Why are increased levels of sexual education in schools not reducing rates of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in New Zealand adolescents?
Although sexual health is a component of our national curriculum, and so is taught in all New Zealand high schools, there are still concernedly high rates of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections in New Zealand adolescents. A multidisciplinary approach can be used to uncover the potential reasons behind this gap between intervention and outcome. This essay will use the perspectives of health geographers, psychologists and sociologists to explore the phenomenon, and will show how multidisciplinary research is useful when considering a topic such as this, with a complex system of potential causes. A geographer’s view is that the dynamic relationship between place and health is not merely a consequence of location. Instead this discipline views place in terms of sense of place, where places of significance to a person evoke feelings and emotions (Coleman et al., 2010; Kearns, 1993). This concept occupies the abstract space between physical place and the experience of place, where we unconsciously interpret a place by ‘reading’ the messages it contains (Kearns, 1993). Health and place exist in a reciprocal relationship, where individual characteristics shape one’s experience of a place, just as a place can shape one’s opportunities for experience (Kearns, 1993). School bears everyday significance for adolescents, as it is there that young people form identities and knowledge bases, including health knowledge (Coleman et al., 2010). When considering sexual health messages in schools, geographers might say that their lack of effectiveness is determined by the students’ sense of place within their school. Every individual experiences place in a different way from others, and the social and environmental components of a place can influence its impact on a person (Kearns, 1993). If students find their school or sexual education class to be intimidating, or limiting of student interaction, the place will most likely bear negative connotations for them. As a result, sexual health messages are likely to not be taken on board due to a lack of a feeling of belonging or connectedness with the learning environment. In addition, places have a higher significance for individuals when the experience of a place is associated with an experience of home (Kearns, 1993). This is the idea of feeling belonging rather than displacement, and the firmer this connection with the sense of home, the more the individual feels comfortable in said place (Kearns, 1993). In New Zealand, school is compulsory until the age of 16 (Lakes District Health Board, 2009), so undoubtedly conveys a sense of home for most students. If a student’s school experience is one of belonging this can strengthen their feelings of school as a home, satisfying the human need of roots (Kearns, 1993) and providing a more positive and effective place for sexual health care messages to be received. Considering these ideas, a health geographer might conclude that New Zealand schools are not providing positive and open environments in which they deliver sexual health messages, so as to the improve students’ sense of place in school and therefore their uptake of health messages. Another angle that the geography discipline considers is that of service provision within and relating to a place. Groups may feel more positive about a place if the type and style of services offered is appropriate and significant to them (Kearns, 1993). Yingying et al. (2009) made observations of how the sexual education teaching style in China can detract from student attitudes toward the sexual health classroom. These bear many similarities to issues observed in New Zealand (by Coleman et al., 2010), and are as follows: Most sexual education information imparted to students is of a factual nature, with an emphasis on...
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