Like 99% of the population, your sex education probably consisted of an awkward biology teacher showing you how to put a condom on a banana, plus some out-of-date annotated diagrams. That's if you had any at all.
Thanks to a myriad of technologies, exposure to sex is greater than ever before, but there's no sign of sex education in schools getting up to speed. The UK government recently blocked plans for sex and relationship education to become a statutory requirement in all schools as part of personal, social, health and economic studies (PSHE). This gap in discussion could have worrying impacts on young adults.
Key topics of conversation and discussion that would allow teenagers to understand the complexities, responsibilities and enjoyment surrounding sex and relationships are clearly being missed. With an absence of sex education in schools, it's time for parents to lead the charge. Cindy Gallop CEO and founder of MakeLoveNotPorn (MLNP) reveals just how to start, maintain and manage one of the most important conversations you could have with your child:
1. Start the conversation as early as possible
"The topic of sex will affect your child's happiness fundamentally as they grow older, so teaching your child about sex as early as possible (e.g. when they first ask about where babies come from) is paramount. This will open up a channel of communication around sex that will be there as they grow up. Trust me, it doesn't matter how much in the future they might appear embarrassed – they will thank you for being an honest, open source of information that they can't find anywhere else, including school."
Why is this important as a parent?
"Parents can not afford to delegate responsibility of sex education to schools. If you don't talk to your children about this, they're going to hear about all sorts of ridiculous stuff on the playground. It's a good idea they hear it from you, so they can go out and spread the correct information – you'll be doing a lot of other parents and kids a good service in doing so," Cindy adds.
2. Find a conversation springboard
"Depending on the age of your children, find an external resource, such as a news story, my TED talk or MLNP's Porn vs. Real World as a conversation starter. The external prompt not only helps to have the conversation out of the blue, but also for as long as you and your child feel comfortable. One mother wrote to me and said that her teenage son had friends staying over, so she sat them all down and made them all sit down and watch the TED talk. She said there was lots of squirming to begin with, but it gave rise to two fantastic hours of honest and real discussion. The real important thing to remember is: there's not one way to do this."
3. Ensure your children know that 'life' and 'sex' aren't separate
"Look at what you value and what you stand for and apply those to sex. I regularly ask people what their sexual values are and nobody can answer, because they're never taught anything like that. Most of us are born in to environments where parents bring us up to have good manners, a sense of responsibility and accountability, and a work ethic, but nobody ever raises us to have good manners in bed. And they should. Empathy, sensitivity, kindness, generosity are as important in bed, as they are any other part of our lives where we are actively taught to exercise those sorts of values. It's a way for parents to customise the conversation to their comfort level."
"Think about the values you instill in your children. This is particularly helpful because it encourages your children to do something that sex education in schools doesn't do, which is to align the conversation to love, relationships, intimacy and feelings. It's not about having this conversation all at once. Think about it and integrate sex education in to how you bring your children up generally and the values you want them to embrace as they get older."
4. Normalise the sex chat
"Sex is a huge area of insecurity, like everything else in your child's life and it won't change as an adult, if you don't address this early on. I encourage people to talk about sex more honestly and openly, both in the public domain, such as in schools and within families, and privately in relationships."
5. Address porn
"People want be good in bed, but take their cues from porn. The fact of the matter is; kids are going to learn about sex from porn. In the digital world we live in, children will inevitably stumble across it. The average age a child is first exposed to porn is eight. A recent study even suggested this has dropped to six years of age. So not only can you not start talking about sex too early, you can't start talking about porn too early. When you start the discussion, you just need to say: "TV show or movie sex is shown as entertainment and what you see in pornography is the same. It isn't real." Because of the internet we simply cannot go around acting like sex and pornography like we previously have. At MakeLoveNotPorn we're pro sex, pro porn, but pro knowing the difference."
Did you know: According a University of Kent study, the growing expectation among men that real-life sex ought to be just like carefully orchestrated pornography is placing so much pressure on women to be perfect that they're losing their libido because of the stress.
6. Talk about trust
"The action isn't trying to stop the sexting, as that just won't work, it boils down to trust. You need to talk about how trust is one thing that characterises a happy, healthy relationship and it's a good idea to wait to share something with someone until you've built that trust. However someone chooses to have sex, it's about mutual trust and satisfaction."
7. Beware of double standards
"Our prudishness around sex does not teach girls to own their sexuality. There's enormous double standards in our society. One important part of conversation is enabling girls to stand up for themselves and not just do what the boys want. At the same time, we should encourage boys to own their sexuality in a way that is right for them. Women enjoy sex just as men, and men enjoy romance as much as women."
8. Make condom use seem appealing
"We have a whole section dedicated to eroticising condom usage. The gap between no condom use in porn and the rolling of a condom down a banana in schools is huge. We need creative ideas for the awkward condom moments we all go through. Not only do condoms not get in the way of great sex, they can be an integral part of great sex. When we are able to showcase hot, arousing ways to introduce condoms, you will see much more safe sex, much less transmission of STDs and unwanted pregnancies."