Relationship Things – the impact of online technology on sex education

8 October 2014

Relationship Things panel event

On Friday 17 October, YWCA Canberra will be launching our newly revamped respectful relationships resource, Relationship Things, with an expert panel event exploring issues around sex education and young people. Here, panelist Angela Christian-Wilkes, a Canberran Year 12 student shares her insights into the impact of the internet on sex education. You can read more about Relationship Things online, and about the panel, Relationship Things: what young people need to know, on our events page.

I am on my laptop, watching a lady with bright blue eyes look directly at me and chat about the vulva. As she talks, she enthusiastically pulls on shirts and jackets, labelling them. My teacher is Dr. Lindsey Doe, a qualified sexologist and creator of Sexplanations, a Youtube channel dedicated to providing information on sex and gender. When asked to write about my perspective on sex education and the internet’s role within it, I immediately thought of her. More specifically I thought of the first webcast of hers I watched – immediately captivated – entitled ‘The Vulva – The Vagina’s Neighbourhood’, where she colourfully represents the anatomy of the vulva by dressing up as one.

Sexplanations is just one of the many easily accessible and highly beneficial sex education resources available on the web. In this way, the internet has been a blessing for sex education. It has also given users an outlet to discuss these issues and a space for individuals to interact and ask questions. For many, it allows for the exploration of confronting topics to occur in a private and self-monitored manner.

The internet and its uses within multiple spaces are a constant contemporary discussion, and this should certainly be applied to sex education as well. There are downsides, of course, and the damage done is becoming increasingly visible. Misinformation can be more easily spread and more easily absorbed. Users cater to their own individual wishes, so it often becomes a case of preaching to the converted instead of reaching those who could benefit more from these resources. A sound sex education shouldn’t simply be for those who seek it. Inclusive and informative sex education is integral for all.

This is where schools and educational institutions come into it. I have been incredibly blessed to be surrounded by supportive and open people – both friends and family – for the duration of my adolescence. My curiosity for knowledge in this area has never been shamed, and in many instances, I have actively shared it with with my peers. However, I know my experience is not homogenous.

At the current time, here in Canberra and perhaps even Australia, there needs to be a sex education reform. I attended sex education classes and talks when they were provided by school and did not remain ignorant to the gaps in my education. I cannot speak on behalf of all young people, but these experiences cast sex as a potentially dangerous activity that can give one a disease or a baby. A highly anatomical approach was common (and given the number of people who still call the vulva the vagina, was not particularly successful). Knowing what the vas deferens is may help later on in Biology, but leaves many fumbling in the dark when it comes to actually navigating sex and sexuality in real time.

Often I have noticed a lack of communication on consent and respectful relationships in schools, with an attitude of dealing with issues as they arise instead of starting at base level. There is also the prevalent dismissal of other’s choices concerning relationships and sex. My generation is not unique with indulging in gossip and slander, activities as old as humanity itself. But as technology and the internet becomes more significant in everyday living, we have new ways to belittle and shame young people – often young women – for their personal choices. There needs to be dialogue on respect not just operating IN relationships, but by those observing others’ relationships.

Sex education needs to be a space for acceptance for people of all backgrounds, sexualities and identities, discussing both pleasure and pain, desires and needs, and the choice to be or to not be involved. Topics including consent, masturbation, pornography, healthy relationships, gender identity, sexuality, contraception, abortion and media literacy need to introduced and covered. I am sure I have missed key inclusions here and my choices are a subjective reflection, but I hope in discussions such as Relationship Things: what young people need to know, we can collectively uncover what can be done.

Angela Christian-Wilkes is a Year 12 student at Hawker College and member of their gender equality group, Students for Inclusion and Autonomy. Her procrastination of choice includes learning about intersectional feminism, writing overly emotional music reviews and walking her border collie, Top. She hopes to continue her studies of gender and sexuality next year at university.

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