Further to Lauredhel’s post about a UK judge’s strange views on the sexual precocity of a 10 year old girl, which became a discussion on young people and sexuality (and the negatives of viewing adolescent sexual experimentation through a lens of adult sexuality), I’ve just become aware of this terrific website from the UK, from sexual health charity Brook. As parent to two kids in their tween-to-teen years, such websites are of great interest to me, and I suspect to many other parents.
Brook Advisory Centres – commonly known just as Brook – is the only national voluntary sector provider of free and confidential sexual health advice and services specifically for young people under 25. Brook is a registered charity, and has 40 years’ experience of providing professional advice through specially trained doctors, nurses, counsellors, and outreach and information workers to over 200,000 young people each year.
They have an excellent set of information pages (based on leaflets they supply to young people around the UK): Contraception, Emergency Contraception, Pregnancy, Sexually transmitted infections, Abortion, Your Body. They also have a comprehensive section on the rights of young people regarding sexual matters.
I really like the way they’ve laid out the information so clearly and simply. In Australia accurate information is a little more complicated because of different State laws regarding various aspects of sexuality and reproduction: Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia coordinates policy statements for the State Family Planning organisations linked to on their homepage, and each State organisation has Factsheets/Brochures explaining how various State laws affect sexual health matters as well as the basics of sexual health education.
In the USA there is Scarleteen, which in some ways I find oddly try-hard in the hipness department compared to Brook and the various Australian family planning sites, although I’m sure that their advice regarding various State legal issues is spot-on. Their exceptionally frank approach to some of the common questions about sexual practises is certainly refreshing.
Simon Blake, the chief executive of Brook, has a blog called Talking of Sex. I personally prefer his straightforward style without the distracting hipster graphics favoured by Scarleteen.
Still, just as older people vary in the style of communication and layout they prefer, so do young people. Each of the offered websites would appeal to a substantial fraction of their demographic, but knowing that there are other sites out there which lay out accurate information differently might be useful to people who find one site’s style unappealing.
How do other parents view online sexual education sites?
I’ve only had a quick peruse of the sites you mentioned, and I see what you mean about the ‘try-hard’ cool at Scarleteen. On the other hand, I think they also have more to say about who you sleep with, how you negotiate sex, how boys are also responsible for contraception, and so forth. The Brook site seems more focussed on explaining methods of contraception & where you go to get abortion or counselling services etc. Both aspects are really important, but I think in Australia from my own school days (I left school ten years ago, and from my little sister’s education several years later) it’s the interpersonal negotiation skills that are really missing from our sex-ed classes. The Brook no-nonsense health info style assumes a fair bit of emotional & relationship maturity, that I think most teenagers and many young adults lack. I think a lot of older adults also lack them, but they’re not the target audience. From my quick look, the Brook site seems to assume that couples talk about things before they do them, rather than quietly making assumptions about each other, because it seems easier.
I remember distinctly feeling that I knew all about how contraception worked in my body, and how I could get pregnant or catch an STI, but having absolutely no idea how to have the conversation about what I wanted and with whom.
I was also rather at sea because I wanted to sleep with other women, and wasn’t sure how to go about it safe sex-wise, because the fact that some of us might be queer had never ever come up in our sex-ed classes. The information available seems to have changed a little – now they say that some people are queer and it’s ok – but actual nuts and bolts helpful information about how sex works with someone of the same gender is still pretty thin on the ground in the sorts of sites one can access on the school computer or public library. And anyway, queer kids shouldn’t have to get their sex-ed from porn.
I suspect what kids need more of is not Human Reproduction Science (although they do need a bit of it) but How To Be An Adult in Relationships. Because once they’ve learned more about how to talk to each other confidently, they’ll hopefully feel more confident about dealing with the nuts and bolts stuff too.
Kate, thank you! What you have encapsulated so well here is, I think, what is behind my discomfort (expressed poorly in the other thread) with telling teenagers what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their sexuality. Yes, let’s teach them HOW to talk about it/figure it out for themselves rather than just telling them!
Should have read this post before leaving my latest comment on the other thread. Actually, I should maybe just keep my mouth shut all the time, because someone always ends up saying what I think, but saying it much better than I do 🙂
I am a sex educator in the US. What we (adults) see as the try-hard aspect of Scarleteen (which I thoroughly agree with) means that more US teen eyes see the site and for longer periods of time. They’re just not as willing to look at sites with less jazz. It’s a bit silly, but there you have it.
In terms of other resources, I have a blog for parents and teachers and adults in general who are struggling with providing comprehensive sex education for the teenagers in their lives:
I am Chief Executive of Brook and I am delighted that people are sharing information about websites that they find useful and what they like and dont like.
I agree with the point about negotiation skills, about helping young people talk about sex with people, rather than just knowing about contraception and STIs. Websites of course are only a way of providing information, sharing ideas and stating views, they must be coupled with dialogue at home between parents, carers and children, at school with responsible adults and children, and in the community health and youth services with professionals who feel comfortable and confident talking about sex.
Most of all i think, we have to make sure we focus on more than just the potential negative outcomes, and help young people learn that relationships are exciting, precious and have to be worked at, and that sex is about choices, choosing whether to you want to have it based on real self confidence and an awareness of their sexual rights. if you are interested in talking some more my blog is http://www.brookcentres.blogspot.com