- BBC news world
I have never had the opportunity to do something that is almost a rite of passage among British teenagers: putting a condom on a banana during a sex education class.
It wasn’t until I was 27 that I was finally able to do it, but in a very different way. I didn’t learn how to put on a condom, but I did learn how to teach someone else how to put it on.
About 15 newly trained sex educators and I sat in front of our computers with condoms and bananas in our hands.
“We often use flavored condoms,” our teacher explained via Zoom, “because the smell is a bit more inviting than regular condoms.”
He looked at the members’ expressions for a moment and apparently found that some of them were less patient than he expected.
“It’s very important that you don’t look or feel disgusting when you do this,” he said. “This is not what you want young people to feel…”
Difficult step for parents
Many parents may feel the same way when they try to talk to their children about physical intimacy, although attitudes towards sex education can vary greatly from country to country and family to family, according to research.
In particular, a UK study found that, for example, parents were often ashamed and worried that they lacked the skills or knowledge to talk to their children.
However, the same review also found that in countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden, parents are open about sex with their children from an early age, and that teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are possible. and Wales.
Parents who are uncomfortable talking about sex can find themselves in a quandary. Many would like their children to know that they can come to them with questions and concerns, especially in the digital age when children are exposed to pornographic content on the Internet at an ever younger age.
Eva Goldfarb, professor of public health at Montclair State University, is co-author of a systematic literature review of the past 30 years of comprehensive sex education.
While the review focuses on schools, Goldfarb says her research also contains important lessons for parents.
The main idea is that sex education has a long-term positive impact, such as helping young people build healthy relationships. Her advice to parents is not to miss or put off these conversations.
“It starts sooner than you think,” she says. “Even with very young children, you can talk about the names of body parts and functions, about the integrity and management of the body.”
This includes discussing topics that parents may not even see as related to sex, but which relate to relationships more broadly: “No one gets what they want all the time, it’s important to treat all people with kindness and respect” .
Step by step
Parents who don’t know when or how to start these conversations may find it helpful to look for materials in schools.
In a 2016 UK study, parents who were shown books used in their children’s sex education classes felt they had a better understanding of the subject and also said it made them more confident in talking about sex with their children.
Goldfarb says it can also be helpful for parents to meet with sex education teachers and find out what their children will be learning at the start of the school year.
International sex education guides, such as the comprehensive evidence-based guide published by UNESCO, can also be a good starting point for parents looking for age advice for minors.
The UNESCO document uses simple and clear ideas about a healthy body and relationships, organized in blocks, instead of conveying everything in a “big conversation”.
For example, for a child between the ages of 5 and 8, the key message is that “everyone has the right to decide who can touch his body, where and how.”
For teens, conversations may include discussion of emotional health, such as what it means to take responsibility for yourself and others, or ways to resist peer pressure, as well as providing specific information about condoms and other contraceptives, as per the guide.
A little trained factor
One factor that has proven to be surprisingly powerful in sex education but is still underused: pleasure.
A new systematic review of medical interventions that include pleasure finds that explaining pleasure in terms of sex can promote safer habits. Programs that educate people on how to enjoy sexual pleasure have been found to improve condom use more than those that focus on the dangers of unprotected sex.
“It’s also worth talking about positive things beyond protection, like how using a condom can be fun and can help you connect with your partner,” says Mirela Zaneva, one of the study’s authors and a PhD in experimental psychology at the University. Oxford.
Zaneva found that pleasure tends to be mentioned little, if at all, in sex education.
This means that if your child doesn’t hear about entertainment from you, chances are he won’t hear about it at school either. “Many young people are likely to miss out on the positive and uplifting talk about sex in school sex education,” she says.
She notes that the Pleasure Project, a public health initiative linked to the study she led, offers a wealth of practical advice on how to incorporate pleasure into conversations with young people about sex.
“There is now evidence that talking about pleasure can help young people practice safer sex, gain more knowledge and positive attitudes about sex, and become more confident and self-efficent.”
Find reliable sources
Parents are often the primary source of sex education for young children, but teens tend to turn to many sources of information such as peers, teachers, and popular culture.
And parents may not be the only ones with concerns.
A study in Ireland found that while in the past ignorance and parental shame were the biggest barriers to starting conversations about sex, young people today tend to block such conversations, claiming they already know the facts.
This isn’t to say that parents should avoid the topic, but it does show how important it is to keep the conversation going in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable.
“Let your child know ahead of time when you want to talk about something sensitive, potentially embarrassing, or difficult to talk about. In this case, he will not feel taken by surprise and, most likely, will be ready to talk with you. Goldfarb said.
Overcoming this fear can even be an experience of liberation. After all, healthy sex and relationships, or, as Finnish researchers call them, “bodily emotions,” are important at all stages of adult life.
Young people are at the beginning of this journey and have the opportunity to identify values, habits and priorities that can benefit them throughout their lives, not only in intimate situations, but also in the context of safe and tactful movement around the world.
Being part of this journey can be life-affirming and even remotely uncomfortable.