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SEX ED TOPICS IN THE NEWS

The latest sex & relationships references out there in the media
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INSIDE OUT 2 director Kelsey Mann, dad of a daughter and son, says…

“I wanted to make a movie about dealing with the thought that you’re not good enough.

Inside Out 2 was inspired by my birthday photos. When I was 5, I had the biggest smile on my face. Then I turned 8, then 11 and my smile diminished to the point where at 13 I sat there just staring at the cake. I looked miserable. I hated the attention.

You become self-conscious and I was really hard on myself. If I go down deep, I was thinking: ‘Am I worth all this celebrating?’

I’m OK being vulnerable. For this movie I had to talk about stuff I normally wouldn’t: my feelings. Especially when there are 400 people on the crew.

I asked professor Dacher Keltner, an emotional expert on Inside Out: ‘[What feelings] drive at age 13?’ He said: ‘The self-conscious emotions. It’s all about social comparison.’ I was like: ‘Oh my gosh, I can see that in myself & my kids. It’s what we’re hard-wired to do’”

WORDS The Inside Story of Inside Out 2’s New Emotions (A.frame, 13/6/24)

MORE FROM MANN

• “[At 13] I hated everyone looking at me. You’re suddenly self-aware & see nothing but flaws. We want teens to look at themselves in the mirror and love what they see inside and out”

• “If you’ve ever asked a teenager how their day was & heard: ‘Fine’ – that’s Ennui”

• [On puberty] “Neural pathways are being torn down, new ones are being formed and they’re not connected yet. I was like: cranes, construction crews, demolition, then a wrecking ball comes through and workers tear the place up.

I wanted my son to enjoy this movie as much as my daughter. I wanted to make sure we’re being true to what it is to be a 13-year-old girl but in a way that you don’t have to be, or have been, a 13-year-old girl to enjoy it.

If you don’t have any feelings, you might not like this movie”

• “I wish I’d had a movie like this when I was growing up because you go through a lot and think it’s only you. It was a big opportunity to tell a lot of people they’re not alone”

• “We wanted to tell a story that made some teenagers’ lives that much easier. It’s all about navigating emotions. A lot of it is me trying to connect to myself as a teenager and all the changes I went through that helped me get through all the changes I’m going through as a director”

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Writer Ruth Whippman, author of BOYMUM: RAISING BOYS IN AN AGE OF TOXIC MASCULINITY, says…

“‘We need to do for boys what my mom’s generation started for girls: dig into the socialisation and expand our sense of what boys can be.’

Are boys more violent in how they play; less able to sit still and listen; avoidant to forming deep, empathic friendships?

Sadly, boy babies are biologically more sensitive and emotionally fragile than girls but less likely to be touched, soothed, chatted to and picked up when they cry. And parents read with girls and talk to them about their feelings more than with boys.

In 2012 Lego launched a Friends range for girls but marketed weapons to boys. ‘Girls got Friends; boys got enemies,’ says Whippman.

Boys’ tales seem limited to battles, adventures and vehicles. Boys have no magazines showing them relational dilemmas where they have to consider others’ feelings. Books, films and TV shows don’t place boys at the heart of relationship-driven narratives.

A study found boys up to age 5 are ‘as capable as girls at reading emotions and forming close friendships – but by 6 or 7 they subscribe to classic notions of masculinity and become emotionally distant from friends.’

 

Male friendships tend to be surface-level and defined by banter and one-upmanship. Boys don’t want this but don’t know how to change the competitive dynamic.

 

‘Boys are barely out of the Lego-battle stage when TikTok and YouTube algorithms show them masculinity content,’ says Whippman.

A 2023 survey found 80% of UK boys aged 16-17 consumed Andrew Tate content: ‘Talk about Tate with kids. But don’t just have one talk.’

 

Make boys feel seen and loved and engage with them about their emotions. Male role models starting the conversation can counter the idea that emotions are ‘women’s business’.

 

Encourage boys to emotionally interact with male mates so they improve at sharing emotions and learn to ask friends how they’re feeling and offer support.

 

‘Boys and men get material advantages – at the cost of their freedom to access the full range of feeling and connection,’ she says. ‘We need to listen to boys’”

 

 

WORDS How to make sure you don’t raise toxic sons (Independent, 8/6/24) IMAGE Karen Norris/Christian Science Monitor

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COMING OF AGE author Dr Lucy Foulkes recalls: “When we were 12 and 13, there was shoplifting. We drank. There was smoking too, cigarettes and weed. Year 8, for its volatility combined with our vulnerability, was one of the wildest years of my life.

Fast-forward 23 years and Jonathan Haidt’s book Anxious Generation focuses on mental health problems increasing among teens. He links this to social media and a decline in exploratory play, saying we should ban smartphones for under-14s and social media for under-16s.

Adolescents being taught about mental health, and public awareness campaigns, have contributed to the increase in reported rates of problems. More teens seek help; others mislabel lower levels of distress as a problem. If my friends and I had filled out anxiety questionnaires, our scores would have been off the scale.

I recently wrote Coming Of Age and was struck by how powerful and self-shaping adults’ adolescent memories are and by how similar struggles are across generations.

Teens succumb to peer pressure and copy friends. They smoke and drink with and because of friends.

With social media you have more people to compare yourself with, you edit and curate how you present yourself and you quantify how well liked you are by your peers. Embarrassing things happen in front of a bigger audience.

 

Most teens do not have mental health problems but they do have social media.

 

For marginalised teens – eg those who are autistic or LGBTQ+ – the internet can allow them to understand themselves and foster relationships.Parents can help teens navigate what they find hard about social media. Be interested in what your teen is doing, teach them online-safety basics and support them to be open about what happens to them or what they see.

 

A teen glued to a screen is not a sign of digital ‘addiction’ – it’s a manifestation of them caring about peers.

 

Today’s teens are not the anxious generation. They’re navigating adolescence and expressing it with the language adults have given them. They’re resourceful & resilient. We should respect the complexity of their lives”

 

 

FROM I’m an expert on adolescence: here’s why a smartphone ban isn’t the answer, and what we should do instead (Guardian, 15/6/24) IMAGE Eiko Ojala

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Broadcaster Catherine Carr, mum of boys aged 13 and 15 and creator of radio show ABOUT THE BOYS, says…

“In talking to boys aged 13-19, I was amazed at their openness, thoughtfulness, honesty and vulnerability. One said: ‘People think boys are bratty, spoiled, disgusting and rude. It’s not true.’

Another said: ‘Men come across as powerful figures that need to protect. But men have off days and we are fragile.’

Older boys talk about patriarchy being bad for boys and concerns about mental health: ‘80% of suicides are men.’

I never worried about how #MeToo and Everyone’s Invited – which raise awareness of sexual assault against girls and women – might affect boys. But many are now fearful of sex andrelationships.

Some internalise ideas that boys are ‘bad’ or don’t initiate relationships because of perceived risks.

The mother of a 16-year-old who tells her about dating and hooking up says it’s ‘quite common’ among his friends to record their partner, on their phone, giving verbal consent before sex – or to record the whole event.


Boys say oral sex is more common at year 11 [age 15-16] parties than other kinds of sex. They say watching porn gave them unrealistic ideas about what their body and face should look like during intercourse and what they should do with or to their partner. ‘We know it’s an unrealistic expectation,’ one boy said, ‘but you still have to fill those boots.’

Boys worry that porn shows penetrative sex lasting 25 minutes and were reassured to hear that on average it lasts 3 to 4 minutes.

Many are angry that the adults in their lives dodge uncomfortable conversations about sex, including ‘what to do and where everything even is’.

Sex is connected to YouTube and TikTok and boys are aware that porn content seeps into almost every place they go online.

Ideas of what it means to be a man and how to start a relationship get tangled up with being ‘stone-faced’, ‘manning up’ and being ‘emotionally expressive and vulnerable’.

Warm, thoughtful and frank, the boys kept coming back to feelings: ‘They don’t think we’re soft inside. It’s hard to open up as a boy’”



WORDS From doomscrolling to sex: being a boy in 2024 (Guardian, 5/5/24) IMAGE @eduukpo12/Unsplash

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“There is a disturbing rise in the number of teenage boys demanding ROUGH SEX and CHOKING partners as young as 12, research reveals.

About two-thirds of 5,000 female respondents to a survey by Dr Debby Herbenick had been choked by a partner during sex – and 40% were aged 12-17 the first time. In a previous survey, it was 25%.

Experts warn that the normalisation of rough sex in popular culture, the accessibility of porn & social media are driving this trend.

Sex researcher and writer Peggy Orenstein was startled when, during a 2020 Q&A, a 16-year-old girl came to her asking: ‘How come boys all want to choke you?’

In class a boy, age 15, asked: ‘Why do girls all want to be choked?’

Choking, a common form of rough sex, is a form of strangulation, as it sees pressure being placed on the neck.

In the New York Times, Orenstein writes: ‘Sexual strangulation, nearly always of women in heterosexual porn, has long been a staple on free sites – those default sources of sex ed for teens. It’s not uncommon for behaviours to be normalised in porn, move within a few years to mainstream media, then be adopted in the bedroom.

Sexual asphyxiation was unusual 20 years ago. Now parents, educators, medical professionals and teens themselves urgently need to understand the health consequences.’

In 2019 a high-school girl was choked in the pilot episode of Euphoria and in 2023 in The Idol. Last year’s single by Jack Harlow, Lovin On Me, says: ‘I’m vanilla baby, I’ll choke you, but I ain’t no killer, baby.’

Herbenick is keen for all parents, teachers and caregivers to be aware of the trend and possible harm it can cause.

In her book Yes, Your Kid, she says that many young people believe sex should be rough.

If they don’t take part, university students worry they’ll be branded as boring or will be ‘vanilla shamed’.

Some young men worry they won’t be viewed as masculine if they don’t choke or slap their partner.

 

Young men learn about rough sex from porn, while young women pick up on it from social media memes and TikTok, Herbenick explains.

They also pick up on ideas about rough sex from friends and popular culture including music and TV shows.


Parents should inform their kids of the dangers of rough sex, says Herbenick – namely that choking can cause brain damage & death. There is no ‘safe’ way to choke anyone”


WORDS Disturbing rise in teenage boys demanding rough sex and choking girls as young as 12 (Daily Mail, 12/4/24)

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“Men are not OK. The problem begins in boyhood and so should the solution, says @MrHealthTeacher Christopher Pepper, co-author of the upcoming book TALK TO YOUR BOYS.

 

‘Boys often don’t learn the basics of social relationships,’ he says. Social skills, like making plans to meet a friend, aren’t usually taught, so boys can lose close friendships with other boys even though they want them.

Andrew Tate figured out boys are interested in talking about gender, masculinity and what it means to be a successful man. There’s an opening for adults to step up to positive conversations about how men can be.


TALKING TIPS

• Make it clear you’re trustworthy BEFORE you need to have difficult conversations (eg about depression or substance abuse). When a boy invites you into his world – talks about a song, meme, video – be curious. Listen. Keep the lines of communication open

 

• Model taking care of others. Do boys in your life see you being a good friend? Do you talk about people you care about?Boys learn a restricted version of masculinity – what you’re not allowed to do (eg cry). Don’t criticise boys for expressing emotion.

 

Boys learn a restricted version of masculinity – what you’re not allowed to do (eg cry). Don’t criticise boys for expressing emotion.

Celebrate when boys are caring. Say: ‘I saw how responsible you were with your sister when she was upset.’

Things coded as feminine are often life skills that will help boys grow into good friends, partners and dads

• When boys blame girls or feminism for problems, that’s a red flag. Often it happens via social media.

Encourage critical thinking. Say: ‘I was surprised to hear you say that. Tell me more.’

Boys often dismiss offensive statements, eg about rape, as jokes. That can be a signal that they want to learn more or don’t understand it.

It can make an impact if a man says: ‘Joking about sexual harassment is not OK with me. I want to tell you why.’ Saying these things gets easier with practice.

Ask for a do-over of tough conversations. Say: ‘I realise I kind of misspoke. I wonder if we can talk again’

• Check your stereotypes: hire a boy as a babysitter.

Sometimes adults talk about teenage boys as if they’re scary or a different species. Recognise boys’ humanity”



WORDS How to talk to boys so they grow into better men (Vox, 12/3/24)

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A new Elmer story – written in 2022 by DAVID MCKEE just before he died at age 87 – is out next year. McKee created the rainbow elephant after his Anglo-Indian daughter was “left in tears by a racial taunt”. The message of celebrating your true colours made Elmer an LGBT+ hero…

“In Elmer And The White Bear, Elmer meets a bear trying to find his way home after floating from the frozen north on a tiny scrap of melting ice.

He’s lost in the jungle ‘because of global warming. The world getting warmer.’

McKee wanted to write a story to help parents talk about the climate emergency with their kids, said his son: ‘Many organisations wanted to use Elmer as a mascot. My father never wanted that, because Elmer belongs to everybody. So the idea of making a statement with Elmer… was a first.’

In an early version Elmer says: ‘We’re going to have to do something about this [global heating]. We can’t just leave the fridge door open.’

McKee said about his desire to write discursive books that adults would want to talk about with their kids: ‘Picture books should be shared and I like the fact that you’ve got the adult audience. Having something to talk about in the book, not just a tale with a happy ending, interests me’”

WORDS Elmer and the climate crisis: lost story by David McKee set to be published (Guardian, 7/4/24)
 


MORE FROM MCKEE


“So many people see things in Elmer that he has taken on a huge life. Elmer is all about accepting who you are while celebrating difference. We are all different but the differences make the world so rich. At first Elmer wanted to be like the other elephants. In the end he had to be himself.

I liken the books to my children: you try to guide them but they have to live their own lives.

We have to work together. That’s a big message of Elmer’s: we need each other. We can’t have all these fears and prejudices.

Sometimes I think I am just writing a story, then I realise I am talking about an issue. You hear terrible stories of families fleeing something awful. They are outsiders. I have the right to go where I want – I feel we should grant that right to others. We can’t just say to people: ‘Don’t come.’ We should be trying to help. [So in Elmer And The Hippos] I had the elephants telling Elmer to get rid of some new animals, but Elmer works with them. 


Elmer And The Lost Treasure is about realising the value of things other than money – because culture can be the greatest treasure of our lives, can’t it?”

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Writer EMMELINE CLEIN, age 29, on Dead Weight: Essays On Hunger And Harm…

“I wrote this book for anyone who has blamed, hated or hurt themselves for their desire to conform to beauty standards that demand self-harm.

Disordered eating is one of our era’s seminal social, economic, political & cultural issues, not a niche set of clinical diseases or an outdated feminist concern.

Corporations profit from beauty standards via money generated by the weight-loss industry & eating-disorder treatment complex.

[I would tell my 12-year-old self] You are violently misunderstood by a society that wants you to hate & hurt yourself. You’ve come up with coping mechanisms you share with other girls, but those strategies won’t help as much as you think.

I hope you can talk to other girls honestly about how you all feel about food & your bodies. You might realise you’re less alone than you think, less lost. Other women have treasure maps.

There are powerful systems attempting to minimise & manipulate us but they are not nearly as smart as women are. 

So many of us have been hurt by this culture of disordered eating. If we listen to each other’s stories, enough of us might decide to be the screw that doesn’t turn right, that breaks the machine”



WORDS Author Emmeline Clein on the “Machine” That Fuels Eating Disorders and Grinds Up Young Women (Self, 25/3/24) 

EXTRA CREDIT Listen to Our Society’s Disordered Eating With Emmeline Clein – Next Question With Katie Couric podcast (7/3/24)

ALSO see the excellent Good Girls: A Story And Study Of Anorexia by Hadley Freeman


MORE FROM CLEIN

• “Society wants your eating disorder to take up so much of your brainpower that you don’t have time to think about other political, social & economic issues. That is not a failure of yours.

Once you realise you’ve been reading the room you’re locked into correctly, you can get the key to exit that room”

• “Women are often like: ‘What woman hasn’t had an eating disorder?’”

• “It’s painful exerting control on your body, emotions & soul. It’s a masochistic coping mechanism.

What if we throw other things in the toolbox & stop having a toolbox only filled with knives?”

 

• “As a young girl growing up in this country, you really are receiving messages that prize thinness from all sides – it is prized in your GP’s office, on TV shows, by celebrities. Those lessons we need to unlearn to save each other.

 

This isn’t a story about calories or weight loss; it’s about lies, love, community, care, capital & hunger.

It is so easy to understand yourself as someone who wasn’t ‘strong enough’” to resist these forces or who artificially overvalued fitness and therefore is ‘crazy’.

You aren’t crazy. You read between the lines of a message society was sending you & developed a coping mechanism that is also a disease, enthralled to a beauty standard that you’ve been bombarded with”

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🌈 “At the 2024 Oscars, RYAN GOSLING’s rendition of the song I’m Just Ken from the movie Barbie was somehow more campy, flamboyant & homoerotic than the film version. His Kenergetic performance stole the show.

 

The song, and Gosling’s portrayal of Ken in the film, were designed to both embrace and subvert ideas of toxic masculinity. But his Oscar performance took that to the next level – in a glittery hot-pink suit, he caressed the faces of the adoring Kens who surrounded him on stage.

 

Though the song’s implicit message is that Ken’s worth is tied to his heterosexuality, the Kens whose faces Gosling caressed were seemingly all hot for one another as they performed a dance routine that could have been lifted out of the Rockettes (an expression of regressive hyperfemininity).

 

This was the definition of a queer performance, one that embodies ‘resistance to the normative in terms of gender, sexuality and dramaturgy’, as the authors of What’s Queer About Queer Performance Now? wrote.

 

In flamboyantly and homoerotically embracing an ostensibly toxic and cisgender/heterosexual brand of masculinity,
 

Gosling’s performance destabilised historical understandings of gender and sexuality as fixed and binary. And the performance showed how fragile such constructions are.

‘Masculine and feminine roles are not biologically fixed but socially constructed,’ philosopher Judith Butler wrote in Gender Trouble.

This is what made Ken’s performance so KENERGISING and exhilarating: it was as if we were all suddenly in on the joke that is gender.

Gosling integrated hyperfemininity, hypermasculinity, heterosexuality and homosexuality. They complemented each other. And in refusing to subscribe to one expression of gender and sexuality, his performance, like so much of queer culture, offers us divergent expressions of these identities.

Yes, it was subversive (inasmuch as a capitalistic, white, mainstream, homonationalist expression of queerness can be). But its fluidity also meant it was unifying. Most of us could find some element of ourselves in it”


🌈 WORDS Ryan Gosling’s Oscar night performance was wonderfully queer (MSNBC, 11/3/24) 

ON GOSLING 

• “Ryan was like: ‘I’m gonna kiss the cameraman’s hand. Can you just make sure he’s cool if I kiss his hand?’”

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🌈 Calling everyone – whether you are a parent or not, but especially parents who are in favour of LGBT+ inclusiveness – to fill out the public consultation on the government’s guidance for English schools on trans and gender-questioning kids (deadline: Tuesday 12 March).

It’s about school policy towards children who want to socially transition via having a different name, pronouns, uniform etc.

The implementation of this guidance will affect how teachers support gender-diverse kids and what is said in the classroom about LGBT+ people and issues.

The concerns are that implementing this guidance will encourage bullying, make tra
ns kids feel unsafe at school and hold gender-questioning kids back from being themselves.

Yes, as the government says, this is “a highly sensitive, complex issue”.

As parents, whether we know and love gender-diverse kids or whether we’re a supportive ally, let’s add our voices to the strength of feeling from people in favour of an LGBT+ inclusive world.

 

It’s a historic moment – because how LGBT+ kids are treated at school and beyond will affect not only them but all children!

 

Because if LGBT+ children feel free to express themselves, all of our kids will grow up appreciating difference.

 

And being exposed to diversity is positive – it’s horizon expanding!

 

🌈 Meanwhile to honour murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey and the work of her now-activist mother Esther go to the Brianna Ghey: Peace in Mind fundraiser page

 

And try talking to your child about their thoughts or experiences of LGBT+ people and issues. You could start by watching the Outspoken video LGBT+ Kids & Allies and/or read our blog post “Discover who your child is – that’s an adventure”: on LGBT+ kids and allies

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Journalist Emily Bashforth, age 24, on actor Maisie Williams, age 26, starving herself to play Catherine Dior in TV drama The New Look…

“In the age of promoting body positivity and demolishing diet culture, I thought we were long past celebrities spouting publicly about their dramatic weight-loss methods.

But Maisie revealed to Harper’s Bazaar the shocking ways she became ‘emaciated’ by heavily restricting food intake.

I won’t divulge anything because it’s not needed – this grim story exists in many forms online and I refuse to add to the pile.

Why do actors still torture their bodies for our visual entertainment – and why do they publicise dangerous weight-loss methods without a sliver of consideration for the consequences?

I struggled with disordered eating at a very young age. My desires to restrict in early primary school snowballed into anorexia at age 12. It ruined my life.

I obsessively Googled weight-loss techniques, adopting bizarre methods on my quest for thinness and control.

 

Pro-anorexia Tumblr was my safe haven. I scrolled through the darkest, most disturbing content you can imagine while my family remained blissfully unaware. They assumed I was studying; I was revising how to conceal my starvation from them.

 

This is why it terrifies me to hear Maisie and others so freely discussing the extreme lengths they went to.It proves how normalised disordered eating has become.

 

Celebrities, albeit unknowingly, contribute to the toxic culture of treating weight loss as an accomplishment.

 

People with an eating disorder will fixate on A-listers’ bodies and the treacherous paths they ventured down.

 

With awareness of eating disorders comes a repackaged version of diet culture in which celebrities and influencers need to be creative to promote their ghastly weight-loss schemes to avoid criticism. TikTok is a fine example with concepts like ‘girl dinner’, ‘legging legs’, undereye bags, a scrawny Tim Burton character ‘look’.

 

Note to stars: ‘Be on your own journey. Just don’t force your damaging weight-loss techniques onto us. We didn’t ask’”

 

 

WORDS Maisie Williams is the latest celebrity to join an incredibly damaging trend (Metro, 7/2/24)

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“Boys & men from generation Z [ages 12 to 27] are more likely than older baby boomers to believe that feminism has done more harm than good, according to a poll of over 3,600 people.

• One in 4 UK men aged 16-29 believe it is harder to be a man than a woman

• 16% of gen Z males feel #feminism has done more harm than good (13% of over-60s)

• 37% of men aged 16-29 find ‘toxic masculinity’ an unhelpful term – roughly double the number of young women


‘This is a new generational pattern,’ said Prof Bobby Duffy, Policy Institute director. ‘Normally younger generations are more comfortable with emerging social norms since they grew up with them as a natural part of their lives.’

Prof Rosie Campbell, director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s, said: ‘This group is the first to derive most of its information from social media.

There’s been a zeitgeist where young women feel they can own the idea of feminist identity.


Young men hear a lot about girl power but don’t yet understand the inequalities we know are in the world when you hit work and childcare.’

• A fifth of those who have heard of influencer Andrew Tate look favourably on him

Tate, who talked about hitting and choking women, says he is ‘absolutely a misogynist’.

Ethnic minority men are most likely to follow Tate – more than a third say he ‘raises important points about real threats to male identity and gender roles’ vs 12% of white men.

Tate preaches that young men should take control of their lives, shouting in a recent video of him vaping, firing a gun and driving a sports car: ‘You’re not supposed to be happy. You’re supposed to be monumentally influential and capable.’

Colin, a London youth worker, explained: ‘Young men from disadvantaged communities hear a lot of talk around policies to tackle inequality and racial discrimination. That’s abstract. People don’t feel the difference.

Tate talks about immediacy and that’s what people find attractive. He says: “This is how to be a man. This is how to get rich.”

He offers an alternative to the slow process of political change’”



WORDS Gen Z boys and men more likely than baby boomers to believe feminism harmful, says poll (Guardian, 1/2/24)

 

EXTRA CREDIT I’m Andrew Tate’s audience and I know why he appeals to young men (Guardian, 6/1/24)

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Happy Safer Internet Day! The theme: “Inspiring change? Making a difference, managing influence & navigating change online”

The UK Safer Internet Centre has tips and quizzes for young people plus tips for parents, such as… start a Family Agreement about tech use, talk about the internet, keep up to date with sites and games your child enjoys, do online things with your child so they learn how to behave online and what to do if they’re worried or upset about something they see, model how to be safe online and demonstrate good tech habits yourself

• Tell kids aged 7-11: Have fun online, play, chat and learn things, and if you find something you love, share it with friends and family. If something worries or upsets you, tell a trusted adult and they can help block or report it. Before you post, consider how your actions and words can make others feel. Look at a range of sources, websites, videos and apps to get a balanced view and hear different opinions so you learn more and form your own ideas

• Tell kids aged 11-14: When you post or comment, think about the impact on others. Challenge yourself to make someone happier today: leave a kind comment, share a funny post, like a friend’s video. When something isn’t right or something unkind happens, be an upstander: stand up for others, offer support or

report hateful content. There’s a wide range of voices, influencers and information online, but take a balanced approach to interacting with content so you can form your own opinions and understand the facts. Do your own research and use multiple sources. Games updates, new content and breaking news can be overwhelming, so talk to friends, family or a trusted adult to help you manage your emotions

 

• Tell kids aged 14-18: Online you can educate yourself, inspire others to make a difference (eg on climate change, fast fashion, equality etc) and hear different perspectives. Create awareness posts, sign petitions, research charities. Your ideas and voice matter! Make informed choices about who to interact with. Unfollow, mute or block accounts if they make you uncomfortable. If you feel under pressure, talk with friends, family or an adult you trust

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Director Nicole Newnham on her acclaimed documentary

The Disappearance Of Shere Hite

“It’s not unusual to see celebrities or fictional heroines discuss the joys of clitoral stimulation. Cara Delevingne in Planet Sex. Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag. Emma Stone in Poor Things.

In the early 70s, though, such diddling was frowned upon. A 1976 book by sexologist Shere Hite, The Hite Report, revolutionised how we think about female pleasure. Still the 30th bestselling book of all time, it transformed millions of lives. A new film asks: why isn’t Hite a household name?

Hite decided more research was needed about the female orgasm. She devised and sent out an idiosyncratic 58-question survey to which over 3,000 American women anonymously responded. Most said they found it easier to climax by masturbating than by having conventional intercourse. They shared their views on cunnilingus, vibrators and fake orgasms, exploring their fears and fantasies in a way that still feels provocative and incredibly moving.

When Hite did a photo shoot wearing see-through tops it was, says director Nicole Newnham, playful and ‘punk’ of Hite to celebrate her body by posing semi-nude: ‘It’s radical that these

stunning photos were taken in Shere’s mid-50s. She harnessed these kinds of images, which usually show young women as the object, and appropriated them for herself.

As a little girl, Shere had feelings that she was made to feel guilty about. Those feelings were, of course, natural’”

 

WORDS “Shere Hite revolutionalised female pleasure – so why did the world forget about her?” (Independent, 12/1/24) 

IMAGE Iris Brosch

MORE FROM NEWNHAM

• “At 12 Newnham found The Hite Report hidden in her mum’s bedside table: ‘I wasn’t growing up in an incredibly open environment around sexuality – it was more like: “Here is how things work” and not how people felt or their real experiences, because women didn’t talk about it.

 

Her research changed my life. I understood at an early age that there’s a diversity of human experiences around sexuality. Whereas mainstream culture pushes a very narrow description of sex.

 

My two sons tell me how misogyny prevails in this generation. Thankfully there is also awareness’”

• “Many women still don’t know enough about their body and women’s pleasure is often not centred in our modern definitions of sex. So Shere’s mission to ‘undefine’ sex is still incredibly relevant.

We still don’t feel comfortable talking about sex! Our own edit team had to get comfortable saying words like clitoris. Sometimes when I say clitoris in Q&As, I hear gasps in the audience.

Developing an ease and comfort talking about sex is like having a weight lifted off your shoulders. I hope the film inspires much-needed conversation!

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Hours after the British Home Office, in December 2023, announced plans to crack down on spiking – putting drugs into someone’s drink or directly into their body without their knowledge – home secretary James Cleverly, age 54, told guests at a Downing Street reception that “a little bit of Rohypnol in her drink every night” is “not really illegal if it’s only a little bit”.

He also laughed that the secret to a long marriage is making sure your spouse is “always mildly sedated so she can never realise there are better men out there”.

He later said: “I’m sorry because it clearly caused hurt; it’s potentially distracted from the work we were doing to tackle spiking to help predominantly women who are the victims of spiking and I regret that…

I made a joke. It was an awful joke, but I apologised immediately.”

[A few days later the prime minister declared matter closed.]

REACTIONS INCLUDE…

• “‘It was a joke’ is the most tired excuse in the book and no one is buying it.

Tackling spiking, and violence against women and girls [VAWG], requires a full cultural change. The ‘banter’ needs to stop” – shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding Alex Davies-Jones

• “We have a home secretary who thinks sexual assault is funny. Women’s safety is no joke and a government serious about tackling VAWG should have a zero-tolerance approach to misogyny” – Anna Birley, Reclaim These Streets

• “That he felt these comments were appropriate to make, even in the spirit of jest, in such a public and official capacity really reflects how seriously rape culture still has a grip on our society.

The comments could be upsetting, triggering and retraumatising for anyone who’s experienced drug rape, drugging or sexual violence – which is very many people” – Katie Russell, CEO of Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds

• “It’s sickening that the senior minister in charge of keeping women safe thinks that something as terrifying as drugging women is

a laughing matter.

‘Banter’ is the excuse under which misogyny is allowed to thrive” – Fawcett Society CEO Jemima Olchawski

 

WORDS Cleverly admits “awful” joke could have distracted from work to tackle spiking (Guardian, 2/1/24)

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“Don’t erase Gérard Depardieu” – an open letter by 56 prominent French figures published in Le Figaro newspaper on 25 December 2023 – claimed that the star, age 75, was the victim of a “torrent of hatred”.

Signatories – including actors Charlotte Rampling and former first lady Carla Bruni – were accused of attempting to drown out #MeToo voices. Depardieu has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by over a dozen women.

President Emmanuel Macron sparked anger by leaping to Depardieu’s defence after a documentary, Depardieu: The Fall Of An Ogre, showed footage of the actor on a 2018 trip to North Korea making obscene comments to and about women, sexually harassing a female translator and making sexual comments about a child at an equestrian centre.

The open letter said: “Gérard Depardieu is probably the greatest of all actors. When you attack Gérard Depardieu like this, it is art you are attacking. By his genius as an actor, Gérard Depardieu contributes to the artistic brilliance of our country.”

Professor Bérénice Hamidi said the letter showed that “French cinema… refuses to consider acts committed by artists as violence and condemn them.

The scale of values is clear: the lives of the women who claim to be victims of ‘Depardieu the man’ are worth nothing compared to what ‘Depardieu the artist’ is worth.

 

To denounce the actions of this person is to attack art: according to this idea, ordinary laws don’t apply to artists.”Emmanuelle Dancourt of the #MeTooMedia group, who was “appalled” by the letter, said: “The people who do this are our friends, our fathers, our husbands, our neighbours, our colleagues, people we know.”Depardieu, who had written in October: “Never, ever have I abused a woman”, called the signatories “courageous” and the letter “beautiful”.In France the #MeToo movement has often been portrayed as American sexual puritanism

 

WORDS Celebrities’ letter defending Gérard Depardieu causes outrage in France (Guardian, 27/12/23)

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🌈 Director Andrew Haigh, age 50, on All of Us Strangers, his ghost story/LGBT+ coming-of-age film with Paul Mescal of Normal People and Andrew Scott of Fleabag…

“Growing up I felt: ‘If I’m going to become a gay person, I’m not going to have a future and the only alternative is not to be gay’ – which of course you can’t not be.

I was about 9 & the kids around me knew something was different about me before I really did. So you’re like: ‘I don’t understand why you’re calling me these names.’

If you’re a queer kid, you don’t want to tell your parents you’re being bullied, because they’re going to think you’re different and that’s the last thing you want.

It’s the hardest thing, sometimes, about being queer within a family – you’re not like your parents and you have a secret.

[His father, who has dementia, forgot Haigh was gay] My dad was quiet then said: ‘Well, as long as you have found love.’ He just understood what was the important thing
.

 

My kids are 10 and 12. A lot of queer people with kids are trying to navigate: ‘Are we different? Do we have a new way of being?
 

A different way that our families can exist, because we don’t have a model? Are we trying to be like our parents were to us or to be something else?’

 

Pop music gave me hope as a kid. I’d sing The Power of Love to myself in my bedroom, not really understanding anything about myself but knowing that it was longing for something and believing that something could be possible.

 

I know a lot of young gay people who do not feel alienation. Also people close to me, younger than me, have found it very difficult. But it’s important to me that both characters in the film are not lonely because they’re gay – they are lonely because the world has made them feel different.

 

I want 15-year-olds to see this movie, not just people my age. If I had seen this film when I was 15, it would probably have made a big difference to me.

 

My childhood self would have been so amazed that I was able to tell a story about queerness and not be terrified”

 

 

🌈 WORDS “A generation of queer people are grieving for the childhood they never had”: Andrew Haigh on All of Us Strangers (Guardian, 29/12/23)

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ON THE NEW COOLNESS OF GIRLS

 

“I am 50. But in 2023 girlhood is where the party is and you don’t have to be young or female to be invited.

Like lads in the 1990s, girls have main-character energy in pop culture. This year’s biggest cultural touchpoints are a film (Barbie) and a stadium tour (Taylor Swift) about celebrating amd questioning what it means to be a girl.

‘Girl culture is dominant,’ says ex-Vogue editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay.

Sometimes this feels a lot like misogyny just got a cute new name. ‘Girlboss was a privileged, vertical idea of success for millennial women,’ says Lucie Greene of Light Years.

‘If you wouldn’t substitute boy for man, don’t say girl when you mean woman,’ says Susan Madsen, leadership professor at Utah State University.

‘Girl, to most adults, has associations of “less or weaker than”. Language is part of Everyday Sexism.’

‘It’s old-fashioned to think being a girl is an insult,’ says Hannah Martinson, a 25-year-old intern at a TV company. ‘I’ve got my book-club girls, my going-out girls, my film-nerd girls and not all are female. 
I use girl as an endearment and to say: “We are the same tribe.”’

For generation Z, girl is gender neutral, a cipher for fellowship, support, intimacy and in-jokes.

 

For older generations, girl feels like the opposite of everything they fought for,’ says Molly Logan, 50, of Irregular Labs. ‘A guy I work with, age 20, said: “Shall we have a girls’ dinner?” To him it meant a casual meet-up, a hangout. To him girl is a vibe.’

 

My daughter is 17. Pearl and her friends embrace girlhood as an identity: ‘Woman is the word people use when they talk about rights, struggling against the patriarchy. It doesn’t sound much fun, Mum,’ Pearl says. Girlhood is ‘a romanticised fantasy, nostalgic for childhood and noughties films we love, like Mean Girls’.

 

There is a power and humour in reinventing girliness as an alpha identity.

 

Maybe girlhood-for-all can be both an infuriating symbol of our ageist culture and a well-meaning gesture.

 

As Gloria Steinem reminds us, women ‘lose power as they age’. A big tent of girlhood where everyone is welcome can align more of us with being fun, attractive, vital”

 

WORDS Move over, lads! How the world turned girly (Guardian, 2/12/23) 

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WHITE RIBBON DAY – 25 November – empowers boys and men to stand up against violence. Because it’s NOT

a women’s issue.

Respect to the Football Association of Wales for dedicating its Wales v Türkiye match in November to White Ribbon Day.

 

Nearly 1 in 4 girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching in UK schools.


Let’s #ChangeTheStory!
 


Kids aged 14+ can take the White Ribbon Promise:

“I promise to never use, excuse or remain silent about men’s violence against women.”



With kids of any age, how can you talk about challenging gender stereotypes – and standing up for, supporting and not hurting others?

We’re fans of parents using the White Ribbon UK school activities (under Working With Young People) to talk about gender equality, sexual harassment and more…

 

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ON FROZEN’S EFFECT ON GIRLS – AND BOYS

 

“It’s 10 years since the premiere of Frozen. Like Star Wars, it’s part of our cultural wallpaper and a multibillion-dollar industry.

Princess Elsa struggles to control her powers when angry or afraid, so her parents teach her to ‘conceal, not feel’ emotions.

Her storyline – being sent away for accidentally hurting her sister Anna – is recognisable to any child banished to their room for fighting with a sibling. Watching Elsa struggle sends kids a message that you can experience dark, angry feelings and still be loved.

‘It’s comforting to a child who hasn’t learned emotional regulation,’ says behavioural scientist Pragya Agarwal, ‘and for them to see that you can make mistakes and be a bit weird.’

In 2008 Emma and Abi Moore co-founded the Pinkstinks campaign against gender-stereotyped marketing – eg science kits ‘for boys’ vs pink toy kitchens. Pinkstinks got hate mail but their I’m No princess T-shirts were popular.

In 2011 Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter captured a backlash against the passive, often oddly sexualised ideas of femininity peddled to girls.

Anna and Elsa embody the wasp-waisted, white beauty of Snow White (1937). Girls had to wait for the more athletic, brown-skinned 2016 @Disney princess Moana and Mirabel Madrigal in 2021’s Encanto to see more realistic body shapes.

 

A 2016 study of 3- to 6-year-olds led by Sarah Coyne of Brigham Young University found that engaging with Disney princesses was associated with gender-stereotypical behaviour in preschool girls but had no impact on body image.

 

But princess culture offers girls ‘storylines where they’re the protagonist’ while boys exposed to it ‘do a better job of expressing emotion in relationships’.

 

The power ballad Let It Go has been adopted as a coming-out song, with the pressure to hide Elsa’s nature seen as code for suppressing her sexuality.Some feel the walls of ice between Elsa and the world are evidence that she’s autistic.

 

Frozen proves the box-office value of strong female leads, eg Marvel’s female avengers, She-Ra, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor & Barbie”

 

 

WORDS “It’s about owning your power!” How Frozen changed a generation of girls. And boys. And Hollywood (Guardian, 16/11/23)

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Before Cara Natterson & Vanessa Kroll Bennett did the rounds of TV shows to discuss their smash-hit book This Is So Awkward – Modern Puberty Explained, the very dynamic duo told us…

CARA Every adult looking back at puberty cringes. Those experiences, traumas & joys inform their life essentially forever.

Puberty used to be a time when you’d cringe for 2 years and you were good.

Some kids now start it at age 7 & others at 12, 13 or 14.

If you don’t talk openly with your child, someone else will – like the internet & Dr Google or a 12-year-old on the bus.

You take off your professional hat at home. I’m doing the best with all the information I have, but my kids will tell you that I screw it up all the time. I’ve gotten #puberty things and a million-and-one parenting things wrong. In my house it’s: “The cobbler’s children certainly have no shoes.”


VANESSA I have 3 sons and a daughter in some stage of adolescence & not one fits any stereotype of how kids feel or act according to gender.

Learning how to have hard conversations with your kid about bras, vaginal discharge, erections etc is a training ground for having lifelong conversations on tricky topics.You can say: “I’m uncomfortable, but this topic is so important I’m going to get over my discomfort.” Kids appreciate that.

 

[On having Nick Kroll, Big Mouth creator, as a brother] At sleepovers we pored over the book What’s Happening To Me?, which in the early 80s was pretty risqué. Not having parents breathing down our necks allowed for openness and humour, though our mom was upfront about bodies and sexuality. Nick’s work is the soul-baring expression of his youth.

 

My kids have a real sense of humour about having a mom who works with sex-ed stuff. When I said to my 17-year-old: “Your body language is telling me something’s going on” he was like: “Mom, can you leave your Puberty Podcast crap at the door?”This work is actually about closing our mouths and listening better. That’s made me a better parent…

 

 

WORDS “Living with a brain under major construction”: how This Is So Awkward helps parents handle puberty (Outspoken Sex Ed, 9/11/23)

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Vagina Museum founder Florence Schechter on using the correct terms for body parts, like vulva…

“Vulva shame contributes to body dysmorphia and body dissatisfaction.

Vulva shame and stigma make it harder for us to talk about bigger things in our lives, like reproductive rights, abortion, healthcare and sex.

Why does vulva shame exist? The patriarchy.

The Number 1 way to fight vulva shame is normalisation!

Teach your child the proper anatomical words from as young as possible.

You have to get there early before shame sets in and your child picks up on societal messages.

 

And target teenagers so they will have a lifelong love of vulvas!”

 

We were fascinated to hear Florence – author of V: An Empowering Celebration Of The Vulva And Vagina – this month at the WOW (Women of the World) 2023 festival!

In her talk The Big V, she set out to “smash stigma, label your labia and fight for your vulva’s rights”.

 

In March 2017 Florence tweeted: “PEOPLE There is a penis museum in Iceland but no vagina museum ANYWHERE. Who wants to start one with me?” After the Vagina Museum set up camp in London’s Camden Market, by March 2021 some 120,000 people had visited the site.

 

EXTRA CREDIT! Read Campaign begins to save world’s first Vagina Museum” – where exhibits include giant glittery tampons – after founders’ property guardianship ends at short notice (Daily Mail, 31/1/23) and our blog post Vulvas vs vaginas – what can I say? (31/1/22)

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East London student Zaara Chadda, 16, discusses the new show Consent – which Channel 4 calls a “bold, authentic drama about an elite school where lines of sexual consent are dangerously blurred” – and her own lived experiences…

 

“You can’t even eat a banana at school these days, it’s become so overtly sexualised.

 

Snide provoking comments like ‘she knows what she’s doing’ and ‘girls are so dramatic’ and ‘girls are so sensitive’ are common. Boys will say things like: ‘Sure, the stuff [Andrew Tate] says about women is wrong, but he motivates people to go to the gym, so it’s not all bad.’

 

Consent portrayed the pressures we face as teenagers today: that boys need to have the confidence to make the first move; and girls need to be attractive enough that boys will make that first move on them.

 

It also accurately shows how many teenagers make decisions based on receiving validation from their friends. These pressures are timeless, but the rise of social media, porn culture and toxic misogynists like Andrew Tate has only made things worse. 

Naturally my mum found the show shocking, but vital. She says it’s helped her to feel she can protect me better as a daughter, and it opened up a conversation between us regarding party culture. It might have been uncomfortable viewing, but it’s certainly helped me to feel free to tell her about any experiences I may have at parties or elsewhere in the future”

 

 

WORDS & IMAGE Consent: “I’m a London sixth former and Channel 4’s new drama felt very real – that’s what made it horrifying” (Evening Standard, 17/2/23)

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Teach Us Consent founder Chanel Contos, who made the BBC 100 Women 2022 list, age 24…

 

“Once I was kissing someone (quite casually, I might add) and he put his hand around my neck and started to choke me. I moved his hand away from me and said: ‘Why are you doing that?’ and he said: ‘I dunno, I thought you’d like it.’ When I told him I didn’t, he seemed genuinely surprised.

 

It made me sad to think about the amount of girls who would have just ‘gone along with it’ in that moment – including myself a few years ago. I would have known myself well enough to know that being choked wasn’t something that sexually turned me on, however I don’t know if I would have been able to distinguish between enjoying a sexual encounter because the man I was with was enjoying it, or because I truly enjoyed it myself.

Separating true consent from the desire to give your male partner sexual satisfaction is difficult.

 

But I suggest that a good place to start is to equip young girls and women, who have grown up in an era where pornography has shaped every inch of their sexual landscape, with the capabilities to decide if it is an act they truly want to engage in”

WORDS Sexual choking is now so common that many young people don’t think it even requires consent. That’s a problemby Chanel Contos (Guardian, 7/12/22)  IMAGE India Hartford Davis for Side-Note

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