if anyone is interested, this is the link to a piece that won me a writing competition a few years ago! it’s certainly not perfect and there are some parts I wish I could change, but I think it’s pretty solid for a 17 year old haha. and it won me 400 dollaz so I am not complaining. trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence.
The sex lives of teenagers is a controversial and taboo subject. Although teenagers experience graphic depictions of sex in almost every medium of entertainment available to them, parents and educators alike consistently shy away from the topic. Sex education in our schools does little to help: it is contraception based and revolves around pregnancy and STI’s. But isn’t there more to sex than condoms and the pill?
A recent study by The Centre for American Progress has revealed a link between sexual violence and teen pregnancy. It found that 60% of teenage girl’s first pregnancies are preceded by rape, attempted rape or molestation. Up to 20% of teenage girls become pregnant as the direct result of rape. For many teenagers, sex isn’t a choice. Sexually abused girls have a lower average age of first intercourse and are less likely to use contraception than girls who have not been sexually abused. Sexual abuse victims lose agency over their bodies and have no concept of healthy relationships. These statistics indicate that sex education cannot rely on the assumption that teenagers choose to have sex, or that with adequate education, they might choose not to have sex. A plethora of teenagers are forced to deal with the implications of sexual assault through no fault of their own.
These statistics call for a change in the way we approach sex education. If our curriculum refuses to address the real nature of sex, it also refuses to acknowledge precisely what healthy, consensual sex is. Sex education should not just deal with the physical aspects of sex, but the emotional and social aspects of it, too. Consent is a huge grey area – does ‘maybe’ mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Can a person consent if they’re intoxicated? What if a person initially says ‘yes’, but then says ‘no’ halfway through? Can we be completely satisfied that our teenagers are educated on these topics? We must educate them that ‘maybe’ means ‘no’, that intoxication means ‘no’; that in all circumstances, no means NO. It is imperative that we teach teenagers this, not just in the hope that they will not assault others or will not be assaulted themselves, but so they will come to an informed understanding of how sexual assault affects its victims and how these victims can seek help. Often in Western media, female sexual assault victims are blamed for their attacks. Perhaps her skirt was too short, perhaps her flirtatious behaviour meant she was ‘asking for it’ or perhaps she’s had many sexual partners in the past which makes her ‘fair game’. A discussion in a senior level class revealed the sheer number of students who believed it impossible for a male to be raped. Some believed that sex workers also cannot be sexually assaulted.
Where do teenagers obtain this misinformation? It can be a result of numerous factors. A history of sexual violence is one of them. Harmful and misleading messages in the media are another. Accessibility to hardcore mainstream pornography (which is often violent and misogynistic in nature) via the internet is also increasing. Celebrity scandals, including the recent NRL ‘gang bang’ controversy do little to help. Is this the kind of sex education we want for our teenagers?
Our teenagers deserve comprehensive sex education. They need to learn that consent is an enthusiastic “Yes!” and no less. We can deconstruct the messages broadcasted in advertising, music, film and TV and explain why these messages are harmful or unrealistic. All teenagers should be catered to: heterosexual, homosexual and transgender. We need to educate girls (and boys!) about the reality of pregnancy and inform them about abortion, adoption and parenting. Myths and stereotypes must be dispelled and replaced with frank and accurate information. We owe it to our children to create an environment that promotes open dialogue; where questions are welcomed and discussion encouraged. We absolutely cannot silence our teenagers: in doing so, we silence victims of sexual violence and fail to identify sexually violent behaviour.
We can no longer attempt to shelter our children from sex. Many teenagers, alone and confused, are forced unwillingly into their sexual experiences. For those who aren’t, sex will invariably reach their eyes and ears through friends, the media and the internet. More importantly, what happens when our children grow up? If they aren’t sexually active as teenagers, they certainly will be as adults. Sex education will be just as important to them then. If we can teach our children about sex, they will grow up to teach their children, and so forth.
It is within our power to re-shape Australian attitudes to sex. If teenagers are shown the damaging consequences of gender stereotypes in advertising, maybe they’ll grow up to be socially conscious advertisers. If they understand the severity of trivialising sexual assault, perhaps they’ll grow up to be sensitive journalists and screenwriters. If we promote discussion about sexual assault and reject notions of victim blaming, we may even be able to create a future in which victims of sexual violence are not afraid to speak out against their attackers. These are huge changes in Australian culture that can be achieved by re-shaping our approach to sex education.
At the moment, the cold truth is that our teenagers are learning about sex in a culture where women are objectified by the media, rape victims are shamed and silenced and harmful stereotypes are rampant. Teenagers absorb a constant stream of dangerous messages about relationships, sex and sexual assault. Are we content to continue to allow these institutions to educate our children, knowing full well the increasing rates of STD’s and sexual assault in our community? Can we keep arguing that sex education is not the responsibility of our schools? This is a matter of social responsibility in which our education system realises their duties lie not just in Maths and English, but also in protecting our children from foreseeable harm as much as is possible. Frankly, if our schools won’t teach accurate sex education, nobody else will.