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let’s talk about sex: the Girlfriend guide to life

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Did your parents have “the talk” with you about the birds and the bees when you were younger? Did you feel comfortable approaching them about sex and questions you had about sex?

If you’re like 53% of young Aussies, you probably answered ‘no’ to these questions. Girlfriend magazine recently asked 1000 of their readers if they had discussed sex with their parents and 53% of them said yes – the other 47% confirmed what Queensland University of Technology Professor Alan McKee has claimed: ‘that many parents were not talking to their children about the facts of life.’

This failure to have the talk about sex has indirectly ‘led to a dramatic rise in sexually transmitted infections among people aged 15 to 29,’ says McKee. Instead, ‘young people have the information … but what we also see is they are not applying that knowledge.’ That, coupled with a parental lack of information, has left huge amounts of Aussie kids not seeing ‘how relevant [the facts are] to their lives.’ Kids think of sexual health as “scientific”, which means they don’t know how to use the information in their practical, everyday lives.

I had the chance to chat to McKee, a sexual development researcher for the QUT, and he told me that he discovered young people were struggling with understanding and applying their sexual education. He ran focus groups with young adults aged 14-15, which were commissioned by the University to ‘research sex education’ and he ‘found out that the majority of parents are still not talking about sex’ to their kids. Even more astounding was that young girls suggested to him many times that ‘they didn’t know about [sex] until they started their periods – and then they thought they were dying.’

After discovering that the rising rate of STIs in young Aussies was due in part to a lack of engaging and informative sex education and a lack of parental involvement in sexual development, McKee knew he had to do something to help young Aussies. He noticed that ‘in the focus group … Girlfriend magazine kept coming up as a resource [the kids] actually read.’

So he partnered with Girlfriend magazine editor Sarah Tarca to write up a resource guide for young people to turn to for answers to all their burning questions.

Thus, the Girlfriend magazine’s Guide to Life was born. The magazine is a comprehensive 194 page-long guide to just about everything a young person needs to know about life. Authored by Tarca and edited by McKee and Claire Starkey, the guide is aimed at not just young girls, but also to boys who might pick up a copy that’s lying around at their friend’s house. The team is also working on ‘running a separate project for boys,’ which will involve comic videos and stimulate the same answers and discussions that the Guide to Life does.

The magazine is also targeted to parents. Tarca stated that ‘At Girlfriend, we know having “the talk” can be awkward and embarrassing for anyone – and Guide to Life aims to make that talk a whole lot easier for both our readers and their parents.’

The guide features eight chapters – ‘Changes, Body Image, Friends, Identity, Sex Stuff, Love Etc., Headspace and Check And Help.’ Each chapter contains witty articles, how-to guides, pictures and Q&A’s with experts. Issues dealt with include puberty, periods, eating disorders, self-esteem, making new friends, talking with your family, bullying, being bi-sexual, asexual, gay, straight or transgender, getting to know what turns you on, the different types of sex including masturbation, oral sex and intercourse, birth control, STIs, breaking up, how to get what you want, self-harm and how to check yourself for breast lumps. The final chapter relates a list of help lines and places to go for further information.

McKee hopes that this guide will help ‘start the change’ that will turn sexual education and sex in general in Australia into a less taboo topic. McKee believes that Australia, America and Britain are all highly sexualised countries but in a shocking way, as opposed to European countries where the differences in attitude towards sex results in better outcomes. In The Netherlands, 90% of people talk to their parents before they have sex and this does not in fact lead to kids having sex at a younger age. The average age of first sex there is 17.7 years old as compared to 16 years old in Australia and 15 years old in America, he stated.

The Rutgers WPF centre of expertise on sexual and productive health rights, states that primary schools in the Netherlands are ‘increasingly considered for sex education’ and those curriculums are ‘comprehensive, often evidence-based and regularly updated.’

Furthermore, the centre states that the Dutch sex education ‘emerges from an understanding that young people are curious about sexuality and that they need, want and have a right to accurate and comprehensive information about sexual health.’ The message is not necessarily that you should have sex, but ‘if you are going to have sex, do it safely.’

By doing ‘little things like this special issue … at least a few copies of [which] will be bought by parents,’ McKee is hopeful that kids will ‘learn they can talk to [parents] about issues or concerns’ related to their sexual health and development. This may be just one step towards a future where sexual education and sex isn’t taboo in Oz, but it’s a comprehensive one.

Do you think sex is a ‘taboo topic’ in Australia? If so, how can we combat this to make sure all of us are healthy and happy in our sexual adventures? Would you have appreciated a publication like the Guide to Life when you were a teen?

If you or someone you know has a teen, be sure to pick up the guide. It’s only available in stores for a little while, or you can check it out online here.

One thought on “let’s talk about sex: the Girlfriend guide to life

  1. Is it bad to have sex underage? Because I know a lot of my friends who have said they have done it. Is it worse to have sex at a younger age?

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