"You know what kids are like ... if they learn about sex, they'll go looking for it." This is just one of many such concerns about sex education that I heard from a parent during my Churchill Fellowship travels across Europe and North America earlier this year.
Conservative pundits and politicians in Germany have a word for it: 'Fruhsexualisierung', meaning 'early sexualisation' of children.
According to sexuality education and sexualised violence prevention professionals I met with in Germany, it is a term that has been employed there in the fight against comprehensive relationships and sex education. Beyond Germany's borders, it is a concept that represents one of the most common arguments against such education for young people.
The fear is that talking to young people about sex will encourage them to engage in sexual activity and display sexualised behaviour.
While evidence shows the opposite is true, this fear is a powerful force.
During my travels I heard countless tales of it being leveraged to derail relationships and sex education initiatives, or to prevent them from being implemented in the first place.
Sherryn Groch's article Has the #metoo movement passed schools by? (The Canberra Times, Monday, September 30) aptly summarises the situation in Australia.
While many experts routinely call for improved relationships and sex education (as do community members, parents and teachers), implementation remains rocky terrain, or an entirely untrod frontier, for many Australian jurisdictions.
My Churchill Fellowship took me to Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and the USA in search of the answer to this very question.
Why, in the face of credible evidence in favour of relationships and sex education, do so many jurisdictions fail to turn the best intentions into action? What preconditions are necessary for such programmes to take off?
How can implementation efforts be sheltered from the winds of ignorance, fear-mongering and opposition? How can communities be mobilised to take up the fight for their young people's wellbeing?
I discovered several factors that contributed to the successful implementation of relationships and sex education, and saw first-hand the power of advocacy, governments, schools, parents and young people as agents in the battle for universal access to such education.
Not only does the evidence show that age-appropriate relationships and sex education does not 'corrupt innocence', it actually suggests that a failure to deliver such education increases the likelihood of earlier first sexual experiences.
In spite of these factors, mitigating the impact of misinformation and fear remains paramount.
Used as justification for withholding information about relationships, consent, bodies and sexuality from young people, the spectre of Fruhsexualisierung can derail education initiatives even when all the other success factors are present. This is despite it being nothing more than a fear.
As Lynnette Smith, the founder of Big Talk Education in the UK, said to me: "just because children know about their bodies does not mean they stop wanting to fly kites and build sandcastles."
Not only does the evidence show that age-appropriate relationships and sex education does not 'corrupt innocence', it actually suggests that a failure to deliver such education increases the likelihood of earlier first sexual experiences, and that those experiences will be negative.
As Jan Hargraves, a relationships and sex education professional in the UK, said to me: "If children don't know what's appropriate, how do they know what's inappropriate?"
It really is that simple.
And this impact is not limited to childhood, but extends into adult life as well.
The World Health Organisation endorses starting comprehensive relationships and sex education from a young age, recognising that it gradually equips and empowers young people with the skills and knowledge to have safe and fulfilling relationships, long before they will act on their sexuality.
Closer to home, and to respond to Groch's question of 'is this a failure of sex ed?': yes it is, and it must be rectified urgently.
To mistake ignorance for innocence and to insist on covering the ears of our children and young people is to leave their wellbeing and safety to chance.
- This article is drawn from Katrina Marson's Churchill Fellowship Report, 'Ignorance is not Innocence', which outlines her findings of international perspectives, practical experience and insights on the design and implementation of relationships and sex education. The full report can be found on the Churchill Trust Australia website.