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BABY'S FIRST SEX ED: On Sex Conversations for Young People

Timothee Luong reveals the importance of sex education, discussing the benefits of treating it as a serious and open conversation early in children’s lives, as well as addressing the consequences of treating sex ed as something taboo and adult-only.

I had my first period when I was nine years old.

For most pre-teens and teens, when they first see the flow of red blood in their undies and experience smouldering stomach cramps, their immediate instinct is often to panic. Then, the story continues along the lines of some hilarious health scare that ends up being an embarrassing yet fond memory that gets brought up at family gatherings.

For a nine-year-old, I was surprisingly calm when this happened. I had learned my way around human sexual anatomy while endlessly scrolling through Wikipedia, jumping spontaneously through hyperlinks and citations. Throughout this journey, I also (coincidentally) taught myself sex education.

Now hold on, I meant actual proper sex education. Inevitably I learned things that the adults didn’t want me to (i.e. porn), but I learned about STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases), the risks of teen pregnancy and the existence of the LGBTQIA+ community far earlier than my peers did. 

It was a blessing to be in control of my own sex education. I recall my first and only formal sex education class in Vietnam at the age of 14. All of us rowdy teenagers were gathered in a large hall, males and females together, with a single teacher there. It was an agonising one-hour session of old-fashioned lectures repeating a thousand times, “Don’t get pregnant!” (without explaining how and why), endless giggles, and inappropriate sex jokes from male peers. There was not a single mention of LGBTQIA+ people in the lecture, though I briefly remember a male student making an uncomfortable joke about gay men (which bothered me A LOT). 

At the age of 16, when I moved to a single-sex, public girls' high school in suburban Sydney, the circumstances were completely different. I remember being pleasantly surprised by the depth my Year 10 PDHPE teacher went into explaining how condoms worked to prevent pregnancies, aided with props. For the first time in my life, there was an open forum for us to discuss in a safe and supportive environment.

There is an age-old question of whether or not it is risky to teach younger children sex education. In both Vietnam and Australia, it is socially taboo to discuss sex and sexuality openly with young children. Slightly older teenagers who explore and experiment with sex and sexuality, with or without contraception, are seen as “bad apples.” This overgeneralisation shuns opportunities for open dialogue surrounding key challenges with sexual violence, sexual health, contraception, gender identity and sexual orientation among others. Without a healthy space and a guiding mentor figure to navigate their sex and sexuality, teenagers can be left in the dark to experiment on their own, sometimes with unexpected risks. 

One such risk is teenage pregnancy. In Vietnam, around 300 to 400 thousand abortions on teens aged 15-19 are reported officially each year¹. Similarly, in Australia’s rural and remote regions like Coonamble in western NSW, six per cent of teenage girls gave birth before turning 20². Teen pregnancy puts young women in a significantly disadvantaged socio-economic situation, as well as the high risks of health complications like anaemia, pre-eclampsia, premature delivery, miscarriage, delayed labour, cephalopelvic disproportion and postpartum depression. 

Pointing fingers at young mothers for their “irresponsible” sexual behaviour in this case is counterproductive. The real underlying cause is a lack of an open, updated and age-appropriate sex education curriculum, as well as access to health resources for teenagers to explore and practise safe sex in these regions. 

There is an ever-growing public discourse around initiating the conversation about sex at an even younger age. It is believed that this motion will help children become confident in confiding in adults with sexual abuse experiences and not having to repress their feelings of trauma. 

From a personal perspective, this is relieving to hear. Despite being quite confident in my sexual knowledge in my teen years, I still hesitated in sharing my emotions or experiences of verbal and sexual harassment online and at school with my parents or close friends. The repressed trauma has swelled into a silent elephant in the back of my mind. It took years to be tamed and solidified into a stone-cold scar in my mental health with self-reconciliation and self-forgiveness. And it shouldn’t have been like that. 

At the end of the day, curiosity and sex are normal human experiences that we all go through, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity and whatnot. The more normalised these conversations are across all spaces and environments, the more we will be able to reconcile with our sexual identities and foster a healthy sexual experience for all. 

¹ “Lack of education blamed for rising number of adolescent pregnancies.” VietNam News, 24 February 2023, Accessed 7 July 2023.

² Aubusson, Kate. “The NSW towns where teenage pregnancy is on the rise.” Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 2022, Accessed 7 July 2023.


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