Three-quarters of young women believe sex education in schools left them unprepared for sex and dealing with relationships, a national survey has found.
Education gaps revealed in the survey included key issues such as consent, which nearly two-thirds of the women and girls aged 16 to 21 said they had not been taught, while only 40 per cent had learnt about relationships in formal school classes.
Erin Gillen from the Equality Rights Alliance's Young Women's Advisory Group, which co-ordinated the survey, said the missing knowledge could lead to deep consequences emotionally and risks to sexual health.
"Young people are not going to know what a healthy relationship is and they might mistreat someone or be mistreated themselves," she said.
"If you don't have an understanding of consent, you might consent to one act and not another, or you might do something that makes your partner uncomfortable."
Ms Gillen, from Canberra, said it was disappointing to find fewer than 9 per cent of the more than 1000 respondents received education on LGBTI and queer identities and only 7 per cent on pleasure.
"If you are not teaching all young people about pleasure, they can get the understanding that the only one who can get pleasure out of a sexual relationship is a man," she said.
"We think that has some ramifications for gender equality."
Lyndsay Bassett, 19, graduated from Narrabundah College last year and said she had no meaningful education on consent across her six years at secondary school, despite some discussions on respectful relationships. Sex being pleasurable for women was never mentioned.
She said this led to teenagers having to work out how to communicate themselves, causing complications within their relationships. "I learnt, but I don't know if it's enough to just say everyone will learn on their own," she said.
"I think a lot of young girls just assume the guy definitely wants sex and it's about his pleasure, and even if a girl doesn't want it for herself she'll say 'yes'," she said.
"If I could write the curriculum, I think I'd displace the emphasis from anatomy and put it on emotion and consent and respectful relationships."
More than 80 per cent of respondents said they had been taught about contraception and sexually transmitted infections and diseases. The survey was answered by a nearly even number of public and private school graduates, with 13 per cent of respondents from the ACT, but results were not broken down into school sector or state and territory.
Ms Gillen said there was "quite a good" national curriculum on offer on sex education, but this was not always being used by schools. Sometimes there was resistance from an ideological view, and in other cases teachers simply did not have the training to confidently cover some topics, she said.
Education Minister Shane Rattenbury was sent the survey results this week.
A spokeswoman for the ACT Education and Training Directorate did not comment on questions on the findings on pleasure nor directly refer to consent, but said the health and physical education section of the Australian curriculum provided a number of outcomes, supported by school-level programs, in relation to developing young people's understanding of interpersonal relationships and the health aspects of sex education.
The spokeswoman said there were "some gaps" on LGBTI issues in policies guiding schools, but these would be addressed by the creation of the safe and supportive schools policy and the respectful relationships respectful schools publication, both now in draft form.
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