teens

'I'm a consent educator. This is what I want parents to know about teens and sex.'

Picture this - you’re a high school teacher. It’s a Tuesday - last session before home time. It's 35 degrees outside. 

Before you, a class full of 15-year-olds. They’re angry and tired and annoyed and happy and excited and every bloody emotion you can think of because they're 15. 

Your task, for the next 60 minutes, is to teach them about sex. You have a box of bananas, a bag of condoms, and a PowerPoint on STIs

What you don’t have is any idea of how to teach anyone about the nuances and complexities of relationships, sex, and sexuality. 

While you're here, check out this video on the basics of sexual consent. Post continues below.

So, as you can imagine, these lessons are fairly ineffective. More often than not they end in kids snacking on the bananas for afternoon tea and others creating (rather impressive) sling shots out of the condoms. 

At the first sound of the bell, the defeated teacher will holler 'make good choices' as teenagers flee the room. 

It will surprise precisely nobody that research released by the South Australian and Victorian Departments of Education revealed teenagers feel fairly clueless and confused about sex and relationships in general.

To make this s**t even more bananas, parents also have no bloody clue how to talk to their teenagers about sex.

Where does this leave teenagers?

Well, it’s like they’re navigating this strange and unfamiliar territory in a dinghy. With no map. And there’s a storm... like, a 'weather event' storm. And they can’t swim. And someone keeps sending them d*ck pics. 

Of course, #NotAllTeachers and #NotAllSchools. Victoria, for example, has implemented Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum, but this is the exception rather than the rule across Australia.

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As of last month, we have the latest data to back up what we already knew - the impact of poor sex education follows teens into young adulthood. 

Listen: Dr Ginni Mansberg and Jo Lamble discuss teens watching porn on the podcast, Help! I Have A Teenager. Post continues below.


An independent survey conducted by The Social Research Centre investigated 39 universities across Australia. The results revealed that one in six students had been sexually harassed since university. 

So, let me just be really explicit about how it is we find ourselves confronted with this reality: 

  • Teens aren’t really able to talk to their parents about sex.
  • Parents don’t know how to talk to teenagers about sex.
  • Teachers aren’t trained to talk about sex.
  • There is no set curriculum to teach from about sex.
  • On average, NOBODY who knows ANYTHING about RESPECT or CONSENT or what a HEALTHY SEX LIFE looks like is even TALKING to the TEENAGERS about it, let alone TEACHING them.  

The result? Incredibly vulnerable teenagers.

Our culture of sexual violence is (to a large degree) a result of our culture of crappy relationship and sex education.

In some good news, our young people have called bulls**t. Teach Us Consent succeeded in their mission to lobby the ministers of education from around Australia to mandate holistic, age appropriate, comprehensive relationship and sex education (RSE) in every school, every year, from foundation until Year 10.

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But what does that actually mean?  

To be honest, I had no bloody idea. And I’m a teacher. So, I figure the average parent or member of society has no idea either. 

Thankfully, while the rest of us grown-ups have been fumbling through the facilitation of sex ed, there are some legends who have been waiting for us to wake up. 

Dr Joy Townsend, Founder and CEO of consent training organisation Learning Consent, shared three facts we all need to know about teens and sex.  

Fact 1: Teens are learning about sex from porn. 

Meet Mr Pornhub. He is currently the most common sex ed teacher, and he is truly terrible at his job. 

Research conducted by Our Watch shows that almost half of young men have seen pornography by the age of 13 and half of young women by 15. This often occurs years before their first sexual experience. 60 per cent of young men and 41 per cent of young women confirmed using pornography as a source of information about sex.

Going back to our 'dinghy on the sea' metaphor... it’s like we’ve refused to teach teens how to sail and instead instructed them to search up Pirates of the Caribbean.

What does Dr Townsend think?

Dr Townsend thinks we need to teach porn literacy. The prevalence of porn in teens lives creates a huge problem when it "comes to learning about sexual consent". 

She added, "88 per cent of mainstream pornographic scenes depict physical aggression from the male performer towards the female performer, and 48 per cent depict verbal aggression. Research with young people is finding that what is modelled in pornography is impacting on what young people assume to be normal when it comes to sex."

So, what can we do? We can’t turn off the Wi-Fi and dismantle the porn industry. But we can teach porn literacy. 

Dr Townsend said this is already being done in parts of the US, UK, and New Zealand. Teaching porn literacy "provides an opportunity to learn about the aspects of sexuality that are absent from pornography, such as emotional intimacy, and negotiating consent". 

Fact 2: Sex needs to be taught from a positive view. 

Australia’s national sexual violence statistics prove that the sex education traditionally delivered to our young people is simply not working. Focussing only on the risks surrounding sex and omitting the nuances, complexities, and positive aspects is negligent. 

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After all, if teens and young adults don’t know what healthy, consensual and value-based sex is supposed to be, how will they be empowered to identify the opposite?

What does Dr Townsend think?

"In 2022, it is commonplace for an Australian teenager’s formative sexual experiences to be non-consensual," Dr Townsend said. "That’s not good enough. There is significant evidence that comprehensive sex education, including teaching kids about consent, is the most effective way to reduce sexual violence."

Dr Townsend added: "Discussions of active expressions of sexual desire, pleasure, non-heteronormative sexual identities, and the navigation of sexual relationships are excluded." The impact of this? Young people are positioned as incapable of handling 'the real thing'. The implication being that they are 'unready' for this knowledge. 

This is particularly problematic as so much of popular culture "depicts young people as hypersexualised and sexually competent - repeatedly portraying sexually adept and promiscuous young people and sending young audiences the message that they 'ought to be' sexually knowledgeable and capable."

Dr Townsend concluded that "it’s a dangerous combination". She said that she has interviewed "many young people who have described feeling immense pressure to be sexually active and all-knowing and yet also feeling as though they are not trusted as 'ready' for knowledge about sex, nor do they have any reliable sources for information about sex and relationships."

Which leads us onto our final fact... 

Fact 3: Teens WANT this knowledge.

They know Mr Pornhub is an atrocious teacher and they would quite like it if a grown up stepped in and had conversations with them about how to navigate the world of sex and sexuality in a healthy and ethical way.

What does Dr Townsend think?

According to Dr Townsend, in the most recent National Survey of Australian secondary students, respondents "specified they wanted RSE that is engaging and affirming, delivered more often, and provided by well-trained teachers or other professionals who are comfortable with the topic". 

She added, "At Learning Consent, our end goal is that the young people we are working with are capable of being involved in safe and pleasurable sexual practices, when the time is right for them."

It’s obvious that the bananas and STI PowerPoint presentations need to be thrown in the bin. We need to do better by our teens, and thanks to Dr Townsend and others like her, we can. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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