review Office, and was quite thankful to find a report from 2007 discussing just that. The report stated directly in its findings that an area of particular weakness with sexuality education was “meeting the needs of diverse groups of students” (p.65). The report also stated that “Nearly 20 percent of schools provided evidence that their sexuality programmes were effectively inclusive of Māori students” (p.23).  This mostly helped to reaffirm the initial belief that something was actually  wrong with the current approach to sexual health education, and that we weren’t trying to find something that simply wasn’t there. This report had a few things that caught my eye that I decided to follow up on. The full report is of course available on their website.

The first thing that stood out in the report was they promoted increased parental involvement and consultation in their program. This lead me to take a quick search around google for what parents said they wanted of this sort of programme. Simply searching “nz sex ed” lead to several news articles from places like the NZ Herald (for example, 'Sex ed shock for angry parents'), about an outrage that pupils “as young as 12” were being taught about sexual health. These opinions were being echoed by the conservative advocacy group Family First, who seemed to be utterly shocked that a 14 year old should be taught how to use a condom. This made me think about the question of what age one should learn about these things, and reminded me of a couple studies about how the age of puberty has steadily decreased over the years. But I decided to follow that up later.

Another thing that I noticed in the ERO report was the section on outside providers, a thing I remember dealing with a lot in high school, especially as a Māori student. While some groups like Family Planning would often come well equipped to deal with issues, there were often 3rd party groups who didn’t seem all that certain about themselves. And of course there were some groups who “avoided answering particular questions” and sending students “conflicting messages”, although these programmes often seemed to come more conservative backgrounds.  

This piece of information however lead to me wondering about just what it took to be a sexual education teacher or presenter in NZ (which seemed a bit more on topic than the previous thought) and what sort of message it was exactly we were trying to get across. Another news article I had saved from the previous search about the onset of puberty featured Prof. Peter Gluckman who was talking about the country’s lack of a “coherent, integrated approach” and that quite a few people simply weren’t equipped to deal with these issues.

Thirdly, I was looking at the ERO comment about parents wanting abstinence education, which was supplemented by comments made by Dr Miriam Grossman about sexual maturity which seemed to me to be more idealised than factual. I had already read several studies out of the United States that noted that this sort of sexual education was anywhere between “ineffective” to “dangerous”. However this lead to me thinking that perhaps a root of the problem was simply the cultural differences between Māori and Pākehā.

At this point I had three questions which I thought could contribute to the overall topic:

  • Did it have something to do with the age at which children were hitting puberty?
  • Was it that people simply weren’t provided the right tools to teach sexual education?
  • Perhaps it was simply due to the different cultures clashing?
Or even some combination of these three factors.

With these questions in hand I decided it was time to do some academic searching. Thankfully the University of Auckland, where I'm a student, has access to a huge number of databases from around the world via the library website so this wasn’t the hardest task. I was using the multi-database search under the heading of “Health and medicine” which includes PubMed, ProQuestH&M, Scopus, and PsycInfo. The search criteria themselves were all pretty basic keyword searches for things like “nz age of puberty” and “nz sexual education”. At this point it was more gathering a variety of pieces of information and seeing if the 3 questions I was asking were relevant or not. In the end there were about 20 papers that I was reading the abstract for and scanning for relevant info.

A piece of data that stuck out to me was a study correlating percentage of body fat, among other health factors, to onset of puberty. What came through as being quite apparent was the fact that if you had a higher percentage of body fat at a young age, especially if it was contributed to a bad diet from things like fast food, then you would likely hit puberty a lot earlier. In some cases there were people hitting puberty before they were even 10. This being especially true for lower socioeconomic groups. Māori already being a group known to reach puberty before their Pākehā counterparts it became clearer that a system that couldn’t deal with teenagers hitting puberty would in no way be equipped to deal with anyone younger than that.

So the question I decided to focus on with this information in hand had mutated a few times, but has wound up reading,

“What tools and resources do we need to teach sexual education, and how can we make that into a clear, unified program?”

I also realized that in order to do this I would need to but groups like Family First to the side as they would be little more than hinder people getting the help they need without being based on any evidence.

The next stage in developing a project from this question is to consult with key stakeholders for their feedback and support.

Related references

Copland, R.J., Denny, S.J., Robinson, E.M, Crengle, S., Ameratunga, S. & Dixon, R. (2011). Self-reported pregnancy and access to primary health care among sexually experienced New Zealand high school students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49, 518-524. Read abstract

ERO (2007). The teaching of sexuality education in years 7-13: Good practice. Wellington: Education Review Office.

Improving the transition: Reducing social and psychological morbidity during adolescence. A report from the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, May 2011. Wellington: Office of the Prime Minister's Science Advisory Committee.

Learning Media (2002). Sexuality education: Revised guide for principals, Boards of Trustees, and teachers. Wellington: Ministry of Education. Download

Strickett, E. & Moewaka-Barnes, H. (2012). Marginalising Maori parents. A internship report to Ngā Pae o te Māramantanga.


From: Cram, F. (2013).  He Rangahau Kaupapa Māori: A guide to undertaking a Kaupapa Māori research project. Auckland: Katoa Ltd. Available from www.katoa.net.nz.