“It’s very human to kind of want a concrete, tangible solution to something and be able to say, ‘here’s this step we’ve taken, it’s in the curriculum now,” Ms Marson said.
“But comprehensive relationships and sexuality education take so many different moving parts moving in unison to be delivered effectively. There’s no point producing curriculum if the teacher in front of the classroom doesn’t feel confident or isn’t trained to deliver that curriculum.
“It doesn’t work if it’s just a one-off lesson once a year, or if it gets crammed into something because the teaching staff isn’t competent or they don’t have enough time for it or they are concerned there might be backlash from parents.”
The author (her book on the topic, Legitimate Sexpectations is released this week) pointed to the Netherlands as the world leaders in what such education should include, saying it was incorporated into curriculum early and involved learning how to recognize certain feelings and how to respond to them.
This could include playing with different textures in kindergarten and verbalizing how they physically felt to touch, she said, noting that many negative sexual experiences arose when people felt unable to speak up about their feelings.
She also pointed to Germany as a world leader, with the government there setting up infrastructure within its health department to position relationships and sexual education as a wellbeing and public health issue.
Having subject matter experts teach aspects of the programs could also help improve effectiveness, she said, with some successful programs involving getting external providers to teach dedicated days of relationship education.
Ms Marson said pushback from parents was often a barrier to developing meaningful sex education programs, but that parents and carers needed to accept that they also had a responsibility for helping develop children’s understandings of consent.
“It’s a collective responsibility and we need to shift our perspective to see that young people are actually entitled to this [education].
“We recognize that they have a right to learn how to drive and swim and all these other skills that they need to live a safe and fulfilling life, but then we deny them this. So, we can debate how we go about fulfilling that right, but unless we do so we are just letting them down and I just can’t see how we can justify that.”
She added that curriculum commitments were still helpful to give schools “some kind of mandate”, noting the countries she visited with the most advanced sex education programs all had political mandates backing their development.