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  • Maia Campbell

The Politics of Puberty: The Fight to Keep Sex Ed in Kiwi Kura

By Maia Campbell (she/her, Kāi Tahu), for Thursdays in Black VUW

The Coalition of Chaos are dead set on removing relationship and sexuality education from the school curriculum in Aotearoa, despite the protests of politicians, teachers, education unions, and anti-sexual violence activists and groups (like ourselves). The bumbling boomers currently leading our motu are fuelled by what NZEI Te Riu Roa president Mark Potter calls “conspiracy-based thinking”, with Winnie P claiming schools are being too ‘woke’ and Luxon arguing that parents should be teaching this stuff to their kids, not schools. In an era of misinformation and disinformation, Luxon and his colonesians seem to be following in the conservative footsteps of our Pacific neighbour, the United States of America, whose sex education is sustained by traditionalist Christian views of virginity and morality.

In a twist of irony, while New Zealand conservatives believe that our current sex education programs are ‘all about sex’, the traditionalism they idealise is exactly that. In a startling number of US states, instead of teaching kids about sex, they preach abstinence-only, because if they don’t teach them about sex, they won’t have it, right? Oh, so very wrong. The ‘education through omission’ traditionalism favours is incredibly damaging to young people, physically and emotionally. The reality is that by the time kids get to high school, they know what sex is, and many are either doing it or thinking about doing it. Not talking about sex does not erase desire for it. Without knowledge or understandings of contraception and consent, young people may find themselves in entirely preventable harmful situations.

The problem with putting the onus on the parents to teach their kids about sex in the home, as Luxon is suggesting, is it allows bias to enter the conversation (if the conversation starts at all). I feel incredibly lucky that my Mum, coming from a background in sexual health, was super open to discussing sex with me. Many other parents may feel embarrassed to talk about this stuff with their kids, or will just perpetuate the same kōrero from schools. Opening up a safe space in the whare to talk about sex is super important; if tamariki don’t feel comfortable going to their parents before engaging in anything, they definitely won’t feel comfortable going to them if something goes wrong. 

Education is one of the premier keys to empowerment; knowledge truly is power. When we give rangatahi the words and the tools to express their feelings and desires, and to do so safely, we give them power and agency. The whakaaro of Luxon and his goons are formed from pure misunderstandings of what we mean when we say ‘sex’ in schools; it’s not a dirty word and should not be treated as such. Understandings of consent are crucial to the prevention of sexual harm, a glaring problem in Aotearoa today. Sex education has become a political tool, the wellbeing of our youth a diplomatic bargaining chip. To conflate relationship and sexuality education with ‘wokeness’ is simply demeaning to the competence of young Kiwis.


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