Let’s talk about sex. Despite being a sexual health nurse and sexuality educator, author Vanessa Hamilton realised that talking to her own children about the complexities of human sexuality was even tricky for her, let alone for other parents. That’s when she decided to address this lack of knowledge and confidence among parents and teachers.
She wrote Talking Sex to support children’s sexual health, wellbeing and safety. As the author points out, your children are getting a sexuality education every day from the world around them but ‘is it the one you want them to receive?’
The author believes that children need sexuality education, information, and conversations to empower them. Human sexuality must be age-appropriate, comprehensive, and taught alongside respectful relationships. The book’s approach and teaching framework aligns with Australian and global studies including research from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
When I used to teach plant and animal reproduction with year 9 Science students, the content, language, and activities were ordered, logical and straightforward. Senior Biology students engaged with similar scientific territory, but with more detail.
However, when I taught Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) classes with the same students, the content, questions and conversations always became curlier and more complicated.
The real-world human complexity is much like the teenage stories on TV’s ‘Degrassi Junior High’ (consent, gender identity, teen pregnancy, rape, losing one’s virginity, homophobia, coming out, one’s first period, sexually transmitted infections…).
Human sexuality is certainly more nuanced and complex than a typical David Attenborough nature documentary. Talking sex is a conversation guide for parents (and teachers) that offers useful, comprehensive, human-centred and matter-of-fact approaches to this potentially difficult and complex territory.
Talking Sex is well-structured in simple and concise chapters including ‘Conversations, ages and stages’, ‘Reproduction’, ‘Sexual wellbeing in the digital age’ and ‘Respect, consent and sexual violence’. Each chapter uses straight-forward, accessible language to outline potentially complex ideas and information.
For example, the chapter about consent acknowledges its simplicity and complexity. It includes a summary table of what consent can sound and look like (spoken word such as ‘yes’ or ‘I’m excited’, gestures such as Thumbs up or Nodding) in contrast to what non-consent can look and sound like (‘No’, ‘Stop’, gestures such as Thumbs down, shaking head).
Vanessa Hamilton approaches potentially awkward or confronting questions and topics with compassion, intelligence, and respect. Talking Sex features a handy ‘Top 20 tips’ chapter including ‘Be the first person to explain each topic to your child’, ‘Be the askable and tellable parent they need you to be’, and ‘It’s okay not to answer right away’. It includes space to write your own self-reflections.
Embedded within each chapter are contextually significant conversation starters and curly questions, with the chapter ‘Sexuality conversation starters’ featuring more than 50 prompts for different aged children: Younger kids (‘Thanks for asking me questions. I like it when you ask me things’), Older kids (‘I feel a little uncomfortable, and you might too, which is normal, but this is really important’) and Oldest kids (‘Do you ever wonder if your friends have made a risky choice with a partner?’).
The book dispels a range of myths and fears, informed and supported by an extensive reference list and links to additional resources. Children learn in different ways at unique ages and stages.
Talking Sex demystifies the curly, complicated topic of human sexuality to support and guide conversations between parents, teachers, or caregivers and the children under their care.
Reviewed by Mark Parry
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vanessa Hamilton is an experienced Sexuality Educator and a parent. She is the founder of Talking The Talk (TTT) Healthy Sexuality Education and is a highly respected and sought after speaker, writer and educator, as well as a mother of three children.
Vanessa has spoken to literally tens of thousands of people about sex and sexuality during her <25 years’ experience as a Registered Sexual Health Nurse and has also spent 18 years educating children and adults. She has now immersed herself in helping parents, teachers and health professionals understand Human Sexuality, consent and respectful relationships with a specific focus on how to have conversations with children.
Her business tagline is ‘Let’s get started – it’s easier than you think’. Vanessa is based in Melbourne.