I couldn't help but laugh, and then quickly feel disheartened at the alarming questions young people were adding to the Reddit thread of "What's the best question someone asked in sex-ed?" With over 3000 comments on the thread these are just some of the answers:
- Does peanut butter make your boobs grow bigger?
- Can you get an STD if a guy jizzes in your ear?
- Can you break a boner?
As a youth worker, should I be celebrating the hilarity of these questions or should I be worried that these are genuine comments that have happened? Some comments may be embellished and others asked simply for the humour - but some are real.
How do we respond to this? Laugh at the humour and move on?
The reality is that this thread shows an underlying issue that we still don't teach adequate SRE. The fact young people are asking these questions shows we need to create spaces for them to ask questions and get appropriate answers.
The challenge for us, as those connecting with young people in any capacity, is to engage in healthy and educative discussions around sex and relationships. We can no longer avoid these conversations; waiting for someone else to 'have the talk' with them.
Educating teenagers around sex and relationships shouldn't be solely the school's responsibility. It's a joint effort and the sooner we accept that, the better opportunities we'll give young people to engage in healthy relationships and practice safe sex.
SRE goes far beyond demonstrating how to put a condom on and what STDs could be caught. Instead, how about adding to their vocabulary the names of different parts of our genitals and what they do? Going beyond 'penis' and 'vagina' so when they do have sex with someone, they can articulate what parts of their bodies they're OK with being touched.
Adolescents are intelligent beings and they want to talk about sex. Let's not shut them down and pretend like they'll just learn through experience. Instead, why not converse with them about what they already know?
It scares me that people - teenagers and adults - have sex with their partner without even speaking about it. I'm not talking about sexting or 'dirty talk' during foreplay. But instead discussing with your partner what you like and dislike; where the boundaries are; how far is 'to far' for you?
I'm a firm believer in good communication and creating a safe space to discuss challenging or awkward topics, like sex. It is in these safe spaces that young people - and adults - begin to be honest about their thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Often a sense of commonality comes out from people saying "Ohh yea, me too!", recognising that they're not alone in their thinking. It's actually quite empowering!
The first question I got asked when I started working in SRE was "Miss, what's a cream pie?" I then went on to explain, with my colleague, what it was and moved swiftly on to other questions.
Therefore, I really do recognise that it is awkward and can be slightly embarrassing to talk about sex with teenagers. But I didn't let it stop me and I used it to help other young people know that I'm OK talking about sex with them.
My challenge to you is engage in these topics with young people. You may not feel comfortable at first, but don't be put off. Whether you're a teacher, youth worker, parent or uncle, don't stay silent on the topic. Be a part of creating a culture where it's OK to ask questions and explore what healthy sex and relationships looks like.
Liz Edge is a freelance youth worker based in Poole, Dorset. She is an author, speaker and trainer on adolescent's mental health and SRE. To commission an article, book Liz to speak at an event or generally find out more, go to Liz-Edge.co.uk. She'd love to hear from you.