'Sex talk can be scary for parents'

PARENTS need to be given the right information to talk to their children about sex and sexuality, as many feel they are doing a dismal job, a Queensland University of Technology researcher says.

Professor Alan McKee, a research leader in QUT's Creative Industries Faculty, said parents should focus on a positive model of healthy sexual development for young people.

He said the negative model, which focused on what parents don't want young people to do or know, was prevalent in society and could hinder the healthy sexual development of young people.

"I want to get people to think about the positive side of healthy sexual development," Prof McKee said. "We should be asking, 'What do we have to go through as a child and adolescent to be a healthy, happy human being with a good attitude towards sex?'

"It's about accepting that children are curious about their bodies and that is completely normal."

Prof McKee was speaking at a Relationships Australia event called What is Sexual Wellbeing?.

Although it was taboo for parents to talk about issues such as masturbation with their children, Prof McKee said private, non-obsessive acts were normal.

"It's perfectly normal and healthy and parents don't have to worry about it," he said.

"By being negative, that sends the message that it's wrong for young people to think about sex and their body."

Prof McKee said a new book called Is this Normal? Understanding your Child's Sexual Behaviour gave parents straightforward advice on how to understand and respond to children's sexual behaviours. The book, published by Family Planning Queensland and written by child sexual abuse prevention experts Holly Brennan and Judy Graham, includes a traffic lights framework that groups sexual behaviours according to healthy (green), concerning (orange) and harmful (red).

Prof McKee said a healthy approach to sexual development included freedom from unwanted activity, an understanding of consent and ethical conduct, education about biological aspects of sexual practice, relationship skills and understanding safe sexual practices. The perception children were overly sexualised was wrong.

"It is appalling the level of public discussion around child sexuality. All of the rhetoric about the sexualisation of children is damaging because it makes it very difficult for parents to talk openly about issues of sexuality with their children," Prof McKee said.

"Surveys show parents should be the main source of information about sex and sexuality, but many parents think they do a bad job."

He has received a State Government National and International Research Alliances grant to develop improved sexual health education strategies that can be delivered through entertainment producers.

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