Time for regional towns to have ‘the talk’

A new initiative run by the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia aims to teach sex education to students who don’t attend mainstream schooling.

Run in conjunction with the University of Western Australia, the placement program offers Perth medical students the chance to immerse themselves in regional healthcare and has this year seen two trainee doctors partnering with the Northam Police and Community Youth Club to teach sex education.

A selection of books on sexuality education.
Trainee doctors are heading to the regions to teach sex education. Photo: Orla Latawski

WA Rural Clinical School lead medical coordinator Julienne Roe said the program aimed to teach healthy relationships and minimise high risk behaviours for students who would otherwise not receive sex education.

“Quite often the students that will go to PCYC are there because they don’t fit into mainstream schooling – they might be teen mums or come from a background of trauma,” she said.

“To meet young adolescents who are already parents and hear about the backgrounds that they’ve come from and how resilient they still are can be quite inspiring for the young doctors.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey in 2016, women living outside of capital cities are eight percent more likely to experience sexual abuse from a partner compared to those living in metropolitan areas.

While figures for women living in capital cities have plateaued, data from the 2016 survey showed an increase in rates of partner sexual abuse for regional women from 21 per cent to 23 per cent.

Member for the Agricultural Region Darren West said teaching kids about managing healthy and respectful relationships should be at the forefront of sex education in regional areas.

“We do have an issue with the way men view women in this country, we just do,” he said.

“I think that’s a good opportunity to roll a lot of that into there as well – it’s not just about having sex, it’s about everything that goes around with that relationship.”

For those on the ground, teaching sex education in regional areas comes with its own set of challenges.  

Front of Narrogin Senior High School.
Front of Narrogin Senior High School. Photo: Piper Daly

Narrogin Senior High School head of health and physical education Andrew Corner said while regional schools aimed to do right by their students, resourcing remained an issue in providing the best possible sex education.

“If people in the bottom and in the lower socio economic groups have far greater challenges to overcome, then resources need to be directed into that space if we’re truly sincere about making a difference,” he said.

“The richest four schools in Australia spend more on capital than the bottom 1800 schools, so to say that things are fair is not accurate.”