Significance

This research project will significantly increase our understanding of the role of sexuality education in developing sexual wellbeing in young people. The nature and extent of information about human sexuality available to young people is abundant. This project will provide data on how young people make sense of what they see and experience in relation to human sexuality. Widespread Internet availability means that young people have easy access to what can be sexist, violent, homophobic,  disrespectful, sexualised and sexually explicit images that often present unrealistic expectations and portrayals of gender and sexual relationships (Flood, 2009; Brook et al., 2009; Powell, 2010; Crabbe and Colette, 2010). The project will also help to address the recognised link between early sexualisation and a range of poor health outcomes, such as depression, shame and eating disorders (Moodie 2005; Flood, 2009).

The data from this project will increase our understanding of how young people use different sources of information about human sexuality. This will promote the development of National resources, policies and programs in sexuality education that assist young people to develop skills and understandings to deconstruct and make sense of what they see. This has the potential to inform the design of resources for the National Curriculum in Health and Physical Education. It will also address one of the key recommendations calling for the development of new and challenging educational materials outlined by the Senate Inquiry into the ‘Sexualisation of children in contemporary media’.

One outcome of the research will be the development of educational strategies that will involve young people, the online world and new media. All stages of this project have the capacity to result in new knowledge of young people’s use of the media for sexuality education. Stages 2 and 3 will specifically develop new knowledge that will not only improve practice but will add to the knowledge of young people’s use of the Internet and social media that can address growing concerns about their negative impact on young people’s wellbeing (ACMA, 2007).

Finally, the research will make a unique contribution to our understanding of the ways schools reconcile the complex demands of providing comprehensive sexuality education in the context of competing priorities, increasing usage of online pedagogies and student engagement. This will have a significant benefit given the need for all schools in Australia to ensure that all aspects of students’ wellbeing are promoted and their chances of taking advantage of educational opportunities are increased.

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