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OPINION: "I'm not sorry that you might have to talk to your kids about condoms today."


It came almost as quickly as it was erected.

A giant pink condom was lowered onto an obelisk in Sydney on Friday to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. Almost immediately,  a cry  of “won’t somebody please think of the children”, soared into the public conversation.

Agitator Wendy Francis led the charge arguing the condom forced conversations about sex onto children at too early an age:

“There is a time and place for talking to children, and an age-appropriate time for parents to talk to children about condoms.

“Parents do not want to be forced into a situation where they have to explain something that’s not relevant.”

Like the famous giant butt-plug statue in Paris, the condom has raised the eyes of many in our communities, who are worried about the impact public conversations about sex have on our community, and in particular our children.

As they do, we have to ask, what are they so worried about?

Francis’ argument boils down quite simply — that the ‘protection’ of children from sexualised imagery is more important than public campaigns associated with things such as the pink condom.

It is a simple position. The internet, pornography, advertising and social media are bringing sex to children at a much earlier age. Research shows for example that kids are accessing porn online as early as 6 years old. With this, people like Francis argue we are sexualising kids too young — taking away their childly innocence and opening them up to all kinds of danger.

On the surface it could makes sense. Psychologists have argued the early sexualisation of children can have serious impacts on mental health and development — turning kids into sexual beings at a time when their body and mind just aren’t quite ready for it. And so it makes sense that we need to protect our children from sexualised imagery such as that of the pink condom in Hyde Park.

Unfortunately this misses the real issue. In fact, children need to be provided with more space to talk about sex, not less.

When Francis talks about the rights of parents to have conversations with kids about sex at ‘appropriate times’ what she actually means is the right for kids to be shielded from conversations about sex entirely.

Remember these are the sorts of conservative crusaders who also campaign against sex education in schools, and they are certainly almost never going to talk about sex in a way that covers the vast array of issues facing kids who are LGBTIQ for example. ‘Sexualisation of children’ is being used a pretext to ignore sex all together — to once again block our collective ears in the hope our kids won’t have sex until their wedding night.

Unfortunately this has an impact. Lets have a look at the issue of HIV/AIDS – the focus of the pink condom. Last year a report from the Kirby Institute found that in 2012 HIV infections rose by 10 per cent in Australia, the fastest increase in 20 years. The culprit? As the Institute’s Professor David Wilson said:

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“Unfortunately it does appear that, particularly in the gay community, condoms are not being used as much.”

“And we’re seeing that particularly among the young men, those in their 20s, those that weren’t exposed to a lot of the public health campaigns of the ’80s and ‘90s.”

HIV infections are on the rise and one of the culprits is a lack of public discussion on the issue. After the height of campaigning in the 80s and 90s, young gay men, are no longer being exposed to the message of safer sex, and in turn are putting themselves into more risky situations.

This is just one example, but the problem is not that kids are hearing about sex at an early age, but that we are sending them unhealthy messages about sex.

For example, accessing porn now as early as the age of 6, many kids are getting their first ever education about sex through it. Porn provides unrealistic and often unhealthy expectations of what sex is like, bringing with it a whole range of problems.

We need to be talking about sex even more — particularly with children. Having open and honest conversations with kids about sex, even at an early age, is the best way to create a healthy approach to it — not just to teach about things such as protection and safer sex, but also about respect for one’s partner, the importance of consent and more. It is important these values are instilled early, well before kids are encounter the issues in other arenas.

When faced with the reality, I just don’t care if some parents have to have ‘awkward’ conversations with their kids about sex at a time they didn’t want to. That is a sacrifice I’m willing to make in order to ensure the health of our broader community. In fact, that is a value of these public campaigns.

Many of those parents who aren’t willing to have the conversation about the pink condom with their kids are probably the same ones who will never actively engage with them about many of the complex issues involving sex. If the pink condom forces them to do so, to explain issues like safer sex and HIV/AIDS, that can only be a good thing therefore — broaching an important subject a child may never encounter until it is too late.

That is the value of these sorts of campaigns. They open up conversations about sex and sexuality that our society — including children — desperately need to be having. I say embrace it.

I would rather kids learn about sex early and from people they trust rather than grow up with a negative approach to it. If the pink condom does some of that, then it’s worth it.

What would you tell your kids about the giant pink condom in the park?

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