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Copy of Events Jumpstart Innovation Winners 2021 12

Supporting rangatahi navigate relationships and sexuality

Even though we’re surrounded by more information than ever before, working out what we can and can’t trust can be a bit of a minefield.

Spare a thought for the many thousands of rangatahi who are navigating the plethora of information out there about relationships and sexuality.

University of Canterbury Health lecturer Tracy Clelland says we need to get much better at providing sexuality education that’s useful, relevant and accessible.

“Young people across Aotearoa are calling for non-judgemental sexuality education that is more than just biology,” says Tracy.

"Our recent study showed young people wanted to know more how to have difficult conversations, how to deal with breakups, supporting transgender friends, love, intimacy, as well as about sex, pleasure, and contraception and STI’s."

Tracy says thinking of new and innovative ways to meet the relationships and sexuality needs of young people is fundamental to changing the often negative conversation that surrounds sexuality.

Recent research from a meta-analysis of 30 years of sexuality education stated open communication about sexuality leads to improved relationships across the life course, better communication skills, decreased intimate partner violence, improved media literacy skills, and ultimately better wellbeing.

“Having healthy relationships and feeling comfortable talking about sexuality leads to less shame around ourselves as sexual beings and ultimately improved mental health.”

She says accessing reliable and trustworthy information can be difficult.

"Currently, young people are getting their information from friends, pornography, lived experiences and Dr Google. Some of this material is helpful but being able to critique what they are reading or watching is a crucial skill in today’s world.”

Tracy is co-creating a sexuality app where young people can access all the information they want in one place. It will be a safe, reliable space that has quizzes, interactive tools and videos.

"We are working with young people to tell us what meets their needs. We think adults may also find it useful!"

While they can be tough conversations to have with their children, Tracy says it’s really important parents take the time to talk about relationships and sexuality.

“For young people, the ‘sit-down’ talk about puberty often does not lead to quality conversations. Instead, it can cause embarrassment or shame which can shut down conversations.

"The key is communicating about life and giving young people the opportunity to talk about how they see the world and what’s going on for them."

Three tips

Tracy has outlined three things for parents who may find it difficult to talk to young people about sex and sexuality.

> Use real-life experiences or TV programmes to ask what young people think about a topic. This starts the conversation safely.

> Stay away from judgement. Frame sexuality as a positive resource for life. When young people feel judged, ashamed or guilty, they will not want to discuss the tough stuff that is full of complexity.

> Always remember there is no one answer to most questions about human sexuality. Pose open-ended questions that allow young people moral and narrative agency. For example: How would you deal with that situation? What do you think makes someone a good lover? What is your opinion on how that advert portrays gender roles?

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