ASHM Report Back

Clinical posts from members and guests of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) from various international medical and scientific conferences on HIV, AIDS, viral hepatitis, and sexual health.

Day three of the Australasian Sexual Health Conference 2016

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Day three of the Australasian Sexual Health Conference 2016


Professor Alan McKee sparked an interesting debate today around sex education with his lecture ‘What we can learn from Pornography?...

Healthy sexual development is part of becoming a well-adjusted adult, right? …but what is 'healthy sexual development'? Is there such a thing and if there is, can it be taught and incorporate the beautifully diverse nature of sexuality and sexual identity?

Studies have shown that sex education can’t be left to families alone and calls for health and education to collaborate to improve sex education and incorporate themes such as pleasure as well as the well-trodden path of sexual risk – could it be possible that we might learn something from pornography in this regard?

 In Angela Davies’s lecture yesterday we learned that young people are already watching porn for a more detailed and pleasurable form of sex education. However, the overall impact of pornography is unclear. Some young people describe this experience as positively impactful in terms of preventing risk behaviour and normalising taboos and others report resulting harmful attitudes. The impact of pornography on body image can be positive or negative and In some cases young people report pornography had no impact at all.


Is there a role for picture books detailing the story and diversity of vulvas? flaccid penises? erect penises? Menstrual fluid? Ejaculation? so that young people get a sense that there really is no such thing as normal or perfect. 

One attendee pointed out that showing young people pictures of genitals in the context of sex education could contradict child protection programs where young people are taught that their genitals are private,  however, the overriding feeling was – pictures of genitals for sex education could be ok if in an appropriate and safe context.

Personally, I think we have a bigger battle - forgetting porn for a second, young people are constantly bombarded with expectations of whats 'normal' outside of school, Advertising prohibits any hint or curve of a labia. Are we to implicated in these built up expectations? After all how diverse are the drawings of genitals in our anatomy/ biology text books?

Maybe we can take example from the Netherlands  where young people having a later sexual debut, the vast majority use contraception the first time they have sex and describe there first experience as 'being ready'. These healthy and positive sexual experiences follow a  ‘comprehensive' sex education that starts at 4 years old and educates parents too.  In fact, ‘sex education’ is termed ‘sexuality education’ and incorporates young peoples rights and responsibilities leaving them more assertive and better communicators compared to there counterparts around the world.  

Take home messages

  • Young people are curious about sex (and always have been)
  • Some young people (regardless of gender identity) watch pornography which more often than not has an impact, and that impact is not necessarily negative.
  • Sex education is incredibly important, especially around issues of body image, but needs to go beyond sexual risk to meet young peoples needs.


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