The DO’s and DON’T’s of the sex talk

Consent

DO: Explain that enthusiastic consent has to be given from both parties: them and their partner.

DON’T: Forget to talk about the other important aspect of consent: how to give and respectfully receive a ‘no’.

Birth control

DO: Explain the different options of hormonal and non-hormonal birth control options to children of all genders, not just girls.

DON’T: Presume that because your child is asking about going on hormonal contraception that they’re having or are about to have sex. Hormonal birth control can also be used to help with severe periods and acne, among other things.

Condoms:

DO: Explain that it’s always important to use condoms even if your child or their sexual partner is on hormonal contraception, as they will protect them from STIs.

DON’T: Forget to mention that condoms expire! They always need to check the label.

Dating

DO: Start talking about sex, consent, pleasure and safety from about 13 even if your child isn’t dating or showing an interest in dating anyone (that you know of!).

DON’T: Always use your child and their boyfriend/girlfriend/romantic interest as the example when chatting about these topics. Talking about peers, friends and other people more abstractly can take the pressure off.

Desire & pleasure

DO: Talk about how sex should be fun and pleasurable. If it isn’t, or especially if it hurts – that’s a sign that the timing/situation/person they’re with may not be right for them right now, or that they need to communicate better and take things slower.

DON’T: Presume your child will or won’t want to be having sex because of their gender. Some girls will really want to, and some boys won’t at all.

First times

DO: Talk about how sex is more than just penis-in-vagina intercourse, and so there are all kinds of ‘first times’ to be had (and can we all agree to scrap terms like ‘virginity’, ‘sexual debut’, ‘taking your flower’ and ‘popping the cherry’?).  

DON’T: Put pressure on their first time(s) by saying it has to be special and with the perfect person. For many people this won’t be the case, and that’s okay.

The risks

DO: Talk about how sex comes with responsibility because of the risks involved, and they need to feel emotionally mature enough to handle those responsibilities. 

DON’T: Try to use fear tactics to stop them from having sex. Definitely explain all the risks, but don’t deliberately try and scare them.

Sexting

DO: Explain the risks that are involved with sexting, both socially and legally, but also that they can always talk to you and you’ll always support them if something happens.

DON’T: Take their phone away from them as punishment if you do find evidence or suspect that they’ve been sexting.

Abstinence

DO: Talk about how there can be a lot of pressure from peers and the media to be sexually active, but they should only ever do so if they want to – without coercion or external pressure. And that it’s okay to never want to have sex.

DON’T: We say don’t tell them that they shouldn’t or are banned from having sex until they’re a certain age (or married). At the end of the day, it should be their decision. However, we appreciate sometimes religion and culture can impact expectations with this.

‘Other’ sex acts

DO: Talk about how sex isn’t just penis-in-vagina intercourse (this is particularly important to make your child feel seen if they’re queer) and talk about ‘sex-lite’ options such as kissing or touching that they can do if they don’t feel ready for bigger acts.

DON’T: List all the other kinds of sexual acts they can do. They don’t need this information at a young age. That being said, you might want to talk about the rising pressures today to engage in things like oral and anal sex.  

‘If it was my daughter’: Scott Morrison, Brittany Higgins and the problem with viewing women through kinship.

While Victoria is looking to the end of lockdown (and to be fair, we are too), we’re still thinking about this week’s parliamentary scandal over former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations against an unnamed male colleague, as well as Scott Morrison’s comments on the matter.

It’s a positive move that Scott Morrison says he will be implementing new processes, with the aid and advice of women, to improve the handling of complaints such as these – but we fear it won’t be enough. First, there’s the fact that the follow up meeting between Ms Higgins’ and her department head was held at the scene of the alleged rape, to which Scott Morrison could only say, ‘That should not have happened and I do apologise.”

But we’re especially perturbed by his comments that his wife was the one to prompt him to further action, and that he needed to frame the issue through imagining how he would feel if it was his daughter. The Prime Minister said that his wife, Jenny, had urged him on Monday night to respond to the issue ‘as a father first – what would you want to happen if it were our girls?’, adding that ‘Jenny has a way of clarifying things.’

Why did he need his wife to ‘set him straight’? Would he not have been able to access empathy for this woman without imagining his daughter in this situation? What if he only had sons?

This kind of thinking is deeply problematic, and a classic example of how our society’s patriarchal views turn women into objects. We see this at work when men, or people in general, can only access empathy for women through the lens of kinship (if it was my daughter/mother/wife/sister). In this way, women only become human and therefore can only be empathised with when placed into the context of filial or other meaningful family relationships. But we are all human and deserving of empathy, regardless of gender or any other feature – and we shouldn’t have to be reminded by others that this is true, or to place someone ‘in context’ to be able to access that empathy.

Then, of course, there’s the issue that this woman’s career is over – or at least derailed – while the unnamed perpetrator is likely facing little consequence. Perhaps a reshuffle to a different department? It’s great to see that Scott Morrison will introduce new processes within parliament that will allow sexual assault victims to speak out more easily. But without greater change to how rape is viewed within politics and society, and changes to the treatment of the victims, usually women, who speak out – we can’t create meaningful progress.

Helping kids through the transition from Year 6 to Year 7

Going from Year 6 to Year 7 is one of the biggest periods of change and growth in a young person’s life. It can be an exciting time full of new experiences, but it can also be challenging – and kids often feel nervous over the summer and in the first month or two of the new year at ‘big school’. Children transitioning now might be especially nervous after such a disrupted school year.

You can help them feel supported in a number of ways. First and foremost, it’s important you let them know that they can always talk to you about any of their fears or hopes no matter how silly they may seem. Ask them what they’re most looking forward to and most worried about, and encourage them to look for the positives (such as choosing activities to be involved in) as well as reminding them that it’s possible to have very mixed feelings about these thigns. Sometimes, just talking might be all they need.

If they’re worried about making new friends, let them know that it’s normal. You can encourage them to get involved in things like sports or musical programs that will help them to meet and spend time with different people. If you can, having a parent or adult they trust at home when they leave and arrive from school can be comforting.

If they’re worried about not being prepared after spending so much time outside of the classroom, let them know that schools and teachers will be aware and ready for this and will likely be understanding and patient with students. Remind them that all kids their age have gone through the same thing, so it will be very normal for some (or most) to worry about being a bit behind. 

This transition can be a big change for parents too, and it’s normal to have lots of feelings about it. You might like to speak to other parents who have gone through the same transition – particularly parents at the same school – as they can reassure you about how you’re feeling and provide tips for how things work at secondary school. This article from Raising Children offers more information and strategies for dealing with this exciting and challenging period. 

Navigating the Christmas holidays – bodily autonomy and technology usage

Christmas and body autonomy 

For those who celebrate Christmas, or get together for any other celebration over the holiday period, this is a perfect opportunity to allow your kids to practise consent and bodily autonomy. How so? Well, as adults, we get to decide to whom and how we give our affection. By providing children with the choice to do the same, you’re teaching them a valuable lesson that their body is their own, and that they don’t owe anybody physical contact.

So rather than forcing your child to hug his aunty after she gives him a present, or obliging when grandpa tells your daughter to come give him a kiss on the cheek, let your kids decide. You might also want to have a conversation with your extended family beforehand through text, call or email. The fantastic site About Consent has a script template here if you’d like something to work off.

Psychologists agree that this helps to set children up with good practices for later in life, as this article from The New Daily explains. Some family members might be a little awkward or discomforted, but your child’s rights and safety are what come first.

Holidays and technology usage

With all the free time over the school break, it’s a lot harder to police just how much time kids are spending on social media, games and television. This is especially true of secondary school children who might be left at home alone during the day. None of us want our kids spending their summer in front of a screen, but how do we help to stop this? How do we have conversations that are constructive and don’t spin off into argument?

Appealing to children and involving them in the conversation is a great place to start. Ask them how much time they think is appropriate to spend online or in front of the television, and come up with a deal. You can ask them to text you when they log on and log off, as this will help to show them how much time they’re actually spending in front of a screen. If they have siblings, this will hopefully keep them honest (because they’ll be told on).

While it’s important to set hard and fast rules, by involving our kids in the conversation, we’re asking them to live up to their own morals as well as ours. Justine explores these ideas further and provides more tips on minimising technology usage in our ‘Let’s Talk’ video on Fortnite, which you can watch here.

A chat with our founders Jenny Ackland + Justine Kiely-Scott

You’ve read our words, seen our videos, or perhaps been to one of our workshops, but who are the SEA founders Jenny Ackland and Justine Kiely-Scott? With over 30 years’ experience in teaching each, and parents ourselves, we’re passionate about helping young people make smart, healthy decisions helped by having access to comprehensive, age-appropriate education. 

Justine Kiely-Scott
Jenny Ackland

How long have you been teaching?

JA: I started teaching in 1988 but haven’t been teaching consistently since then. I’ve had other things on the boil at various times.

JKS: A long time – over 30 years! I started as a secondary P.E. and English teacher. 

What do you like about working with young people?

JA: I like their curiosity and openness to learning. I like their questions too. They’re sincere, often sweet, often funny, and often very smart as they try to work out the world.

JKS: Their willingness to learn, their energy and that fact that no class is ever the same and there’s always something new I learn.  

How and when did you move into sexuality education?

JKS: I’ve always loved teaching health and I think it’s super important for young people to get accurate and age-appropriate information. I think my subconscious driver might be that I didn’t get any sex ed from home and very little from school when I was growing up. Being able to talk about bodies, puberty and sex in a calm and respectful way is something young people can learn through sex education classes and discussions at home. When you think about it, if young people get an opportunity to learn and talk about things at school then when it comes to talking to a doctor or health professional it will much easier.  

JA: In the mid to late 2000s. Just by chance I overheard a sex ed teacher telling another person about her job. Yes, I was eavesdropping. Then I told her if her company was ever looking for someone, that I’d be interested.

Why do you think it’s important?

JA: It’s important that young people have access to accurate, relevant, age-appropriate information about themselves, their bodies, other people and the wider world. This means they can make more informed choices. It’s also important that young people (all people) have someone they trust to talk to if they need. For most kids this is their parents or other grown ups they know. I’m more and more convinced this is *key* for young people’s health – physical, emotional and mental.

What do you find challenging about this sort of work?

JA: Some kids don’t engage and don’t want to listen. This is challenging for teachers working in this area – as well as parents and caregivers who are trying to have a chat and pass some info on. But those kids who don’t seem to hear? They are no doubt listening, so it’s not a reason not to try.

JKS: The most challenging thing is reassuring parents that what we’re teaching is age-appropriate and really important. Many parents grew up in an environment where these things weren’t discussed and so they may have no point of reference for talking to their child or teen and are really unsure what ‘sex ed’ looks like in the classroom.

What’s the most satisfying part of this work?

JKS: Seeing young people become more relaxed and confident in the classroom. There is often a level of nervousness before the classes start but after a while you can see students relax and start to engage with the content and feel comfortable to ask questions and share their ideas.

JA: For me it’s the idea of a making a difference in someone’s life, even in a small but significant way. We have no idea how one thing – one piece of information, one fact, one moment of understanding, about rights or empowerment or the law – can have an impact.

What shocks you in the classroom?

JKS: I think after all my years in the classroom there’s nothing that shocks me. At the end of the day if a student asks a question or makes a comment that is a bit ‘out there’ it’s really important to stay calm and try to understand what they are asking or saying and why. The part I love is coming up with an honest and respectful response.  I never want to make a student feel embarrassed or ashamed for asking a question.

JA: I’ve been shocked only a couple of times (but didn’t show it, of course. Poker face, and all that!) Once was when some children asked about fisting and hard-core pornography, and forced sex (this was all in one class). This came up as several anonymous questions so I could tell it was a group of three or four students, and I handled it without reading out the actual questions. I wasn’t shocked really at what they were asking about but I was shocked that it was primary-aged kids who were doing the asking. It was clear they’d heard or seen some stuff they weren’t meant to and it made me fear for young people and worry about their exposure to porn. So without talking about those details, or reading out the questions, I used the moment to talk about technology and the internet and gave our key messages there. And that some of the questions had made me realise that some children were either seeing stuff that wasn’t good for them, or hearing about stuff that was too old for them. We followed up those sessions with letters home to parents asking them to be alert to what their kids might be viewing on the internet.

What’s the weirdest question a child has ever asked you?

JKS: I remember one secondary student, in an STI and contraception class, asking whether it was true that spraying Lynx deodorant on the penis before sex would prevent a pregnancy.

What’s the funniest question or comment a child has asked/said?

JKS: Sometimes primary school students use words that are close but not quite right like ‘fagina’ instead of ‘vagina’, ‘tentacles’ instead of ‘testicles’ and ‘public hair’ instead of ‘pubic hair’- but that’s not weird, it just makes me smile.

What was your own sexuality education like?

JKS: Pretty much non-existent. I’m one of five children (four girls and a boy) and nothing was talked about at home. I learnt about periods and puberty from friends and what we all gleaned from Dolly Doctor. We had no classes in primary school and a few ad hoc classes in secondary school.

JA: My mother was open and we knew we could ask questions. We also had the books What’s Happening to Me and Where Did I Come From? In school, there was nothing at primary school. I remember thinking sex was a man doing wee inside a woman. Then at secondary school it was no doubt in science, about reproduction only, with nothing about relationships or consent or feelings or respect. My friends tell me we did cover reproduction but I don’t remember it.

What do you think has changed around the culture of sexuality and health education since you were young? Are things different now?

JKS: So much has changed. People are much more open now and aware of how important this education is even if people feel a bit awkward about it. There’s lots of information and help for people and great books, websites and organisations that can support schools, parents and young people.

What do movies and pop culture get wrong about relationships?

JA: The Disney princess trope is responsible for perpetuating the idea of the one perfect person and the happy ending. It’s a hard lesson but teens need to know that the first love is unlikely to be the last, that those feelings with first love are super intense, and that mixed with hormones can make for a very unstable time. That it’s normal to feel out of control and alone with much of it.

JKS: They are always full of drama and conflict but ultimately a happy ending. In movies people don’t talk about sex before they have it or talk about boundaries and whether they have protection for safe sex. How much talk of condoms or safe sex do we see in mainstream media? Do any characters worry about unintended pregnancy or STIs? I can’t think of one! Most sex is heterosexual and often focussed on  sexual intercourse (penis & vagina sex) which is always seamless and amazing. What’s more, most people wake up in the morning with perfect hair and women ALWAYS wear really fancy matching bra and undies.

What’s a favourite part of this work that you didn’t expect, or others wouldn’t think of?

JA: What I didn’t expect was the level of satisfaction and pleasure I get from working with parents and caregivers. Grown ups who are raising children can really start to struggle when things change, from puberty onwards. Children are beginning to develop and individuate, and that means sometimes there are challenging behaviours, with formerly compliant or ‘easy’ kids becoming not so. Giving parents reassurance and some strategies to help them build confidence to know what is normal and what isn’t, what is ok and what isn’t, to answer tricky questions and behave in ways that shows they are there for their kids, and happy to talk – even about the hard stuff – is not something I thought about when I began this work.

How does being a parent affect your teaching?

JKS: This is a good question. I’m not sure I’ve done a great job with my kids and I am learning all the time. I’m great at talking to a class full of students but when it comes to talking to my own kids there is a level of awkwardness. I’m not sure how thrilled they are that their mum is a sex ed teacher. They do know that they can come to me with questions and know I’m open, but I’m always on the lookout for helpful ways to bring up certain topics, initiate teachable moments and get a conversation started. What I’ve learnt though, is that you can have all the great conversations in your head but unless you actually have them they are useless. So, sometimes I just rip the Band-Aid off and dive in and it’s never as awkward as I anticipated. They might not say much but I know they are listening.

If there was only one piece of knowledge you could make sure young people would come away with, what would it be?

JA: To talk to someone if you need to – when things go wrong, when you’re unsure, when you’re feeling big emotions.

JKS: That it is okay to talk about bodies and it’s really helpful if they have a trusted adult they can talk to or ask questions. Clear ideas about consent are crucial and the idea that anything sexual is meant to be pleasurable, mutual and safe for the people involved.