teens

'Don't make it shameful.' Daisy Turnbull has 11 tips for talking to teens about sex and consent.

This is an edited extract from 50 Questions to Ask Your Teens: a guide to fostering communication and confidence in young adults by Daisy Turnbull, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $24.99, available in-stores nationally on Wednesday February 2. 

This post deals with sexual assault, and could be triggering for some readers.

What do you know about consent?

The topic of consent is one that really should be pretty simple, and yet over and over again, we read stories of rape, sexual assault and harassment.

Consent is actually something that can be discussed from a surprisingly early age. I considered including it in 50 Risks to Take with Your Kids, but I think age 10 is really when you want to start having the conversation.

 Watch: Be a good mum. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia.

You probably don’t want to have 'the talk' about sex when your kid is 'too young', but remember, the majority of 11-year-olds have seen porn. Sex is out there. Talk to your teen about sex before someone else shows them a very different idea of what it is.

I remember very distinctly having two talks. The first was about how stuff works. Periods, ovulation, sperm, pregnancy. I think I was about 11.

The second talk was a few years later. It probably coincided with a boy’s name being mentioned a few times and Mum and Dad thinking they should update the talk in the context of me actually having sex. I remember Mum kept saying I had to feel comfortable. More on that later.

I don’t think we had the third talk – the 'consent' talk. Maybe we did. But I think because Mum really reminded me over and over about being comfortable, the concept of not being comfortable, and that not being okay, was clearly implied. It was there, it just had a different language. 

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Today, you need to do all three talks in one, and the consent part of the conversation needs to come up again and again, and again.

The talk

  • You need to explain how stuff works. You need to cover the actual birds and the bees. This can include contraception, depending on your family’s views.
  • If your family believes sex is only for after and within marriage, then explain why.
  • Don’t make sex scary or shameful. In every religion and culture, it is okay to enjoy it. There is nothing wrong about sex.
  • Explain that while sex is meant to be enjoyed, it can take a while to get to that point, and that’s okay.
  • Introduce the idea of consent. Explain that when it comes to sex, your teen should only ever do what they want, what they feel comfortable with. Nobody who loves or cares about them would coerce, bully, guilt trip or force them into doing anything they don’t feel comfortable with. Tell your teen to tell their partner that anything but an enthusiastic yes is a no.
  • Also explain that while there is never any excuse for consent not being sought and respected, your teen can protect themself by avoiding getting stupidly drunk and by always being with friends who they trust and who won’t leave them on their own. (But that’s a conversation about alcohol in general.)
  • Explain that what your teen sees with porn is not what sex is like, and to be careful watching it. Tell them that if they are not absolutely certain their partner wants to have sex, if there is a not an enthusiastic yes in the moment, then it is a no. Explain that they cannot get resentful if their partner doesn’t want to have sex – there will be other times (and that this is more likely if they treat people with respect!).
  • Also tell your teen that while it may be the 'done thing' to boast about sex, it is far better to be discreet than to brag.
  • Tell your teen that drunk people are never consenting. Passed-out people are never consenting. Tell them to tell their friends, too.
  • Tell them to always use protection. Even if you do not support premarital sex, but you think your teen is having sex, ensure they are being safe.
  • The rules around consent are exactly the same for people in relationships as for those engaging in 'hookups'.

And another topic – where?

Look, if your teen is having sex and you don’t like it, that ain’t going to stop them. 

Teens who can’t have partners over go and have sex in stupid places and sometimes get caught by the police.  

My grandmother, who grew up in the 1940s, once told me she and her 'friend' would swim into Sydney Harbour and use empty moored sailing boats. Kind of genius, and totally stupid. Just remember, before you say 'no sex here', think about where else they’re going to go.

Listen to Daisy Turnbull on Mamamia's interview podcast, No Filter. Post continues below. 


Judgement shuts doors. Don’t shut doors on this stuff.

'Thank God he didn’t rape you.'

The first people girls go to when they feel something has happened to them are their girlfriends. 

Brent Sanders, an ex–police officer and expert on workplace harassment and sex crimes, says that when girls describe things like being digitally penetrated or being talked or forced into giving oral sex, their friends will respond with, 'That’s terrible, but at least he didn’t rape you.'

Teach your daughter (and son) that sexual assault is defined as penetration to a sexual area with anything, including forced oral sex – it doesn’t just mean sex without consent. 

Make sure they know this, so that if a friend ever confides in them, they know what is sexual assault/rape.

'She was into it.'

There is a joke in the Monty Python film The Life of Brian where Brian incredulously asks his mother if she was raped, and she responds that she was at first. 

A lot of young men think that multiple no’s eventually followed by a 'yes' is consent. It is not; it is coercion. 

In fact, the definition of consent in multiple jurisdictions does not mention the word 'yes'.

It does, however, mention the word 'freely'. 

Consent has to be given freely.

One of the most concerning things about the 'field theory' that the Australian Government based its 2021 consent program on was that there is a 'yes zone', a 'maybe zone' and a 'no zone'. 

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Some of the videos (which were promptly removed) suggested that one could be moved from the no zone, through the maybe zone and into the yes zone. Again, that is not consent. That is coercion and sexual assault. 

So remind your children, no matter their gender, that a bunch of no’s followed by a 'yes' is not consent, and that consent has to be given freely.

What about maybe?

There was an article in The New Yorker in 2021 that posited there is no room for 'maybe' in consent conversations. 

Women, in general, may not know what they want, and therefore, when faced with new sexual experiences, may say no because they don’t know. 

'Maybe' exists where there is trust – trust to seek consent, trust to stop, and trust to be okay with whatever happens. 

The idea of 'maybe' is a great argument for taking things slow. But you can only discuss 'maybe' once you know 'no' is respected.

This is an edited extract from 50 Questions to Ask Your Teens: a guide to fostering communication and confidence in young adults by Daisy Turnbull, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $24.99, available in-stores nationally on Wednesday February 2. 

Image: Supplied. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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