Kate Emery: Let’s talk about sex (please)

Most parents would rather walk barefoot over LEGO than talk to their kid about sex.

There’s just no perfect time to explain where they came from, how they got in there and why mum and dad were wrestling in bed without their clothes that one time.

As a mum to young kids I can only imagine it’s even more excruciating (accidently sitting on a LEGO tower, maybe) to talk to an equally mortified tween or teen about what healthy sex or a respectful relationship looks like.

But the truth, as uncomfortable as a 2x4 LEGO brick embedded in your bum, is that we need to talk to our kids more — not less — about sex.

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Just this week a few things have driven the point home.

One of them was a visit from US gender violence prevention expert Jackson Katz.

Dr Katz was kept on a pretty blistering schedule by hosts White Ribbon Australia and Communicare, fronting eight events in his first two days. I don’t know if he talked about pornography at all of them but it came up (ba dum tish) at the one I attended.

opinion, kate emery, lifestyle, parenting, relationships, kate emery: let’s talk about sex (please)

Jackson Katz, expert on gendered violence prevention. Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

In particular he talked about choking or, to call it by another name, strangulation.

Two quick points.

1. Choking, for anyone whose computer doesn’t automatically direct them to Pornhub the moment they type ‘p’ into the search bar, is A Thing in porn. And 2. Young men watch a lot of porn.

In fact, some very young men watch porn: one Macquarie University study suggested one quarter of boys saw porn for the first time between the age of 9 and 11, and more than half between the ages of 12 and 14. A national survey of high-schoolers found 14 per cent of 14 to 18-year-olds watched porn daily or almost daily.

Choking, or strangulation, is also popular among men who are violent to women. As Dr Katz put it, it’s a powerful way of asserting control: putting someone else’s life quite literally in your hands.

As a result of points 1 and 2, a lot of young men are growing up thinking that choking is a normal part of sex that doesn’t need to be discussed beforehand. One US study found 58 per cent of US college students have been choked by a partner during sex.

The second thing that happened this week to underscore the need to talk about sex with our kids was Australian research showing nearly one in five young people aged 16 to 24 have been sexually assaulted by another young person.

To paraphrase Dr Katz again, we can’t expect young men to be educated about sex by often violent and misogynistic porn and for that not to play out as violence against the young women they meet in real life, not on a screen.

opinion, kate emery, lifestyle, parenting, relationships, kate emery: let’s talk about sex (please)

Some very young men watch porn: one Macquarie University study suggested one quarter of boys saw porn for the first time between the age of 9 and 11, and more than half between the ages of 12 and 14. Credit: OleksandrPidvalnyi/Pixabay (user OleksandrPidvalnyi)

The final sign that seriously, we need to talk to the kids was the arrival of another US expert on Australian shores: this time chastity campaigner Jason Evert. Mr Evert was in NSW to talk to students at several Catholic schools — until parental opposition saw them cancelled.

Promoting abstinence is rare in Australian schools but big in some US states, where it does a terrific job of boosting the number of teen pregnancies.

When it comes to US imports I wish we’d stick to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and not this puritanical BS, which last year saw Big W pull an Australian sex education book from its bricks-and-mortar stores after concluding its workers weren’t paid enough to deal with a handful of idiots who think kids today should learn about sex the way they did: late night SBS movies.

WA schools do a decent job teaching kids about sex and relationships through programs that start as young as kindy (calm down, it’s all about protective behaviours), all the way up to the respectful relationships program, with a focus on consent.

Nationally, the Federal Government is running a $6.5 million pilot program using age assurance technology to prevent children from accessing online porn.

But schools and our taxpayer dollars can only do so much.

Parents also have to take some responsibility for talking to their kids honestly and openly about sex and relationships as soon as the kids are old enough to ask questions.

It’s got nothing to do with sexualising kids. It’s about giving them knowledge that might one day help protect them from sexual abuse, sexual violence or even from becoming a sexual abuser themselves.

Because if we don’t teach our kids about sex, porn sure will.

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