Monday, 17 March 2014

Sex Education and the lack of it. Or, Why the hell did I write my book?

I have finally finished writing my book, A Girl's Guide To Getting Off, and other things you won't learn in sex ed.

It all began when I was running a group of skillshare events with a friend about sexual pleasure, sex toys and Gspots and all the good things sex can do and discovering how many women over forty had never had an orgasm or even knew what pleasures their bodies were capable of. They were telling me things like "I wish I'd learnt all this as a teenager. It would have saved me a lot of confusion, self doubt and bad decision making as an adult."
It got me thinking of my own sex education and what I wish for my daughter... And I looked and I looked, and I found very little age appropriate stuff on the matter of sex and pleasure and relationships and all of the things we are supposed to automatically know when we "grow up".
So... Being the go-getter that I am, and a person who knows quite a lot about sex, pleasure and how to get the best out of it, I wrote it myself. And below are just some of the many other reasons this book needs to be out there...

Publishers please take note, and check your slush piles. I'm sure it's hiding in there somewhere

Technology is amazing. I mean, the things we can do nowadays! I can have a live video phone conversation with someone sitting in a grass hut in Africa. I can go on a virtual deep sea dive in an almost inaccessible part of the world. I can read the entire works of Shakespeare and all the Mr Men books and then take a tour of The Louvre while listening to a live Doors concert and I don't even have to get out of bed!

The wealth of information that comes through these little lit-up screens in our hands and on our laps is so far beyond 2000 it's crazy. Everything can be found by Googling it and I mean everything. The good, the bad and the ugly. Really, really ugly.

Yes, technology these days is amazing, but it can be fraught with problems too. One of the main issues that comes from such a huge influx of information is that it can be tricky to separate the truth from the lies, the real from the fake. And, if we lack the ability to process all this information in a way that helps us understand what we are seeing, why we are seeing it and what it all actually means, it can become a very dangerous thing.

One of the groups most vulnerable to the exposure of false, misleading and damaging information are teenagers. The brain is still developing, traits like reason and risk management are still developing or changing, and (as we are all aware) teenagers already know everything, so they can't be logically explained to or told otherwise. And now, with this universe of information in their pockets, they can claim to be experts on almost anything and have the “proof” to back it up.

Now that's all well and good when it comes to the latest Xbox game or the season finale of The Walking Dead, but when it comes to things that can be potentially life changing and damaging we, as adults, parents, friends and members of the universe, have a duty of care to make sure our younger generations are given the right information and tools to move into adulthood with minimum damage. It's fantastic that all this information is out there literally at your fingertips, but giving kids free reign of it all and not helping them process and understand it is as dangerous as letting a toddler play with an oven and figure out for themselves why their hands are getting burnt.

And this is all too obvious when it comes to sex. Proper sex education of young people is in decline. Parents are too afraid or embarrassed to talk to their kids about sex and teachers are afraid of the parents' reactions to their teachings and therefore keep it so basic that nothing is really taught and real questions are not being answered,and so a lot of kids end up in situations they cannot understand or process properly.

It's an illogical circle really. I won't tell my kids about sex, pleasure, orgasms, safety, consent, relationships and then they will never ever do it til I think they're old enough to handle it, and in doing so push their kids to the step of finding it out for themselves and inevitably seeing and experiencing worse.

The thing is plenty of teenage kids are going to have sex. Whether you want them to or not. They will. They have been for generations. And will for years to come. It's normal exploration. Telling them not to doesn't work and telling them not to without any good reasons is even worse. Telling them that sex is dirty, dangerous, bad and wrong is also not going to stop them. What it will do, however is make sure they are uninformed, unsafe, irresponsible and completely against coming to you for any help or advice when things do happen that are less than desired like pregnancy, STIs or sexual assault.

I recently heard of a woman who kicked her 15 year old daughter out of her home because she had got pregnant. Her reason? “I told her not to have sex. She didn't listen. What will the community think of the sort of mother I am who lets her teenager get pregnant.”

I'd be more worried about what the “community” would think of me as a mother who throws a young, pregnant vulnerable child out onto the street... But maybe that's just me.

She hadn't taught her daughter about safe sex. About condoms or the pill. About any of that. She truly believed that no information and “banning” her from doing it was the way to go. It wasn't. It isn't. And it never will be.

In 2011 the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society conducted a survey among nearly 300 secondary school teachers of sexual health from every jurisdiction in Australia including government, Catholic and independent schools.

Some of the key findings were:

* Most sex education teachers are female teachers trained in PE and health.

* Sixteen percent of teachers had no outside training whatsoever, and the majority of those who did attended a one day seminar with only a single focus, which was mainly reproduction.

* Only a quarter of all surveyed teachers had external help from organisations that specialise in sex education.

* Most sex education classes are given to students in years nine and ten with very little being taught in years eleven and twelve.

* Less than fifty percent of respondents taught about the pleasure of sexual behaviour/activity which suggests that Australian sex education focuses more on the negative outcomes rather than an overall approach.

* Over half of all the teachers surveyed said they found it hard to fit sex education into the curriculum as it wasn't allocated time.
* A fifth of all respondents cited a lack in training and resources as to why they avoided teaching some topics

* Just under fifty percent said they were afraid of community/parental backlash from some topics so were less likely to teach or talk about them in class. (including pleasure and same sex attraction)

* Topics that teachers said they would like to see included in the sex ed curriculum were: Same sex attraction, pleasure of sexuality, communication and negotiation skills, sexual decision making, respectful relationships and contraception.

* Almost a quarter of the teachers surveyed were unsure whether their school had a sex education policy.

Actual quote from survey:
“Teachers indicated that sexuality education should start in primary school and cover topics such as relationships and feelings, names and functions of body parts and reproduction. For most of the topics listed in this survey teachers stated that they should be taught earlier than they were actually teaching them as per curriculum. ...While the majority of teachers (51%) thought sexuality education was very effective in increasing knowledge and understanding in sexuality and sexual health, they judged sexuality education programs less effective for teaching young people about exploring and clarifying feelings, values and attitudes, developing and strengthening skills and promoting and sustaining risk-reducing behaviour.”


It's clear from this that most teachers are aware of what should be taught and when it should be taught but are mostly afraid to do so. Especially when it comes to teaching kids about pleasure which, when you think about it, is what sex is. It is pleasurable. It feels good. It is ultimately why most people have sex - for the sensation.

Telling children it is wrong or bad or dirty or beneath them is the first step to creating guilt, shame and confusion. But it feels good! How can it be bad??
In the same way we teach kids to enjoy chocolate but not be irresponsible with it and eat nothing but junk, we need to be able to tell our kids the same kind of things about sex. Sure it feels good, it can be one of the best things out there, but it comes with risks and responsibilities and ways to make sure you come out the other end undamaged. Just telling them how awful it is, without addressing the things they know to be true (like how good it can feel) is only telling half the story. As adults we know you can't build an Ikea bookshelf without half the instructions, why would we send our kids into the world with only half the instructions and then expect that bookshelf not to come crashing down and potentially kill them?

 Just look at these figures.

STI Rates (taken straight from Australian Bureau of Statistics "social trends" June 2011)

Chlamydia... For women aged 15-19 years, the notification rate increased from 569 per 100,000 in 2001, to 2,228 per 100,000 in 2011
Gonorrhoea... The national notification rate for people aged 15 years and over was 65 per 100,000 population, up from 40 per 100,000 in 2001.
Syphilis... The 15-19 years age group increased by 60%, 35-39 years increased by 84% and 45-49 years increased by 129%.

 HIV AIDS... In 2010, there were 1,031 new cases of HIV among men and women aged 13 years and over, or 5.5 notifications per 100,000 population.


 This, all of this, is why I have written my book. I believe there is a great deal of information our teenagers are not getting due to parental ignorance or embarrassment, teacher and school restrictions or lack of guidelines on what can and can't be taught.
There needs to be a place where kids can go to get all their information and knowledge from that is not only age appropriate, but correct, respectful, fully inclusive and spoken in a language they understand. They don't need to be told “no”. They need to be told everything, and then make up their own minds as to what they will do. I truly believe if we want to raise intelligent adults, we need to start with having informed children.

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