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Let’s have that talk about sex

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And so it goes with the tricky subject of sex education. Teaching young people about sex and sexuality has long been controversial. It seems we are no closer to finding a happy medium than two generations ago.

The furore about a new book attempting to provide a modern approach to an age-old topic has reached our shores, and the debate has become quite heated.

Welcome to Sex: Your No-Silly-Questions Guide to Sexuality, Pleasure and Figuring It Out was released in May and is aimed at children aged 12 to 15.

It covers such topics as consent, safer sex, masturbation, sexual positions and gender identity. It looks like all bases are covered and given the target audience will no doubt have plenty of post-read curly questions, that should be seen as a positive.

However, the book was met with a barrage of criticism, with some deeming the target audience too young for such content and accusing one of the authors, Yumi Stynes, 48, of “grooming” children.

Highly emotive and ill-considered comments such as those do nothing to advance the discussion. If anything, it seriously reduces the credibility of that side of the argument. Stynes, meanwhile, has defended the book, saying in a recent Instagram post that her intention was to do “the absolute best for our young readers”.

Some stockists have responded to the criticism by taking the book off their shelves. That move could also be in response to the abuse some of their staff have received from angry opponents of the book.

Two sides to the debate are playing out.

One side argues the book is nothing more than a graphic sex guide that is “teaching sex” to young children. This reminds me of the debate a few years ago about making condoms more readily available to teenagers. The “no-thanks” crowd said more condoms would mean more teenage sex. Incorrect. Lots of teenagers are still having sex. The “yes please” supporters said condoms would reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and the rate of sexually transmitted diseases. Well, almost certainly, but the numbers are particularly difficult to track. Seemingly confident teenagers can be very shy when asked about their social life.

Many parents want sex education taught at school. In a science class, presumably, where biology holds court in one of the three semesters. Fair enough, I suppose, because teachers are trained to, you know, teach.

But at what age should young people learn about sex? It will likely depend on the life experience of the young person, their education and maturity levels, and their religious or cultural background.

We should be careful to avoid making generalisations. Not all 12-13-year olds are created equal. Some have squeaky voices, while others have already had their first shave.

Thus, the first signs of puberty might offer the best signal for a ground-level “birds and bees” talk. A talk that will probably feel weird and uncomfortable. Books can help.

I only wish the book I was given, Where Did I Come From? was followed a few years later by another book called Where Am I Going?

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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