Nine-year-old children are being targeted for more detailed sex education in schools.
In Christchurch today, Family Planning is launching a new resource for teachers of late-primary and intermediate-age children.
The launch has upset the conservative lobby group Family First, which is urging Family Planning to "butt out" and leave sex education to parents.
The resource, called The Sexuality Road, is aimed at younger children because research shows that they are now entering puberty earlier.
"Young people have a right to understand what is happening to their bodies and their emotions," Family Planning director of health promotion Frances Bird said.
"Sexuality education that works starts early, before young people reach puberty, and before they have developed established patterns of behaviour."
The Sexuality Road provides teachers with a programme of 10 lessons and evaluations per year. Each year comes with lesson plans, activity worksheets, and resources.
Year 5 and 6 (nine and 10-year-old) pupils look at pubertal change, friendships, gender, families, menstruation, fertility, conception and personal support.
Year 7 and 8 pupils focus more on changing feelings and emotions and their effects on relationships, sexual attraction, decision-making around sexual attraction, conception and birth, contraception and support agencies.
Bird said international evidence showed children were entering puberty earlier than had been seen in decades.
The average age of puberty for girls in New Zealand had fallen to between nine and 14 and for boys, it was between 11 and 16, Bird said.
"Some people are concerned that providing information about sex and sexuality arouses curiosity and can lead to sexual experimentation. There is no evidence that this happens," she said.
New Zealand teenagers rate second-highest in the developed world for teen pregnancies.
The Press last month revealed research showing more than a third of 16-year-olds have already had sex and half say they have been in love.
An Education Review Office report, commissioned by the ministries of Women's Affairs, Health and Education, found at least half of all sex education in schools was presented by teachers with no qualifications in the subject.
Liggins Institute director, and newly appointed chief science adviser, Professor Peter Gluckman has earlier called for action to address the "emerging national crisis," in sex education for younger children.
"Sex and health education has to become mainstream and away from the idea that it's only for the physed teacher who is least equipped to deal with it," Gluckman said.
Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said children should be taught sex education by their parents when they were ready.
"The simple message to Family Planning is `butt out and leave it to parents'," McCoskrie said.
"Parents know their kids the best. They know their emotional and moral development best and have their own values. Family Planning should not be interacting with kids of that age."
McCoskrie said schools had become "one-stop shops" for dealing with social problems in the community.
Some parents felt overawed by "the sex talk" with their children, so resources should be put in to helping them better understand what was required, McCoskrie said.
"It needs to be values-based and we think parents are the ones who determine the values."
Bird said children should be exposed to a range of values, attitudes and opinions.
- © Fairfax NZ News