My mother is a wonderfully determined woman, but there was something particularly focused about her that afternoon. “Alexander, I think we need to talk”. What followed was an incredibly awkward ‘sex talk’ that only now am I able to look back on and appreciate the intent behind the petals.
“You are a flower”, she started, “filled with beautiful petals” – she’d already lost me at this point, but there was no turning back. Mum went on to explain that each time you have sex with a new partner, you lose a petal (an interesting theory that I’m convinced she read in an outdated parenting guide). The end of the talk finished with this cliffhanger question: “what kind of flower do you want to be when you find that someone special… one in full blossom or a petal-less stem?”
I was 15 at the time, and I remember the triumphant smile as she walked away satisfied with a job well done. I, on the other hand, was even more confused than before. We’ve since had conversations over the years and able to look back and laugh. It turns out that the message mum was trying to get across was not as much about flowers and partners, but more to do with respectful sex and what is the best version of my sexual self? Something I’ve now come to understand as sexual ethics.
As young adults, many of us feel pressure from unwritten ‘rules’ about relationships and what expectations exist around behaving in certain ways. These ‘rules’ are often reinforced by the media, popular culture and peer influence – at times they may seem inescapable! While occasionally the messages we receive about our sexuality are positive, unfortunately, they also often reflect values or beliefs that aren’t always healthy, fair or equal.
Here is an alternative guideline from The Practical Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships that focuses on making love, sex and relationships better – ultimately promoting more fun, less pressure, fewer misunderstandings, and greater fairness. It’s an ethical framework that consists of four simple yet effective steps:
- Taking care of me
This means asking, is this what I really want to do? Am I safe emotionally and physically? Is the other person treating me with respect and concern?
- Taking care of you
How does what I want effect the other person? How do I know? It’s important to check, and while conversations can be awkward, they are worth it in the long run.
- Having an equal say
Do we have equal power, or is one person getting their way most of the time? When it comes to sex, a person owns their body and has the right to control who has pleasure from it.
- Learning as we go
Few of us are born knowing how to ‘do’ relationships. We can learn from our mistakes. What would have made the situation better? What am I doing, what am I not doing? What can I learn from this?
While a lot of this may seem like common sense, it can be easy to overlook these things when in the heat of the moment or influenced by others. What would I tell my 15-year-old self if I had the chance over again? Sexuality is something to be thoughtfully explored, enjoyed and respected. Take time to consider this ethical framework and build your sexual identity around it. Forget the petals and count the memories while going about love, sex and relationships the ethical way.
For more information on The Practical Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships: A teaching resource for Years 7 to 10, see http://www.lovesexrelationships.edu.au