That was the message for parents from healthy sexual development expert Alan McKee at the 2014 WA Youth Sector Conference in Burswood earlier this month.
The Queensland University of Technology professor had high praise for the WA Health Department’s 2012 publication Talk soon. Talk often, which advocates parents talking clearly, openly and often with their children about sexuality so that it becomes a normal, not taboo, subject.
Prof McKee, who has had research published in the International Journal of Sexual Health, said being honest and age-appropriate when discussing sex meant children would always know they could go to their parents to talk about sex.
He said this was the essence of reducing rocketing sexually transmitted infection statistics in West Australian youth, and was vital for the establishment of consensual sex and its negotiation between sexual partners.
And it may be a surprise to discover what kids do want to know about sex.
Prof McKee said 80 to 90 per cent of Australian 14 and 15 year-olds surveyed knew to use a condom but wanted to learn about how to approach someone they liked about starting a relationship, how to cope when a relationship broke up, and how to make sex more pleasurable for themselves and their partners.
‘They all know they need to use a condom,’ he said. ‘Schools, their parents and the media have told them, but the science info isn’t being made relevant to them.
‘They are told don’t have sex, it’s bad, you’ll get pregnant or catch an STI but it’s a take on sex they don’t relate to. They are not developing the skills to help them relate sex to their everyday life.
‘No one is telling kids that when they are ready for it, sex is an enjoyable and healthy part of human life.’
Prof McKee said in the Netherlands, where parents talked openly about sex to their children, the average for first-time sex was 17½ years, compared to 16 in Australia.
He said at the heart of healthy sexual identity was consent, and knowing what each partner wanted by talking about it openly was key to STI prevention.
Without clearly knowing if both parties want to have sex, a condom is often not produced and sex just happens.
Visit www.public.health.wa.gov. au/2/1276/2/parentcaregiver.pm to download a copy of Talk soon. Talk often. A guide for parents talking to their kids about sex.