New Brunswick

Sex education should include 'how to have a pleasurable experience,' UNB professor says

A University of New Brunswick professor is calling for changes in sex education in the province after talking to young people about their intimate lives.

Research follows 400 people between the ages of 16 and 21 who expressed problems in their sex lives

A University of New Brunswick professor is calling for changes in sex education in the province after talking to young people about their intimate lives.

Lucia O'Sullivan conducted a study which resulted in over 400 people between the ages of 16 to 21 expressing problems in their sex lives, which she said came as a surprise.

"I really went into this thinking that all would be fine," she said. "We know that adults have very high rates of sexual problems."

Persistent distress

O'Sullivan said about one third of adult women and one quarter of adult men report persistent distress in their sexual lives, but she didn't expect it from young people.

"We assumed that young people's partnered sexual lives start out pretty good, maybe not perfect. A little experimentation and all is well," she told CBC Information Morning.

"But what we found was that there are problems amongst young people right from the start."

University of New Brunswick professor Lucia O'Sullivan said sex education should involve matters of the heart as much as the physical act. (CBC)

O'Sullivan and her research team followed the 400 individuals for a couple of years, asking them to answer surveys every six months.

Later on, she also interviewed the participants in person.

O'Sullivan said the study revealed a range of problems, from low satisfaction and lots of pain, to low interest.

More than that, the students had no idea how to solve the issues they were experiencing, she said.

"It's really very, very disappointing, I have to say," she said.

"We had this assumption that young people today have this sort of raunchy life ... and they seem to have very liberal or recreational attitudes,

"But we certainly don't see that in their behaviour in the first place, so that was probably the clue that attitudes and behaviour weren't going to match."

'Sex can brighten your life'

O'Sullivan said the core problem is how adults talk to youth about sex.

"We talk to young people about what they are doing wrong, how they must prevent this, make sure you delay or abstain, and lots of messaging about the sexual health outcomes that are problematic," she said.

"But we never really talk to them about how to have a pleasurable sex life,

"They really have no idea about the answers to those questions."

She added that school curriculums are often where traditional conversations about prevention and sexual health outcomes are born.

But the reality is, "if you don't know what you're doing, it's not going to work out," she said.

I don't think anything gets better by withholding information, by telling them something that's not accurate or true.- Lucia O'Sullivan, UNB professor

"I don't think anything gets better by withholding information, by telling them something that's not accurate or true," she said.

"So, a very important platform in which we really can ensure young people have a sexual life that develops fully into their adulthood is to ensure positive communication, to not make them feel as if they're horrible or awful for wanting an intimate life."

With files from Information Morning