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Keeping It Real

Forensic psychologist Dr Russ Pratt says we must educate children about sexuality, pornography and consent from a young age.

While sexual harassment and assault concerns have existed forever across our school systems, the public disclosure of numerous incidents around Australia highlights just how extensive and thus problematically relevant these issues are for today’s educators, parents, and others.

When it comes to sexual and relational matters, young people are far more sophisticated, and exposed to so much more information than their parents and carers were as teenagers. However, the ‘basics’ should still apply when it comes to educating them about appropriate sexual and relationship behaviour.

Children and teens pick up so much information about sex and relationships from those around them. This generally starts with their parents and adult family members, and later, as teenagers, their same-age peers. Some of that information, particularly about sexual matters, but also about various other ideas they hear may range from fine, through to mildly problematic and then to plainly unacceptable. But how is a child or young teenager able to know that without appropriate guidance?

The key to ‘Keeping It Real’ is to provide good, practical ‘real-life’ education to our kids, starting from a young age, about consent and respect, using age-appropriate language and real-life examples. If we’re really serious, we need it to be a joint venture between schools, families and young people.

The importance of education

Schools should integrate information and teach children and young people about all aspects of relationships throughout their curriculum from the start of primary school and later, at the appropriate time, provide comprehensive relationally-based sex education with consistent messaging. ‘It’s not just about the mechanics!’ Some schools already do this well; others don’t.

Parents and carers also need to educate, instil good values, and set good examples, as we know that giving consistent, repetitive, and practical messages to teens, and then directly role modelling appropriate behaviours can – and WILL make a difference!

Role models are incredibly important, whether they be parents, carers, teachers, other adults, or older, pro-social teens. High profile incidents such as Canberra staffers filming themselves having sex in Parliament House, and politicians accused of sexual assault, do not have to be the ‘prevailing view’ of actions that our kids see or believe to be appropriate behaviours. We, as parents and educators should assist them to critique these images and messages that they see, hear, and sometimes are themselves exposed to.

Most young people want respectful relationships. But a small percentage feel entitled to treat others poorly. Let’s take 100 teenagers. Around half will understand the concept of respect and consent and live by it. Thirty-five more will require help with expectations and boundaries, and when given good direction will respect them. The final 5-10 per cent will ignore attempts to educate them; they feel entitled to act as they please, including sexually. This last group really need our help the most.

Navigating the online world

The online world has changed immensely over the past two decades. Inappropriate behaviour that in the past would be localised and managed, can now be recorded, amplified, and replayed. In a world where it becomes harder and harder to shock, the worse your behaviour is, the more likely bad behaviour  will get you noticed.

Take online pornography, which can create a warped view of what’s sexually normal or acceptable, and what to expect from partners (and what partners expect from you). By age 15, most young people have been exposed to porn willingly, by accident, or unwillingly. In many cases, boys believe they must replicate what they see to be a good lover, and girls feel they must consent to painful and sexually problematic acts.

What can we do? Well, Social Worker Cyra Fernandes and I developed the Savvy Consumer model to equip youth to critique pornography, to better understand the tenuous relationship of online pornography to real, everyday sex – and to treat pornography with the contempt it deserves. We still advocate a zero-tolerance approach for children aged under 12, but we want older youth to understand the physical and relational aspects of a sexual interaction. We also acknowledge that many young people handle porn well, but others need guidance.

No easy answers

Parents may find it hard to discuss these difficult topics, but the younger we lay the foundations for respectful behaviour, the better.

Issues around sex, respect, and consent are complex, and there’s no simple solutions. We can minimise harm, however, by appropriately educating children from a young age about sexual and relational matters, modelling good behaviours, and calling it out when we see bad behaviours.

As parents and teachers of the next generation, WE must do this work, or the internet will do it for us, and our children will live with the consequences. Don’t feel that you’re on your own with this stuff; there’s always help available to assist with giving kids valuable support in often tricky areas.

Forensic and Counselling Psychologist Dr Russ Pratt founded Prime Forensic Psychology and specialises in sexual abuse and child protection issues. www.primeforensicpsychology.com

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 [email protected] 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