Sex, intimacy, relationships, and consent. Are they topics to be discussed with or around children?
There is growing evidence to suggest the earlier kids are involved in these conversations, the safer their approach to intimacy and relationships.
Two advocates for this are adolescent health experts Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes, who have written about it in their latest book, Welcome to Consent.
They say consent isn’t just about sex and relationship but can apply to many aspects of life.
“Learning what respect means, learning what bodily autonomy or being the boss of your body means from a young age,” Dr Kang told Nine.com.au.
“Knowing how to communicate what you’re feeling and thinking and how confusing it can become because if we leave it until they’re ready to start dating and having relationships it’s probably a bit late they get caught in the moment a lot.”
The conversation is changing
This year there has been a growing public conversation about consent, sexual assault, and the wider experience of women in society.
While some have pointed out the fortunate “timing” of the book, Dr Kang and Yumi say this conversation has “always been urgent”.
The pair started writing it more than two years ago, a sequel to their first co-authored book “Welcome to Your Period”.
Ms Stynes said there was no way they could have predicted where the national conversation around consent would have been, but was glad to see it “snowballing”.
“It’s just that it’s a topic people understand enough to speak about publicly now,” she told Nine.com.au.
“But the things that have prompted it and thrust it into the spotlight – those things have been happening for literally hundreds of years.”
How to talk to your kids about consent
If you read Dolly magazine as a teenager you may be familiar with Dr Kang. For many years she was “Dolly Doctor”, dishing out advice to wide-eyed adolescents desperate to learn more about their bodies.
But it can be tough to broach these subjects – or to know how to respond when children start asking questions.
“Even before the age of the internet I have always been a really firm believer that children, even young children and certainly adolescents and emerging adults, have the right to know about their bodies,” Dr Kang said.
“And surely sex is one of the most important things you would want your children to grow up feeling confident about.
“Particularly girls but also boys, and having some sense of agency around decisions they make and to do that well, you have to be frank.
“You have to name the body parts for what they are, you have to be clear about what you’re talking about.”
Ms Stynes agreed, saying what so many young girls and women loved about Dolly Doctor was that she was frank and honest, and adults should try and replicate that.
“…When we’re communicating with young people that they know that they can trust our truth. That we’re not going to lie. That we’re not going to dance around in discomfort.
“And sometimes it is a little bit uncomfortable to have these conversations if you haven’t practised them – but the kids can smell a rat.
“There are resources available so you don’t have to bullshit, and you don’t have to pretend to be the person who knows everything,” she added.
Is there a gap in education?
Some educators and experts believe the nuances around sex, relationships and consent should be taught earlier at school, but parents also play a role here.
“…there’s a lot of evidence to say that young people repeatedly, consistently say, that sex ed is great they do need to know about biology, the do want to know where to go for help if they want to be tested for STIs but what’s really lacking is honest conversations about pleasure, relationships, negotiation, all those sorts of things are missing from their sex ed,” Dr Kang said.
“Some fortunate students do get that comprehensiveness of education but the majority don’t.”
Ms Stynes said it is essential that any conversations around sex, intimate activities are “not things to be snatched from someone else”.
“You want somebody to be willing participant so trying to get away with something, or sneak something in, or nick something, it’s really not cool that’s actually what it’s about at all, it’s actually gross.
“And if you think that’s what sex and intimacy is then you’ve got it all mucked up, you need to really really start again and build from the ground up, and think about it more as something – well let’s find something that we both want to do together, and make it as fun for each other as we can and that can only ever be consensual.”
Welcome to Consent is available to pre-order now, and will be available at Booktopia and where all good books are sold from Wednesday 19 May. RRP $19.99