A 'controversial' sex ed book for kids got pulled from shelves. Then parents flocked to buy it.

After a slew of complaints, online threats and even abuse of in-store staff, Big W confirmed it would pull Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes’ educational sex book from their shelves while continuing to stock it online.

Welcome to Sex: Your No-Silly-Questions Guide to Sexuality, Pleasure and Figuring It Out is "an educational and age-appropriate guide for tweens and teens and their parents about sex and sexuality," as described by "proud" publisher Hardie Grant. It is full of expert 'ask the doctor' advice, real teen case studies and illustrations that are cute and inclusive.

The vocal critics who have campaigned to get it pulled from shelves, however, do not agree. There are accusations that the authors are "grooming kids" about sex and "gender ideology". They also take offence that the book includes reference to sexual acts that go beyond the act of procreation: "fingering", "oral sex", "anal sex" and "scissoring".

While I understand that parents have differing views on how and when to talk to kids about sex (and all the many sub-topics that come under it), the rage-inducing headlines and angry tweets took me by surprise.

It surprised me because no one is forcing parents to take this book from the shelf and buy it, or talk to their kids about anal sex or scissoring. 

Surprised because the people complaining loudly have viewed and shared a few TikToks about the book and (possibly) have not read the book. And finally, surprised because when I interviewed Yumi about this book in May, I came away feeling enlightened by the research that proves kids benefit from proper sex education. 


Watch: The basics of sexual consent. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

But when Welcome to Sex got into the hands of the 'shocked and angry' shoppers, it went from being an informative and enlightening sex education text for tweens and teens to a "graphic sex guide for kids" overnight.  

Yumi's quote about talking to her curious eight-year-old daughter about sex somehow became mixed up in the confusion and commentary about the book's target audience, generating more outrage.

That it was on sale in the 'parenting range' also upset some Twitter users.


The fact that the book describes itself as a "fun, frank guide to sex and sexuality for teens of all genders" seems to have been missed in the furore.

Publisher Hardie Grant released a lengthy statement to support the book and its authors:

"Welcome to Sex was developed in response to genuine questions about sex from adolescents to Dolly Doctor over a twenty-year period, as well as comprehensive interviews with young people and adolescent experts about issues they are facing, particularly in an online world," said Kate Brown, Managing Director of HGCP, for Hardie Grant. 

"Every young person develops at their own rate, and parents and caregivers are encouraged to make their own decisions about what is appropriate to share with their family."

And, in a twist that no one saw coming, all this internet rage has led to the book selling out on Amazon.

The internet rage has led to the book selling out on Amazon.


I understand parents feel concerned about when to educate their kids about sex and that the outrage shown online might come from a place of fear or concern about what age is 'right'. 

As parents, we all know how our own kids receive and digest information and so our individual judgement is important. But as Yumi told me back in May, the more open you are with your kids about sex-ed, the better.

"The best thing you can do for your kids' future safety, but also their happiness as sexual beings in the future is to give them a sex education quite early," Yumi told Mamamia. 

"There's actual science around it, which is basically the earlier, you give your kids a sex education the later they will have sex. So it's not like you are setting them on this path by giving them the information so it's a pretty unfounded fear."


Emma Whatman, Subject Coordinator in Gender Studies at The University of Melbourne who has been conducting research on sex education texts with Dr Paul Venzo agrees with Yumi.

"Comprehensive and inclusive sex education that begins at a young age can prevent child sex abuse, decrease rates of domestic violence and intimate partner violence, and reduce homophobic bullying," Emma wrote today in The Conversation.

"Sex education books combat misinformation – and empower young people with essential information to keep them informed and safe."

The real question is, would you rather your kids learn about sex from porn or an educational book?

Personally, I want to help my kids combat misinformation and so Yumi's comprehensive sex text, co-authored with 'Dolly Doctor' Dr Melissa Kang, now sits proudly on my bookshelf at home. 

I have spoken to my almost teenage son about its contents and would feel very comfortable if he wanted to read it from cover to cover. Contrary to the parents who believe the book is inappropriately 'teaching sex' to young people, I find it helpful to have the book to hand so I know exactly what to say when awkward sex questions arise.

Because even though I understand the importance of talking to both of my kids about sex, it doesn't mean I don't feel embarrassed. And this embarrassment from us Gen X and older millennial parents is partly why Yumi wanted to write this book.

"I think a lot of parents have inherited shame from their own parents and from our culture and society at large," Yumi told Mamamia.


"I think it's partly shame about icky body fluids, but parents also worry about saying the wrong thing. Worry about planting an idea in their mind that wasn't there before and then just making things worse! A lot of the difficulty parents have with these types of chats is just not knowing what to say and how to say it; it's a very unflexed muscle that most of us have.

"Everyone needs trusted resources for this kind of chat. Whether that's this book or another, you need to get the facts and the language right, because I think you can easily stumble into saying the wrong thing or saying something that's informed by sexism or bad science. I would say to any parent that shoring up your own information first is really helpful and a good way to start."

Books or articles written by experts have always been my default way as a parent to 'shore up' my information on many topics, so why is talking to my kids about sex any different?

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for parents of teens, Help! I have a Teenager. Post continues below. 

I remember writing on this topic of my son's sex education and curiosity in 2016. At the time I was pregnant with my second child and my eldest wanted to know how the baby got into my tummy.

While I felt coy explaining it, my husband, a no-nonsense GP sat down with our copy of the retro classic Where Did I Come From? Written in 1973, it was hilariously dated and hetero-normative but it dealt with the body parts and the basics of procreation that, for a six-year-old with pregnancy questions, was perfectly fine.


I watched my son listening intently until the end and when we asked if he had questions; he had none. The book had answered everything he needed to know and so he went off to play Angry Birds seemingly unscathed. I wrote about the experience for Mamamia and fielded quite a few comments from parents about it being 'too early'. 

Perhaps for some parents and their kids, it was. But not for us.

As parents we have a choice over what topics we discuss at home and when, but we only have so much control over what our kids find out about sex once they are school-age or able to access a device.

And would you rather your curious kids learnt about sex thanks to a well-researched book written by experts that prioritises pleasure, consent and safety, or get their sex 'education' from unregulated porn sites? 

According to a 2019 research report from The Australian Institute of Family Studies, 53 per cent of boys and 14 per cent of girls intentionally viewed porn before age of 16. 

In another study from the UK, the research found that by the age of 11, 28 per cent of the surveyed children had seen online pornography; by the age of 15, 65 per cent had seen online pornography. 

Yumi's advice is to delay giving your kids a device for as long as possible, but also to have open discussions with them about what porn really is.

"It's important for kids to understand that porn is often super degrading and super abusive and it has a very toxic influence on young people. Especially if that is the only information that they're getting on what sex is. Kids really don't want to hear parents talk about porn but I think it's worth saying to them, 'Be judicious about the porn you watch.' Ask them to think about what it is like to be in the woman's shoes. Ask them to ask themselves, 'Is she okay? Is she being treated respectfully? And what is this doing to my brain if she's not? Am I programming myself to be an abuser?' 


"It's a very dark topic but I believe it is worth saying all of this out loud so that they've heard it from their trusted parent."

When you consider that every single one of us is here today because our parents had sex, I find it strange that we sweat so hard about explaining the process to our kids. 

I think when it comes down to getting sex-ed 'right' it pays to know your child, their ability to cope with the facts and getting the timing right for you and your inquisitive kids.

If all else fails, maybe just buy a well-researched sex-ed book like Yumi's, although good luck getting hold of a copy; thanks to the uproar it's sold out online.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Supplied/ Canva.

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