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Doctor Q&A

Dr Siobhan Bourke answers a few of your questions.



“As soon as we use a euphemism, we’re creating a taboo. We’re saying to kids, it’s not right to use the right language. They pick up on that – we won’t talk about it, we’ll hide it. And from not calling your penis your penis and not calling your vagina your vagina, it leads to other things that they’re not supposed to talk about.

And the whole subject of sex becomes taboo. When that occurs, we end up with kids not talking about some of the most important things in their life.”


“It’s not the conversation you have at the top of your voice in the middle of the supermarket, and there are appropriate levels of information. The key is to have little conversations and have them often. You don’t have to give them a full-on manual, but you can discuss simply what goes on with sex and methods of protection against infection and pregnancy.

When girls are heading towards puberty and having their periods it is a great opportunity to have this conversation. For some girls they may know that mum or others are bleeding – they notice things in bathrooms or walk in on mum in the toilet, so the conversations may start even earlier than puberty. You can explain the function of periods and the menstrual cycle as your body preparing for pregnancy, and then, if not getting pregnant, a period comes; details will depend on the age of the girl.”


“Parents think they are supposed to know all about sex, but you don’t have to know everything. It’s about working stuff out together, like you would other topics. The most protective factor for kids for sex and drugs is that connectedness in families.

If your child can ring you at 3am and say ‘come and help me’, you’ve maintained that connection. If they can say to you, ‘I like so and so and want to talk to you about sex’ or ‘where do babies come from’ and get an honest answer, that is the safest thing for kids going out into the world.

Sometimes conversations are awkward for both parents and children but they need to be had.
If maintaining eye contact is making either party feel nervous, try having the conversation you have in the car or while doing the dishes. As the adults and guardians, we need to have these conversations.“


“Pornography is so much more accessible today. Porn also seems to be increasingly violent in nature, particularly against women. But it’s also damaging for young people, especially men, because it takes away their understanding of what loving, caring and responsible relationships are.

We need to be able to talk to our young people about pornography in conversations around their sexuality.
That’s why it’s important to develop that ability for your young person to be able to talk to you about whatever.”


“Chlamydia is the most common bacterial infection – spread by unprotected sexual activity. It’s simple to detect, with a urine test, and it’s easily treated with antibiotics. The most commonly transmitted STI is the human papillomavirus or HPV. More than 80 per cent of people get it and it’s very difficult to avoid but most people clear it without even knowing they had it.
There are some types of HPV virus that cause changes to the cervix and can lead to cervical cancer down the track, but we now have a vaccine to prevent that.

The Australian government put this vaccine on the National Immunisations program for girls aged 12 or 13 (equivalent to year 7 at high school) in 2007 and then included boys aged 12 or 13 in 2013. This is showing to be a great protection against cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers.

There are other STIs around so simple advice is to use protection (condoms) and to get regular checks – sexually active people under 30 are recommended to have a urine chlamydia test once a year.”


“The first thing most people talk about is the pill but for young women, long-acting reversible contraceptions (LARC) that you don’t have to remember and think about every day are more reliable and convenient. There are intrauterine devices and the Implanon implant, which are both available for young women – even those who have not been pregnant or given birth.

It is also good to remember when there has been a contraception failure the morning-after pill, or more appropriately called emergency contraception,
can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex, although it’s most effective within the first three days.”

Approaching the Issues of Online Pornography With Your Teenagers

The University Of Melbourne Public Lecture – Approaching the Issues of Online Pornography With Your Teenagers.

Pornography in the online age is a concern for many parents and carers. Are our kids accessing it? If so, how? What are they watching and what impact might it be having? The University of Melbourne’s Department of Rural Health is partnering with not-for-profit organisation Parenting Guides Ltd to present an information evening for parents, carers and educators about porn in the 21st century.

In collaboration with The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Excellence in Rural Sexual Health (CERSH) Parent Guides with guest speaker Jenny Walsh, we are proud to present the Public Lecture ‘Approaching the Issues of Online Pornography With Your Teenagers’.

Jenny is a Relationships and Sexuality Education Expert who has worked with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation(VACCHO) and the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Excellence in Rural Sexual Health to develop sex ed resources. Jenny will address the impact of modern pornography on young people and provide information on how to best approach the issues many parents and carers face.


  • 5:30 – 7:00 11 Feb 2020 / Shepparton / The University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health, 49 Graham St, Shepparton / RSVP here: www.trybooking.com/BHCRQ
  • 5:30 – 7:00 18 Feb 2020 / Bendigo / The Engine Room 58 View St, Bendigo / RSVP here: www.trybooking.com/BHDFT
  • 5:30 – 7:00 25 Feb 2020 / Ballarat / Ballaarat Mechanics Institute, 117 Sturt St / RSVP here: www.trybooking.com/582160 

RSVP – Please register online or contact Di Doyle, Events, Community Engagement & Alumni Administrator, The University of Melbourne E.ddoyle@unimelb.edu.au or P. (03) 5823 4512. *This is a community event and there will be no charge to those who attend.

See the flyer below or download by clicking here.

When it Comes to Sex, the Internet is Not the Devil

Bettina Arndt

Bettina Arndt

I know there a lot of scary talk about teenagers and sex, but the sky is not falling in. It’s simply not true that all kids are being sexualised too early or are madly into porn or pressured into sex before they are ready.

I actually think is a really good time now to be a teenager with so much information online to help them learn about their bodies and prepare for sexual experiences.

When I was first working in sex education back in the ‘70s I used to smuggle slides of penises and vulvas into the country so I could show people what normal genitals looked like. Now there are great websites showing all the normal variations and teaching young people about their bodies. It’s amazing. Read more


Sexual Attraction

Source: Parent Guides

Family support for same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people is important.

It is important for parents to support their children regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. The LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning) community is diverse.

Data presented in the Safe Schools Coalition’s All of Us teaching resource reveals that Australian and international research had found that about 10 per cent of people are same-sex attracted, about four per cent are gender diverse or transgender, and about 1.7 per cent are intersex. Read more

Sex Education at Home and in School

Source: Pixabay

Most young Australians receive sex education, many in primary school. Experts say they should learn about body parts and respectful relationships from a young age, both at home and at school.

The fifth National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2013* found 86 per cent of Australian teenagers had received sex education at school. More than one in 10 (10.4 per cent) hadn’t and 3.6 per cent didn’t know.

Sexuality and relationship education is mostly taught by teachers (83 per cent), with people outside the school (34 per cent), and/or the school nurse (22 per cent) sometimes involved. School counsellors (10 per cent) or chaplains (four per cent) were less likely to be used. Read more

Contraception & Safer Sex

Source: GabiSandra / Pixabay

Sexually active teenagers are generally responsible, but some don’t use contraception and a small percentage have sex that results in a pregnancy.

The fifth National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2013 (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University) found 58 per cent of sexually active secondary students used a condom and 39 per cent used the contraceptive pill the last time they had sex. Fifteen per cent used the withdrawal method. Read more

Masturbation and Physical / Emotional Changes

Rear view close up of young teenage pair

Source: iStock

Parents and carers should be open, honest and supportive during puberty.

Puberty can be a challenging time for children and their parents and carers, who may find it difficult to answer questions about sexuality and relationships.

There are no perfect answers but support and honesty are important as children enter puberty, which can start as young as eight in girls and nine in boys.

Parents, carers and families are the most important source of sexuality and relationship information. They should also admit when they don’t have an answer and offer to find it together.

The internet provides a wealth of starting points. Programs such as WA Health’s Talk Soon. Talk Often offer tips for parents and carers who are unsure about what to do or say. Read more

Sex and the Law in Victoria

Sex Laws

Source: iStock

Victoria’s sexual assault laws cover a range of offences that parents of teenagers should be familiar with. Essentially, forcing someone of any age to take part in any sexual act is an offence. Having sex with someone who is underage is also an offence, but there are some defences available in exceptional circumstances.

Teenagers should know about laws relating to sexual assault and harassment, and that they can talk to their parents and carers if they feel an offence has been committed against them or a friend.

It is important to tell police or employers as soon as possible if you become aware of an offence.

Parents and carers should also ensure that young people know they are never at fault if someone assaults them sexually or sexually harasses them, and that help is available. Read more



Source: iStock

Generally, young people have good knowledge about HIV. But we need to ensure that they don’t become complacent due to modern treatments.

In the early 1980s, a diagnosis of AIDS was considered a death sentence. Various treatments can now keep those living with HIV relatively healthy, which is an enormous step forward but still not a cure.

Annual new HIV infections in Victoria peaked in 1985 at more than 500 and fell to 141 in 1999. They climbed again and evened out at roughly 260 cases each year from 2006 to 2009, before falling to 228 cases in 2010 (1). The number of new cases has been relatively stable for several years. Read more