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Getting smart about private parts

A little kid splashing water on his face in Koper

Growing up, I remember hearing other kids talk about their genitals with strange euphemisms like doodle, willy, front-bum, and cookie. Although these names seem cute and less confronting for parents, they pose problems.

  1. They make normal body parts and functions shameful
  2. They can create confusion, particularly if children need to report situations that make them uncomfortable with a trusted adult
  3. They are, well, a little bit silly.

Imagine if another child at school had touched your child’s “cookie” and they reported it to the teacher – this would create confusion and take away from the seriousness of actually dealing with the problem. So, how do you teach children the correct names for their body parts?

Hang on… let me just…

These beautiful diagrams come from The Amazing True Story of How Babies are Made by Fiona Katauskas, which I reviewed here. 

It is really important to ensure that our own understanding of private parts is correct. You may giggle, but the amount of times I have heard an adult telling me about how they need to shave their vagina demonstrates the confusion some people still have about the different body parts (note – vagina is internal, vulva is external). Even though I understand the reproductive anatomy, I always do a quick brush-up before I teach sex education every year at school – you just never know which questions will come up.

The best and least confronting way to teach children about their private parts is through picture books. Here are some of the best ones I have seen for getting started on this topic:

Who Has What? All About Girls’ and Boys’ Bodies by Robie H Harris 

This is an early-childhood book that introduces some of the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies, a nice introduction to private parts and body differences. Buy here. 

Amazing You! by Dr. Gail Saltz 

Definitely appropriate for preschoolers and early childhood, simple and well-illustrated. This book also talks about conception (how a sperm and egg are made, released and then join together from the male/female bodies respectively), but sex is not mentioned. Buy here.

Everyone’s Got a Bottom by Tess Rowley

This book provides a simple introduction about private parts, and also touches on consent and keeping your body safe with rules and privacy. The rhyme that runs through the whole book is, “From my head to my toes, I can say what goes.” The illustrations of body parts are very simple and appropriate for early childhood. Buy here. 

I’m a Boy/I’m a Girl – Special Me by Shelley Metten 

These two books provide anatomical details of boys’ and girls’ bodies, without going into sex. They are aimed towards 5-7 year olds. There are also books that follow on in this series that explore puberty and sex. Have a look at these books here and here. 

It is so important to get these conversations started, using the correct language and without pet names. That way, children won’t feel ashamed to ask questions or report concerns when they need to. Happy reading…. and talking! 

 

 

 

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Book review: Safe4Kids book series

One of the most challenging aspects of working with young people is acknowledging the reality that we have the responsibility to protect them from potential harm. It is sometimes hard to do this without terrifying them or preventing them from doing anything out of fear. Protective education aims to equip children with knowledge of their feelings and the language to set appropriate boundaries with others around relationships and touch. This aims to help keep children safe as well as to help them understand they have a network of people who can help them if they feel their trust or personal boundaries have been violated. These measures can help children to protect themselves and feel comfortable in everyday situations.

Safe 4 Kids have released a number of books alongside their protective education program to support parents and educators in starting these crucial discussions with children. Their guidebook introduces the language children can use to assertively set boundaries, and also how to identify a network of safe people. It also includes worksheets for children to draw what their early warning signs look like. The other books in the series cover different situations that can occur in childhood and ways of dealing with them, all linking back to the same key ideas of having a safety team, using the 5 private rules, and identifying safe/unsafe feelings.

Matilda Learns a Valuable Lesson

This book is about safe and unsafe feelings – how to identify them, which situations may lead to different feelings, and how to articulate boundaries to others, including adults. The illustrations show different situations, such as having an adult try to kiss a child who doesn’t want it. It introduces the idea of ‘early warning signs’ and the safety team (a network of trusted people a child can go to when they need help with situations that make them uncomfortable).

Hayden-Reece Learns What To Do if Children See Private Pictures or Private Movies

Because mobile devices are so ubiquitous in our modern age, it is important to start the discussion about pornography early. It can be confronting to use this word, but this book introduces the topic in a child-friendly way by talking about private pictures and private movies, without any graphic images. It talks about where a child might see them, what they are, and how to exit the browser, then talk to a trusted adult. The book reinforces that a child won’t get into trouble by telling someone.

 

Gary Just Didn’t Know the Rules

 This book addresses peer-to-peer sexual behaviour in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way. It introduces the 5 private rules for staying safe. This reinforces that nobody – including other children their age – can touch a child’s private parts or create private images of their body.

 


Hayden-Reece Learns a Valuable Lesson that Private Means ‘Just For You’

Using a playground scenario of a student who tries to go into the girl’s toilets to look over the stalls, this book talks about what private parts and clothing items are, their correct names, and how to respect the privacy of others at school and elsewhere. It  reinforces safe/unsafe feelings and the use of a safety team if these boundaries are violated.

More information

These books are an excellent resource, particularly for educators who are delivering protective education programs or bodies and relationships lessons as part of the health curriculum. They are non-confronting, child-friendly, and use the same consistent language and ideas around protective behaviours, which benefits children in their learning process. If you need more advice or resources about protective education, make sure to check out the the Safe4Kids Facebook page here and their website here to browse the full range of resources and training for protective education.

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Three key considerations for educating children and teenagers about pornography

I was discussing this blog with a friend and she asked for my opinion on pornography – do I think it should be banned? I would like to clarify that an adult has the right to choose what they access. However, I believe that an child without any conceptions of healthy relationships can have their experiences of sexuality permanently damaged by accessing pornography. We know that children and teenagers are being exposed to pornography through their devices and social groups. They are at a higher risk of being affected by this content if their time online is not supervised and if they have not been educated about healthy forms of sexuality. This situation is very different to watching sexual material as an adult with formed views. Even in an adult context, there are always caveats.

Burning Man wire sculpture with baby dolls in Black Rock Desert
We as educators, parents and adults have a responsibility to inform our children and teenagers about the risks involved and in the formative years of sexual development, it is up to us to educate ourselves on the consequences of allowing children to access pornography through lack of supervision.

Here are three key considerations:

  1. Accessing pornography in childhood can lead to inappropriate sexual behaviours or peer-to-peer sexual abuse.

Sexual acts perpetrated by young people (aged 10 and 19) increased by 36% between 2012 and 2014. The only way a young child can know about sexual acts is if they are told, if it is forced upon them, or if they view these acts in pornographic images, which as we know can be innocently accessed via platforms such as Instagram and YouTube in content suggestions. Even children’s games (such as Minecraft) have videos created by users that portray sexual scenes using the game’s characters. These videos appear on the side without a child needing to search for them.

If a child sees these acts portrayed without explanation, they become normalised and they may try to imitate some of what they’ve seen on their peers. This is not a sign that the child is a deviant, they are merely copying what they have been exposed to. Although none of us set out to allow our children to access this material, all it takes is five minutes without supervision. Close supervision can curtail this exposure, but if a child has seen this material by accident or through a peer, it is important to reinforce with them that these are private acts that occur between adults, and a child’s private parts are subject to very important rules:

  1. No one can touch my private parts (except for medical reasons, with consent), and you are not allowed to touch other people’s private parts
  2. No one is allowed to show you private pictures or movies
  3. No one is allowed to take private photos of you
  4. You are not allowed to take private pictures of yourself

I found these rules inside a useful resource that explores this topic, which is called Gary Just Didn’t Know the Rules. It is really important to understand that a child who sees pornography and then emulates it usually doesn’t know any better. These children need support and education, not condemnation.

  1. Accessing pornography in the years of early sexual development can lead to the formation of inappropriate expectations, issues with instant gratification, and pornography addiction.

Although some pornography portrays positive, consensual experiences between adults, there is also a significant amount of material (particularly online) that portrays sex with multiple people, anal sex without appropriate protection, ejaculating in a person’s face, sex acts involving bondage/injury, or other sexual acts that may be out of the comfort zone of an inexperienced teenager.

Young people exposed to these ideas may feel pressure to try them, even if they do not feel comfortable, as they are often portrayed as being what a stereotypical male/female should do. Further, if a teenager becomes used to being aroused by these forms of pornography, they may be dissatisfied with their first sexual experiences or disappointed when their partner declines to try what they’ve seen. Over time, repeated exposure to these images can cause addiction and issues with instant gratification, which can cause a person to struggle to enjoy sex or reach climax under regular conditions with a sexual partner. It is difficult for a teenager to understand these consequences because logical thoughts can be overridden by the instant pleasure that pornography can bring. We need to have conversations about these consequences with our children in the same way we would about the risks involved with alcohol and drugs.

  1. Some pornography shows violent or dominant acts that degrade the participants and demonstrate unhealthy relationships.City Protest sign reads "abuse of power comes as no surprise"

Although the causal link between high consumption of pornography and sexual violence has not been 100% established, some evidence demonstrates that there is a link between certain forms of pornography and the formation of negative sexual attitudes, particularly towards women. Many of the acts depicted in online pornography are not standard fare and can influence a young person’s view of what sex should be. Some videos also don’t make consent obvious, and certain acts are portrayed as non-reciprocal (e.g – a man in pornography may receive oral sex, but won’t give it to his female partner).

Some teenagers report changes in attitude after viewing pornography that aren’t necessarily problematic – for instance, that it is okay to enjoy sex or to have casual encounters in the right context – but many of the most commonly accessed forms of pornography put forward the view that men cannot control themselves once aroused, that women or men can be sex objects, that women need love to have sex, that women say no when they mean yes or that the way a woman dresses can invite consent. These messages can blur the lines of what constitutes a respectful, equitable, and healthy relationship for a teenager who doesn’t have a great deal of life experience.

Awareness by parents of what children are doing online decreases with age but their time online tends to increase. As children enter this developmental space, any generational gaps in digital literacy and awareness about the impacts of content available online need to be addressed with greater understanding of the Web 2.0 platforms and how they can be used safely. For children and teenagers, it is really for the best if they are not consumers of this material. Because we know they will likely be exposed to it at some stage, using these three key considerations is helpful in shaping our conversations around this topic.

Sources

Australian Institute of Family Studies

https://aifs.gov.au/publications/effects-pornography-children-and-young-people-snapshot

Safe4Kids

http://safe4kids.com.au/

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Let’s talk about sex – myth busters edition

As far as we’ve come, educating children about sex remains taboo. This was demonstrated by the national response to Safe Schools which, above anything else, brought anxiety about what children would be exposed to in the curriculum – gay and lesbian sexual health, masturbation, and reproductive anatomy were some topics that caused upset. I found the three most contentious myths, presented with a side of factual evidence. Enjoy!

Talking about sex will encourage it

A very common fear about introducing sex education early is that this will encourage children to do it. However, the most significant influencers for early sexual debut are:

  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Exposure to pornography
  • Peer or partner pressure
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Media
  • Volatile family relationships

Current findings have demonstrated that the majority (69%) of senior school students surveyed across schooling systems (including Christian schools) are sexually active in some way. This rate of sexual activity has remained fairly static over the last decade. As sex education and access to contraception has increased in comparison to previous decades, rates for this age group are at a historic low.

Rather than being morally panicked, it is worth understanding that sex will find its way into children’s lives whether it is through the media, their peer group, or worse, pornography. Less education, particularly when it comes from unreliable sources, is more likely to lead to risk-taking behaviour or poor preparation for eventual sexual activity, both of which can lead to the contraction of STIs, unwanted sexual experiences, and unplanned pregnancy.

Sex is an inevitable, natural part of development that, like driving a car, requires a solid base of knowledge for success. This will increase the likelihood of safe sexual behaviour and the understanding of how to confidently deal with situations that may arise. If knowledge is power, then conversely, lack of knowledge in this area is vulnerability and risk.

Learning about anal sex is an unnecessary minority group issue and it doesn’t need to be taught as part of sex education

Although less common (around 10% of students surveyed reported that they had tried it), anal sex does occur during the teenage years, and not just in gay partnerships. Various forms of oral sex are also common in teenagers, usually as a prelude to becoming sexually active. This may be surprising but anal and oral sex among teenagers and adults is nothing new and didn’t come about because of gay rights, as the Kinsey report on human sexual behaviour uncovered in the 1950s (yes – as conservative as this era was, people still experimented and disclosed this to researchers). This seminal report on human sexuality pre-dates Safe Schools, the plebiscite, and any significant gay rights action by more than half a century.

Many teenagers are experimenting with various forms of sexual activities, whether the matter is spoken about at school or not. Not educating them about the preventative measures against sexually transmitted infections puts them at risk. Even if anal sex were a ‘minority group issue’, being more educated on the whole picture of sexuality helps to challenge ignorance and there is no harm done by simply knowing more – in the same way that it does not harm boys to learn about menstruation. I dare say teenagers are not at risk of adding anal sex to their repertoire merely by learning about it, given that it is a fairly adventurous activity, even by adult standards.

And – as I always say – if two years of hardcore abstinence education in a fundamentalist Christian school didn’t turn me straight or abstinent, a few lessons about different sex acts given to senior school students will not force anyone to go out and try them.

My child isn’t watching pornography so I don’t need to educate them about it

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Pornography exposure (for boys AND girls) is far more common than most people would assume. Even teenagers (and children!) with the most vigilant parents had seen it at some stage. These images often contain violent, objectifying, unrealistic, and otherwise inappropriate depictions of sex. Repeated exposure to pornography as a teenager’s first experience of sex can cause their brain to be conditioned to instant gratification and unrealistic ideas of what can be expected from a sexual relationship. The real event can turn out to be a let-down because genuine sex lives don’t work in the same way as pornography. This can have life-long implications for a person’s libido and relationships, in the same way that excessive exposure to technology can harm a child’s social skills. Nonetheless, there is no getting rid of it so educating our young is our best counter-attack.

Taking phones out of bedrooms and changing the Wi-Fi password is no longer enough. If we don’t want our teenage sons and daughters to have their sexual peak in front of a smart phone with a handful of moisturiser, we need to ensure that we educate them about the long-term sexual risks of engaging with pornography. In the same way that we warn our children about photos in magazines not being conducive to healthy body image, we need to safeguard their expectations about what healthy relationships and sexuality looks like.

Quite frankly, it is about time that we all started talking about sex more openly with our adolescents and seeing quality sex education as a seatbelt, rather than a guidebook. That starts with educating ourselves and identifying, then challenging, some of the misinformation that is prevalent around these topics. Sexual health is as important as financial literacy, digital technology, and the core curriculum. We need to treat it with openness and be the grown-ups in getting the conversation started, including the parts we’d rather not talk about – so our children aren’t dealing with consequences they’d rather not deal with in their future.

Sources

Australian Institute of Family Studies

https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/2016/05/04/children-and-young-peoples-exposure-pornography

Amanda Dunn – The New Puberty (2016)

Anne Mitchell, Kent Patrick, Wendy Heywood, Pamela Blackman, and Marian Pitts (LaTrobe University)

http://www.redaware.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/31631-ARCSHS_NSASSSH_FINAL-A-3.pdf

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Six steps to recalibrating puberty education for the 21st century

I am currently reading and contemplating on The New Puberty by Amanda Dunn (great read, by the way), which has confirmed that the clutches of puberty are encroaching further into childhood than ever before. Some people believe that this early development is the end of childhood as we know it, as previous models of puberty education have been packaged with sex and relationships education more suitable for teenagers.

I don’t believe that this is the beginning of the end. Like anything that changes with time, it means that we need a pro-active strategy in how we educate and empower our children. A recalibration of our approach to puberty education with developmentally appropriate resources and conversation starters is what is really required.

Here are six ways we need to respond to our children, developmentally.

  1. We need to keep a check on our expectations.

If a child noticeably develops before their peers, different expectations seem to be applied to their maturity. Although the child may be taller and more physically mature than their friends, they are still exactly that – a child. They may not be ready for independent responsibilities that you would expect of an early teenager or older child. Socially, they will still have the same struggles as their age-related peers. It is really important to encourage them to act their age, and not burden them with expectations that belong to older children.

To give an example, I once overheard, ‘Should that child still be playing with Shopkins at her age?’ The child in question was eight years old – so, yes. Just because she is undergoing puberty at a younger age, does not mean that her desire for age-appropriate childhood play should stop. Some children may have the beginnings of an adult body, but they are still not adults.

  1. We need to educate about body changes before they happen, not in the midst of it

 Teaching children about the changes that they will go through at the same time we are buying them pads and razors is unlikely to equip them with success and confidence. The body education our children need should ideally occur before these changes happen, that way, they are not unexpected or difficult to deal with. Which brings me to my next step….

  1. We need to educate in an age-appropriate way, using correct terminology 

Many adults shy away from the puberty talk with younger children because they don’t feel their children are ready for the sex talk yet. Fortunately, there are many resources that deal primarily with puberty without any mention of sex or sexuality. This can be a great place to start the conversation. Some parents may want to introduce the sex talk at the same time, whereas other families feel their children would benefit from learning about puberty first. Fortunately, there are books that suit both purposes.

Two awesome starting points are:

Help! I’m a Tweenager – Rosie Luik (girls’ puberty)

I’m a Boy – Special Me and I’m a Boy – My Changing Body –  Shelley Metten (boys’ puberty)

These books require adult interaction, as the reading level of the content is not quite as simple as picture books, and there is some mention of puberty’s role in fertility, though not sexual content as such.

Or for the comprehensive, illustrated introduction to almost everything sex and puberty for younger children:

The Amazing True Story of how Babies are Made, which I reviewed here.

Unfortunately, this one doesn’t talk much about managing periods (which is very important for young girls), but it introduces all things related to puberty and sexuality and serves as a solid introduction. All of the above resources use correct terminology. It is really important that children hear the proper names for their body parts and not slang words, which can encourage shame and embarrassment.

Reading the books alone first can help with nailing the terminology and dissolving awkward feelings. The best place to start this conversation may be in the car on the way to school (for parents), and in the form of a Q and A dialogue (for educators). Have fun with it! After all, these changes happen to everyone, so we should be able to talk about them without feeling weird – this sets a positive example for the children in our care.

  1. We need to encourage physical activity and find ways to mitigate the sometimes-negative impacts of puberty on participation in sport and other activities 

A young woman in black boxing gloves kissing one of her gloves

Physical activity and other childhood hobbies have benefits for a child’s mental and physical health, although some activities can become difficult once children begin puberty, particularly if they are developing faster than the children around them. This is when we need to be pro-active and provide strategies that support continued participation, without the child needing to ask – this could include getting a quality sports bra fitted, teaching a girl how to manage periods in various situations, and discussing adequate protection for boys who play contact sports. It is really important to nip this one in the bud so children are empowered to continue participating without the awkwardness of needing to ask. Which brings me to my next step…

  1. We need to instil body confidence, relentlessly

Alongside the practicalities of helping children to stay engaged with their interests, we need to explicitly reinforce the idea that it is still useful for a child to be physically active, even as their body matures. Although there are many positive role models in every sport, it can’t be left up to chance for a child to realise that their bodies are amazing vessels that are capable of doing challenging things, even after they have matured. Body comparison will begin alongside these changes too, so it is important to explain (repeatedly!) that bodies are diverse and feeling confident in your own skin is what matters most. Drawing attention to a range of capable role models with different body types can help to dispel the myth that there is only one image to aspire to.

Shirtless boy squeezing and playing with large inflatable ball near parked car in Oceanside

The average timing and considerations of puberty may have changed over the last couple of generations, but that doesn’t mean that children should lose their childhood because we are scared to talk about it. We need to keep on reviewing our approach to ensure that our children receive the best and most age-appropriate education that will equip them to pass through these inevitable transitions with their confidence intact.

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You can’t be what you can’t see – why teachers shouldn’t live in the closet

When we first start to learn important life skills, our success hinges on watching someone else model the task before we try. Leading our own lives isn’t any different from mastering basic life skills; we all have the desire to form human connections that influence us and form our ways of being in the world. We know that young people look up to the world around them and so we try to steer them towards good role models to fight against the negative messages they will undoubtedly consume from the wider world.

Although there are positive role models everywhere, it is more meaningful when a child sees a person just like them in a position of success, in a place where they can connect with them. Young people adopt habits and attitudes by looking at people who share their gender, cultural background, or other life circumstances. When a child belongs to a group that is in the minority and over-represented in suicide and mental health statistics, knowing individuals who have succeeded in spite of stereotypes offers hope that their future can be bright. The most common place for a child to connect with a role model is at school.

This is why I find it so perplexing that being a gay teacher in Australia is still such a silent idea. To be fair, nobody is going to stop a gay person from attaining a Bachelor of Education, but implicit forces that propagate institutionalised heterosexual norms can crush an early career teacher into silence. It happens frequently in the independent sector where parental satisfaction = business and lifestyle clauses (aka religious “freedom”) can make it very easy to sack those who do not comply. Even if you don’t consider these factors, the impact of silence on teacher wellbeing and mental health can make some of these positions untenable. In many schooling contexts, there is an underlying message that having an out teacher encourages children to believe that it is okay to be gay. For some parents, this represents a fear of the unknown.

One of the most significant “no” arguments that got a lot of airplay during the lead up to the plebiscite was that gay marriage would pave the way for talking about homosexuality in schools. My question is, why aren’t we talking about it? In any classroom, there will be students who have homosexuality in their lives – whether it is through having a gay relative, gay parents, or even being gay themselves. At some point throughout their life, they will likely meet a gay person or work with one. For some students, they may not yet realise that they are gay, but are grappling internally with feelings that they can’t explain. They might be looking for confirmation that they are completely normal and loved regardless.

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Thinking about this takes me back to 2004. My family had relocated to a regional city in Queensland, and the intent was to lead a quieter life while my father developed his business. I had always known I had those feelings and had never said anything because I wasn’t certain that I actually was gay, because I lacked life experience. In my family and friendship groups, nobody spoke about it. Popular culture at the time didn’t contain many visible role models, or at least none that I had been exposed to. YouTube and social media were in their infancy and so I was somewhat in the dark. Furthermore, the Christian education program at my school had explicitly stated that being gay was not an option if you were to lead an acceptable, moral life.

Towards the end of that year, I developed a close friendship with a girl that turned into a somewhat-relationship behind closed doors. We never spoke to anyone about it because we attended a very conservative Christian school, and we knew there would be consequences. I finally plucked up the courage to pull one of my favourite teachers aside to tell her about what had been going on. I was not seeking spiritual guidance nor did I need advice about how to change my feelings; what I was seeking was reassurance. Instead, I was forced to see a counsellor and forbidden from telling my parents. When the ‘counselling’ did not produce the desired result, my parents were called into the school. I was asked to leave and walked out in a cloud of absolute humiliation.

After enrolling in a public school, I felt lost and scarred by shame. I never spoke about my past relationship and threw myself headfirst into dating boys, drinking, and other destructive behaviour. I went from being a straight-A student to barely handing in assessments. Towards the end of Year 11, I honestly thought that I had completely screwed up my future prospects. Instead of looking forward to graduation, I feared the future because I had been told that gay adults didn’t have functional relationships and I knew that my career prospects would be very dim considering how little work I had submitted towards my senior certificate. The most traumatic aspect was that I thought I would never recover my academic prowess because of the dark night that had descended upon my mind, sucking all the life out from the inside.

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During that year, my senior music teacher resigned and was replaced by a bright and talented teacher who played numerous instruments and rocked a shaved head like nobody’s business. She unabashedly wore jackets with gay patches stitched onto them, and considering where the world (particularly Bundaberg) was at in 2007, this was a bold move. Not only did she impart her amazing musical taste on all of us, but she spoke about the life she had built, complete with a career, mortgage, world travels, a dog, and a (nearly) wife. Suddenly, here was this person who profoundly disrupted everything I had been told at my previous school, who was living proof that I could have the aspirational life I dreamed of with a wife by my side. This realisation was the wind that changed the direction of my sails.

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Not long after I met this teacher, I came out to my parents. I wrote a song about a woman I loved and sang it on school assembly. I stopped caring what other people thought about my life and lived as my true, authentic self. A decade on, I have a successful career, an impressive passport, a published book, a dream home, plans to have children, and a beautiful wife, whom I will marry now that the laws are in place. I did not fall into some mythical drug scene. I did not catch a disease. I did not become an outcast of society because of who I am. However, it would have taken me a lot longer to figure this all out, had I not had a visible role model available to me at a very formative and vulnerable time in my life. Without a strong, like-minded influence to model the possibility of a good life, I could have become another statistic.

This is why the idea of silencing gay teachers is anathema to me. If we are to fulfill the mission of the Educational Goals for Young Australians as set out in the Melbourne Declaration, then we need to help young people find their voice. It is challenging to do that if we must cower behind our desks and hide our wedding photos from plain sight. Having a gay teacher will not make a child gay, and furthermore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with identifying as a gay person. What visible role models will provide are two very important messages to our young people;

  1. You are not alone.
  2. Those of you who identify as gay have equal worth and you have just as much chance of fulfilling your dreams as anyone else. Here are people who have walked similar paths to you and succeeded. It is possible for you. 

In the past, gay students have had to navigate these paths without any guidance and I don’t believe it needs to be like that now or in the future. By keeping our teachers in the closet, we are limiting our young people and contributing to a world that divides and separates people on the basis of unchangeable differences. Learning more about these differences will challenge the discomfort and biases that people have and in time, most people will realise that there is nothing to worry about in allowing people to be more open. A child can’t be what they can’t see and pushing their role models into the closet is sending the message that who they are isn’t part of the conversation.

I think every child’s diversity should be represented visibly in the schooling system, through teachers, coaches, parents, students and curriculum materials that acknowledge a variety of life narratives. Only then will we see change and open up a brighter future, not just for some students, but for every student. I think that’s worth standing up for, don’t you?

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The importance of bodily autonomy – and resources you can use to start the conversation

Imagine if you didn’t have control over what others could do to your body. Imagine if someone else got to call the shots – they chose haircuts for you, forced you to hug and kiss them for their own satisfaction, and wouldn’t even let you choose your own clothing. Most people would be uncomfortable with this situation, but this is the reality for most children – that their bodies are not theirs to have control over. The idea that a child can and should assert boundaries about their body is one that is gaining awareness in early childhood educational settings. It responds to the need for children to learn protective behaviours that aim to keep them safe for life – not just from sexual abuse, but situations where someone is not being respectful of personal space.

A person's hands are visible, operating a mechanical remote controller in Putten

Like adults, children possess intuition and comfort levels around physical touch that need to be acknowledged and treated with respect. Communicating personal boundaries confidently is a skill that children can use to own their bodies and to interact in ways that support their innate tendencies. For some children, particularly ones who are naturally introverted or slow-to-warm, it can be distressing when a person encroaches on their physical space. It isn’t about teaching a child that every adult is a predator, but that they are the boss of their own body and they control how others interact with it. Even the most extroverted, cuddly child will need space at times – and that is completely okay.

When developing these assertive capabilities in children, it is important to present the conversation at their level. The following resources are a good starting point for these discussions.

NO MEANS NO!

Click here to buy the book 

This is a book I have personally used within the classroom with middle-to-upper primary school students, but it is suitable for younger students as well. My favourite part of this book is that the adult characters are portrayed as well-meaning, close people who just want to hug or wrestle with the child characters. They respond positively when the main character politely declines. The story also provides language for children to use in creating respectful boundaries – for instance, firmly saying no and offering a high-five instead. This equips children with a polite ‘out’ to boundary-pushing situations, without it seeming as if every person who wants a cuddle has an ulterior motive. The author, Jayneen Sanders, has another book called ‘My Body! What I Say, Goes!’ which has a similar theme.

Your Body Belongs to You

 

Click here to buy the book 

This book is another one that explains the idea of bodily autonomy with simple language. It conveys the idea that you can still form a friendship with someone, even if you politely decline a hug or physical touch when you’re getting to know someone. It is a dated book (1997), but reassuring and appropriate.

Do You Have a Secret? 

Click here to buy the book 

Although the previous titles are more about helping children to set comfortable boundaries, this book also encourages children to talk to adults about situations that have made them feel uncomfortable. It acknowledges that worrying is normal when something isn’t right and that trusting your instinct is a valuable thing to do. It also differentiates between secrets to be kept and secrets that need to be shared with a trusted adult.

I Said No!

 

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This simple and direct book is more aimed towards situations that could be predatory. It contains simple language for children to use when they are in situations that make them feel uncomfortable. Although it is important to teach children about the value of their bodily autonomy, this needs to be supported by giving children appropriate responses to these situations. Like with anything, children need to practice these short statements in verbal role-plays so that it becomes memorable.

It really is important for us to start these conversations. Although some people may be taken aback when a child asserts themselves to decline physical touch, what we ultimately want is to equip children to be firm in protecting their personal safety. 

 

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Secret Boys’ Business and Secret Girls’ Business!

It has been a short while since my last book review, so I thought I would present my thoughts about a sex and puberty education series I bought recently. As a primary classroom teacher, I deliver a program called Bodies and Relationships. All of the resources I use are provided, but having a quick and colourful reference helped me with nailing the terminology in a child-friendly, succinct manner when I was planning ahead for my lessons. That is why I purchased these two books originally.

The entire collection is called the Secret Business series and contains titles such as Secret Boys’ Business, Secret Girls’ Business, The Secret Business of Relationships, Love and Sex, and two titles for boys and girls with special learning needs.

I only bought Secret Boys’ Business and Secret Girls’ Business to start with. When I first opened both of these books, the first thing I noticed was the body positive language used to describe changes and the differences between individuals. Each book contains a few simple sentences with the message that every body changes differently and that each person should feel proud of their body as it changes. The girls’ book contains a range of illustrations that present some different-shaped bodies, but the boys’ book contains illustrations that portray boys’ bodies as fit and slim. Possibly, this could have been considered when creating the storyboard, but otherwise, these are two excellent books that I would recommend.

Title: Secret Boys’ Business and Secret Girls’ Business

Authors: Rose Stewart, Fay Angelo, Heather Anderson

Illustrators: Jeff Taylor, Julie Davey

Age range: 8 and older

Themes/genre: Puberty, sex education

Click here to purchase copies of the Secret Business books

BoysGirlsBusiness

Even though children are beginning puberty at younger ages in our modern time, adults still seem to find it an awkward topic. The fact that children’s hormones are starting to shift as early as Year 3 to prepare their bodies for change means that the outward markers of puberty are often occurring between the ages of 8-10. This trend demonstrates that the start of adolescence is encroaching further into childhood than it did in previous generations. An earlier start is a big deal – it means that educating children about what is going on with their bodies can no longer wait until the last year of primary school. Whether we like it or not, it is undeniable that the ‘tween’ age category (8-12 year olds) needs simple, positive, age-appropriate information about what is happening to them.

The girls’ book contains simple, illustrated information about body changes for both sexes. It also provides information that is intended to dispel common fears about development. For instance, that it is normal for one breast may develop earlier. I can remember wondering if that was normal when it happened to me (it’s totally normal!)

The girls’ book is mostly dedicated to puberty and periods, which reflects the fact that this change is the most overwhelming for girls to deal with. It is an ideal resource for girls in middle primary school to prepare for body changes. Seperate books titled More Secret Girls’ Business, and The Secret Business of Relationships, Love, and Sex are targeted towards older girls and contain more detailed information about sexuality and feelings.

Secret Boys’ Business contains more information by comparison, with double the pages and added information about masturbation, sex and fertilisation, which isn’t presented in the first girls’ book. There are many logical explanations for this, but above anything else, the girls’ edition contains a lot of information about periods, because this event can be overwhelming on its own. The other books in the series cover these topics in more detail for girls.

same sex

The boys’ edition acknowledges the idea that boys can be attracted to either sex and presents it as a normal reality of how people can be different. It also talks about consent, personal hygiene, emotional intelligence, and how to take care of testicles.

Although the boys’ edition contains lots of information, I would suggest that it is the kind of resource that needs to be explored with a growing boy, and probably in bite-sized sessions, as there are more topics than the girls’ version. The amount of information available, while comprehensive, could be overwhelming to a young boy, especially if he is adverse to reading – or prefers to avoid topics he finds embarrassing!

The other noteworthy feature of both of these books is the Hints for Mums, Dads and other Significant Adults section in the back. In the past, many parents would provide their children with books about puberty to avoid talking about it. However, it is far more beneficial for this to be an ongoing conversation between parents and children. The guide in the back provides succinct dot points about vocabulary, forward-planning, age-appropriateness, privacy, feelings and how to have open conversations that don’t harm a developing child’s self-esteem. Same-sex attraction is also approached in this section, and the authors suggest that parents respond positively to this topic to ensure their child doesn’t receive negative messages about sexual orientation

Overall, I would recommend purchasing the whole series (including the sequels) and reading the books first to familiarise yourself with the content. That will make it easy to determine which topics need to be discussed first and how much you will share at each stage. Everyone is different and the approach you take will depend on the age and development of the individual child. These books are not resources to be given to a child without discussion, rather they serve to provide an excellent, positive introduction to body changes and sexuality that is easy to read and age-appropriate.

Happy reading!

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YES! YES! YES!

This week has been a satisfying one. I have completed my report cards and am currently kicking back at the hair salon, getting my six-monthly cut and colour before I leave the country for six weeks. In just under a month, I’ll be setting off on a much-needed adventure to Sri Lanka, Qatar, and the Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan).

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I have also seen the first full-colour illustration from my book, One in Many Millions. It has been a very positive week for me. However, the highlight was being able to witness the YES vote ruling the same-sex marriage postal survey. What a glorious time to be alive. As unfair as the process was, the result is history in the making and it brings us one step closer to being a more just, compassionate society where people are not excluded from legal rights and privileges afforded to the majority. .

The ‘no’ camp has put forward the view that same-sex marriage will bring forth an ideological rampage in our schools that will see gay and lesbian topics explored in sex education. Personally, I think the time has come to ensure that every child is equipped with the knowledge to make sound decisions regarding their sexual health, regardless of their orientation. If history has taught us anything about disease and social attitudes, having a culture of silence can only bring negative consequences.

I say YES to love, YES to legal recognition of adult relationships and YES to comprehensive sexuality education!

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Sex under the Southern Cross – Six of the most interesting facts about Australia’s sexual history

I originally started this blog to share my book with the world, although it seems to have morphed into a space where I can talk about all things relevant to life and sex education.

As well as being an author, I am also an advocate for comprehensive sexual education and I believe that every child, regardless of their orientation or family structure, needs to be represented in these discussions. I have found that some people protest such openness. How can something that binds us all be so controversial? What I have learned is that these ideas have evolved over a long, historical journey. I predict that our responses to this topic will never stop evolving. I also firmly believe that we need to keep the conversation alive as the world changes.

The topic of sex throughout history is so complex, I could write a doctoral thesis about it. As tempting as that may be, I will stick to presenting six of the most interesting gems from my reading. I hope you find them as interesting as I do!

  1. The early 20th century was the silent era for sex in education.

Man sitting on bench watching exhibition film at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre

Although human physiology was covered academically, the reproductive system was almost completely disregarded in all classroom discussions. Sex was considered such a taboo that the directors of education openly stated that they could not bear the embarrassment of hearing female teachers talk about germination and pistils, let alone human reproduction. Likewise, they believed any educational programs would open the floodgates to immorality and detract from the teaching of the Three Rs. It was considered foolhardy to rush into the rabbits-and-butterflies chase of sexuality education. Nonetheless, these attitudes kept society in the dark for quite some time. The debate about who should be responsible for the birds and bees talk handballed back and forth between schools, parents, the church, and the medical profession for most of the 20th century. There were some early attempts to introduce handbooks and public lectures to educate school leavers, but these initiatives were always met with resistance and indifference from every direction.

  1. War comes, and venereal disease follows.

With no appropriate sexual education in their back pocket, Australian soldiers leapt into the shocking and destructive climate of World War 1. The trauma of war was so significant and widespread that it profoundly disrupted the traditional Christian values that represented most of the populace at the time. Facing their own mortality and being far from their family home, many soldiers chose to be adventurous and have sexual affairs during their service. In many ways, this was an outward expression of shock to cope with the reality that they might not come home at all. However, without being properly informed about their sexual health, around 60,000 Australian soldiers returned from World War 1 with venereal diseases. Rather than viewing this outbreak as an indictment of the taboos surrounding sexual activity, it was used as a yardstick to measure perceived immorality. Purity movements used the prevalence of venereal diseases to further the cause of abstinence and shame around sexual activity. Infected soldiers hung their heads in shame, rather than experiencing the appropriate honour of a hero’s welcome home.

  1. There’s a handbook for that.

Early in the 20th century, a purity movement swept much of the Western world in response to the rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases. A number of community organisations used public lectures and handbooks about sexual purity to educate adolescents about their body, but rather than providing comprehensive and accurate resources to all students, these booklets portrayed sexuality as a necessary evil for reproduction. The handbooks had titles like Purity and Impurity and The Needs and Methods of Purity Teaching. Sex was referred to as filthy and coarse, masturbation was termed ‘self-abuse’ and it was suggested that boys not engage in this, lest they stunt their growth or make themselves unfit for sport. As well as the teachings on masturbation (which we now know to be incorrect), the language used to describe sexual organs and functions was full of euphemisms – like ‘seed’ for semen and ‘involuntary passages’ for wet dreams, or ‘flower and fruit’ for the parts of fertilisation. Every sexual function was seen as related to God’s great plan and the teaching of correct reproductive health measures was secondary to preventing disease by not having sex to begin with.

  1. Leave it to the doctors and parents!

Most advocates agreed that sex education was necessary, but they also thought that it was the responsibility of parents. The problem is that these discussions were rarely had in the home in the early part of the 20th century because many parents felt that discussing sex would encourage it. The Teacher’s Union of the time felt that sex education was necessary, but the ‘ordinary teacher’ was ill-equipped to provide it. Medical practitioners were the next choice to parents, but when war broke out, doctors were tied up with other duties. The only other interest group was the church, and although they had a vested interest in spreading the purity movement, there was rivalry between the Protestant and Catholic churches during the war years. Much of the early debate was caught up in these religious differences. Eventually, the Catholics withdrew from most teaching on sexual education and Protestant groups such as the White Cross League created handbooks. This back-and-forth handballing of responsibility propagated the culture of silence about sex, which took the better part of a century to dissolve.

  1. Different strokes for different folksFunny sculpture of a male/female pair with electrical body parts

Prior to World War I, it was believed that male sexuality was highly aggressive whereas the female sexuality was passive and almost absent. This belief produced markedly different attitudes and expectations about the sexual behaviours and desires of males and females. Despite the Christian influence in Australia, there was a very tolerant blind eye towards a man’s supposedly unique natural inclination to sleep around before marriage. This was believed to be in the best interests of future marital success. By comparison, sleeping around would mean certain social ruin for a female. One must ask the question, though – if a man was expected to sow his wild oats before marriage, with whom was he doing this, if women were expected to be chaste? These sexual inequalities continued as history wore on and although attitudes towards female sexuality became more liberal by the 1960s, it has never really been quite as acceptable for a woman to enjoy sex as openly as men.

  1. Sex for pleasure, not just procreation!
    A large number of colorful pills and capsules

The contraceptive pill was introduced to Australia in 1961. No longer did Australian husbands need to sleep on the back porch to prevent pregnancies, an innovation that produced one giant leap for women in controlling their bodies and family outcomes. Having more control over family planning meant that women could participate in the workforce without restraint. This contributed to greater representation of women in the world outside the home. This life-changing invention wasn’t without drawbacks, however. Although the pills were inexpensive to produce, they incurred a 27% luxury tax and were only made available to married women. This just meant that some women would get their married friends to pretend they had lost their pills so they could obtain an extra packet. The doctors didn’t seem to cotton on. Beg, borrow, steal, have pre-marital sex…. No worries!

So there you have it – some interesting gems from Australia’s sexy history, though this blog entry really only touches the surface. It is clear that there has always been an incredible amount of ignorance, fear and shame surrounding sex – and although the situation has improved in a century, many people would prefer to keep some aspects of human sexuality in the closet, away from children in particular. Not talking about these important topics holds us all back and the lack of knowledge can inflict scars that define whole generations of people.

I want to live to see a world where inclusive, comprehensive education on sexual health is just standard operating procedure, and sexual activity isn’t used a barometer for immorality.

One can dream – but we sometimes need to look at our past to shape the future.

Sources

Greg Logan – Sex Education in Queensland – A History of the Debate 1900-1980

National Museum of Australia http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/defining_moments/featured/the_pill

Stefania Siedlecki and Diana Wyndham – Populate and Perish (1990)