FOR many parents, broaching the “birds and the bees” with their children has always been a very awkward conversation.
But now with more and more kids identifying as gender neutral or LGBTQI+ the playing field just got a lot bigger and more complex, especially for parents of an older generation or with certain religious beliefs or both.
Throw in the rise and availability of all kinds of nasty online porn – often used by teens as an informal means of sex education – and you may be questioning if it’s even worth having “The Talk” anymore and if it has become woefully naive and outdated.
Thankfully people like East Fremantle’s Michaela Southby are here to guide you through the modern sex-ed landscape and how to broach these sensitive topics with your kids.
She’s a sexuality educator and runs courses specifically targeted at helping parents talk to their kids about issues like puberty, online safety, gender identity, pornography and consent.
“Discomfort with sexual or gender non-conformity isn’t just a generational thing, it’s often tied to religion, culture, personal fears and shame that apply to all ages,” Southby says.
“So working with adults to help them reflect on this, and their experiences and inherited values, and how they want to parent, is equally powerful for their development as it is for the kids they care for. The beauty of beauty of sex ed done well is that kids learn about all types of diversity.”
Southby says that for LGBTQI+ folk, fear of rejection is a huge issue.
“Your primary job as a carer is to stay present. ‘OK I’m here. I don’t know how to respond, but I’m with you’” she says.
“We have to remember that sexuality is a non-optional part of being human. And seven billion people are not going to express that in the same way. Sometimes adults need help to unlearn some automatic habits or traditions that might now be unhelpful, and this starts with self-awareness.”
And then there’s the whole minefield of boys watching misogynistic, degrading porn online and thinking that is the normal way to treat woman. Or teenage boys secretly filming being intimate with their partner and then releasing it online as revenge porn.
“I always address the legal aspects of porn also – sharing or showing others intimate images. People are shocked to learn a ten year old in WA can be charged for sending an intimate image without consent,” Southby says.
“Our best line of defence is to acknowledge our kid may see it, and to ensure we are approachable to talk. This again shows the power of embracing a holistic approach to Relationships and Sexuality Education, as it’s called today. If we show our kids as soon as possible that we can talk about anything, then when they see porn, we are ready.”
Southby says she was inspired to become a sexologist and registered counsellor so she could do better with her three kids, as she suffered acute embarrassment as a youth when she didn’t know what to do in certain situations and lied to cover up her shame.
“I studied forensic sexology over a decade ago and as a sexuality counsellor met so many adults that just don’t have the knowledge or language around this. I could see the cycle of shame and ignorance continuing, despite us living in this hypersexualised cultural context,” she says.
“So I started to think systemically and saw that bringing sex ed to parents in a therapeutic manner would enable them to grow too, as we upskill them to help their kids.”
But what about parents who argue that talking about sex education with their kids will rob them of their innocence or encourage sexual exploration?
“Bountiful global research shows quite the opposite! Relationships and Sexuality Education is the most empowering thing you can do for your child
(and especially if they are more vulnerable anyway). We know it leads to stronger self-esteem and body image; and lower rates of STI’s and unplanned pregnancy,” Southby says.
“The other issue is parents deciding when is the right time to talk about certain topics. We have to meet our children where they are at. If they’re asking a question they need an answer even if that answer is ‘Oh that’s a good question let me think about it. What do you think?’
“That buys you some time without shutting them down, helps you understand what they already know, and builds your relationship as an askable parent.”
Southby’s Sex Ed for Parents “helping you to help your kids” is on every Thursday, February 16 to March 16 10am-11:30am at The Meeting Place, 245 South Terrace in South Fremantle. Tix at eventbrite.com.au/cc/the-meeting-place-160739
by STEPHEN POLLOCK