Yesterday I was contacted by an old school friend about whether I wanted to speak at an event happening at the Powerhouse Museum this morning. It's a monthly event run by Vibewire called 'fastBREAK' and the topic was 'Cure' (http://vibewire.org/). I scribbled some notes together and made my bleary-eyed way to the powerhouse this morning. The turn-out was great and there was tweeting and instagramming galore! Between pastries & coffee the other speakers discussed poverty (www.theoaktree.org), mental health (http://expatentpreneur.com/), autism (www.kodamapixel.com) & Australia's drinking culture (www.hellosundaymorning.com.au), while I spoke about young people & sexual health. The feedback I've received so far has been overwhelming, so I thought I'd include a copy of my speech here, so if you'd like to read, click the 'read more' link below.
Can't wait to give more of these speeches/presentations and spread the word about sex-positive education for young people!
When I was given the topic for today’s fastBREAK (about 20 hours ago), I started thinking about how the notion of a ‘cure’ comes into conversations about sex & sexual health. I thought about STIs and Blood Bourne Viruses, abortions and the morning after pill, sexual dysfunctions, addictions and fetishes, homosexuality, transexuality and sex work. But mostly I thought about young people and how our emerging sexuality is so often medicalised and framed as problematic in this way, and as something that needs to be ‘cured’ or managed by the adults.
So, from abstinence-only education, to the forced sterilisation of girls with disabilities, our sexual ‘coming-of-age’ is framed as an affliction to be cured by any means possible by the adults in our lives. No matter what we do, we seem to do ‘sex’ wrong. We’re too sexual, or we’re too asexual, or we’re not having the right kinds of sex, or our bodies don’t look right, or our preferences are too abnormal.
The lesson that we hear from schools, doctors, the media and our parents is: ‘don’t do it. Don’t have sex.’ (& that’s often where it stops with a lot of abstinence only education). But if the lesson does continue its ‘if you are going to do it, it needs to be penis-in-vagina, in a bed, in a 2-person heterosexual committed (preferably married) relationship, and preferably for procreation. And it needs to be missionary. And no fantasising. And no alcohol or drugs. And you’ll fall in love and be together forever.’
But for most of us this isn’t how sex happens. And if isn’t like that for you, it isn’t something that’s abnormal or problematic or needs to be ‘cured’. It needs to be discussed, normalised and respected.
Suffice to say, we’ve all been in relationships where we weren’t sexually compatible. Some of us might never have had great sex, or had sex at all - and that can be frustrating and confusing. But it’s also a part of the learning process, and if we were allowed to talk openly about these experiences, we could share our knowledge and start a positive dialogue around sex. It could teach us about our own sexuality and allow us to take ownership of what we want/don’t want in our partners and our sex acts.
(there I am in the middle on the right! - thanks to @fridley for the photo!)
So, what are the things that the sex education system & wider institutions fail to teach us, but are really the key to maintain healthy sexual relationships?
- Masturbation: It’s the best way to get to know your body, what turns you on, what works & what doesn’t. How are we supposed to tell our partners what we want or don’t want, if we don’t even know ourselves? It’s not dirty, it won’t make you go blind, and you won’t go to hell. I promise. We’re not really taught how, when or why to masturbate, but we should be.
- The 2nd skill we should be taught is - Communication: Once you know what you like, you need to start sharing this with your partners and find out what they like. I’m constantly asked “how do I turn my partner on”, “how do I make my girlfriend wet” or “will my partner like it if I do x?”. The answer is, even with a Masters, I DON’T KNOW. We need to provide young people with the skills, information and vocabulary to communicate what they want and need to partners and health professionals.
- & lastly we should be taught about - Responsibility: and this means being informed about any risks (physical, emotional & social), and taking steps to manage them. This includes agreeing on acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, setting limits, using contraception and ensuring you know your health status in relation to STIs to make sure both you & your partner are safe.
Only by talking about sex and taking ownership of it, can we stop the medicalization, problematizing and repression of positive sexual health. People come up to me at parties and because I’m a sexologist they want to talk to me about their scrotums, or their nipples, or their love of porn, or the karma sutra, or rimming. Or ask me if their vulva is normal or if they can get pregnant swallowing cum or if the blue waffle is for realz. I feel like a walking dolly doctor and I’m always more than happy to grab a bevvy and have an honest chat with them about what they actually want to know.
This is what the education system, doctors, the media & parents need to be doing. Start engaging young people in mature & honest discussions to counteract their porn-watching or cleo-reading which, while sometimes informative, usually only helps to solidify stereotypes, perpetuate myths & make people feel like they’re doing sex wrong. Usually they’re not. & they need to know that.