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"There’s a lot I wish I had been told about sex."

Giverny Lewis

There’s a lot I wish I had been told about sex. Like the benefits of masturbation, why cling film is not an effective contraception method, and about the truly alarming sounds your body can make at the most awkward times.

These are the gems I’ve eventually learnt after 10 or so years of sexual activity, oversharing seshes with friends, a Masters in Sexual Health and working in Health Promotion at various reproductive and sexual health organisations. I’ve managed to acquire this kind of knowledge and experience despite the best efforts of my early sex education to keep it hidden from me.

In year 10, my male PDHPE teacher could barely say the word ‘menstruation’ without choking on his own awkwardness, let alone arm me with the knowledge I needed to lead a fulfilling, healthy and safe sex life. Nevertheless, I listened intently, hoping to find some relevant pearls of wisdom which would help me navigate the awful teenage years. My friends and I desperately hoped that dry rants about the whole egg/sperm scenario would make way for the seemingly more pressing issues of how to make a boy like you, how to actually have sex, and whether your vagina looked ‘normal’ or not.

We had limited access to the internet, so Dr Google was unavailable to help with our body and sex questions.  I resorted to texting friends on my Nokia brick at all hours of the night, or carefully calculating an opportune time to sneak into the lounge room and rifle through my parents’ encyclopaedia collection for any information which might help.

“Messages about STIs and the importance of using condoms were delivered through tedious lectures that warned us to steer clear of even thinking about touching another person’s genitals, let alone putting them in our mouths or hoo-haas.”

Messages about STIs and the importance of using condoms were delivered through tedious lectures that warned us to steer clear of even thinking about touching another person’s genitals, let alone putting them in our mouths or hoo-haas. The scare tactics obviously didn’t work, as the grinding, pashing and messy fumblings witnessed at weekend parties attested to. Though if the stats are anything to go by, this is when all that transmission was going down (so to speak). In my formative years, between 2002 and 2011, Australia’s chlamydia rates jumped from 24,000 to a whopping 80,000, with young women among the most effected populations*. A lack of information and an abundance of confusion ushered us into an age of chlamydia chaos, and now it’s time to make sure that the next generation are better prepared.

Even though young people today have far better resources than a dusty old Encyclopedia Britannica at their fingertips, it’s a case of information overload. We still turn off messages that are delivered in awkward ways, that make us feel uncomfortable or scared, or guilty. The shame that surrounds sexually transmissible infections is still rife, and young people still face a mountain of confusion when it comes to safe sex.

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So what are my top safe sex tips for the whippersnappers?

1. Wrap your banana, or your partner’s banana! Always. Wearing a condom doesn’t feel good, he says? Neither does herpes, promise.

2. If you have had unprotected sex, you need to get tested. It’s totally not as scary as you think it’s going to be. Drop in to your nearest Family Planning NSW clinic or your local GP. There is honestly nothing our doctors and nurses haven’t seen, they are unshockable. It’s also totally confidential, so your parents do not have to know.

Wrap your banana, or your partner’s banana!

3. If it turns out you do have an STI, chances are, it’s totally treatable. Make sure you notify your current and former sexual partners – this is not negotiable. There are even services that allow you to do this completely anonymously. Technology win!

It’s up to parents, siblings, friends and organisations like Family Planning NSW to deliver safe sex information that’s free from all that doom and gloom – young people want honest, frank information that gives them the tools to make empowered decisions. Family Planning NSW are getting the word out about condom use in a new campaign that aims to get people sharing information themselves. To enter, Instagram users must upload their photo of a dressed or decorated banana, with the hashtag #WrapYourBanana – because what would sexual health be without a bit of giggling?

* Family Planning NSW, Reproductive and sexual health in Australia. Ashfield, Sydney: FPNSW, 2013.

Giverny Lewis is a Health Promotion Officer at Family Planning NSW. She has been working in the field of reproductive and sexual health for five years and is a regular ‘sexpert’ contributor for Cosmopolitan magazine.

Family Planning NSW is the state’s leading provider of reproductive and sexual health.

To enter the #WrapYourBanana competition, upload your picture of a dressed, decorated or wrapped banana to Instagram, with the hashtag #WrapYourBanana, then follow @familyplanningnsw and you’ll enter the draw to win an iPad 2 or a $200 JB Hifi voucher. Competition closes Monday 16th June. More info at www.fpnsw.org.au/wrapyourbanana

Family Planning NSW Talkline provides contraceptive, reproductive and sexual health information and referral – call 1300 658 886

Get involved in the #WrapYourBanana to spread the word about the importance of protection.

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