Screen shot 2015-06-12 at 9.58.51 AMAt my 21st birthday bash, Mum took down the house with a killer speech. In one of the many anecdotes calculated to embarrass me in front of my friends, she described a morning scene of our distant past, driving me to school in her old Corolla, where, in the static din of 3AW talkback radio, I pulled out the question: “Hey Ma… what’s masturbation?”

Ever the skilled multi-tasker, Mum deftly negotiated the peak hour snarl of Maroondah Highway while illuminating her curious eight-year-old on the virtues of self-love. It was testament to her parental agility; a woman unafraid of teaching her son the very basics of life. The way it ought to be.

My inaugural hand love lesson was conducted the way most of my early knowledge about sex came about — not in peak hour as such, but just as candid, bereft of any awkwardness or confusion. It did not come from a responsible, thoughtful education system. This did not exist. It came from a family unit that valued chats about pink bits and bean flicking over roast chicken on Sundays. I was one of the lucky; for most of my friends, asking parents about wanking at the dinner table would have generated some serious indigestion. Still today, an era where sex is rife, simmering in a sea of ubiquitous porn, embedded in the subtext of consumerism, the open discussion of sordid deals like masturbation remains a significant taboo.

Not long after asking Mum the question, I started Grade 5. Our teacher, Miss Cope, a bookish woman (who dressed like a missionary that would never enjoy the pleasure of missionary), indulged the class in a rather shite sex education documentary called “The Wonder of Living”. It was one of the few Catholic primary school vetted sex-ed VHSs of the 90s; a miracle in itself considering that amongst its many obfuscated diatribes on hetero baby-makin’ (a step away from the ‘stork’ narrative), the dreaded ‘M’ word seemed to have slipped through the censored cut. The kids wanted answers.

“Mum deftly negotiated the peak hour snarl of Maroondah Highway while illuminating her curious eight-year-old on the virtues of self-love.”

“Perhaps… ahem… you can ask your parents when you get home,” said Miss Cope, passing the buck through pursed lips. A few did, returning home armed with the question to quaking parents none too wise about the nature of hand love themselves. Later schoolyard chat revealed mixed messages. Some got windy spiels about birds and bees; scant reference to solo banditry; one friend’s folks told him if he fiddled too much he’d be disowned; another went to his brother – “He says it’s when you look at nude chicks in Dingo,” he reported back.

Thanks to my old lady’s candour, I was not one of the confused. She worked at an outer suburban health centre back then, a group dedicated to the sexual health and education of young women. I helped our out at their promotional stall at the world famous Croydon festival, a happening shindig headlined that year by Slim Dusty and Johnny Diesel and the Injectors. Charged with the task of making sure the tent was stocked with bananas—not the edible variety, but novelty replicas, split in the middle, one end sheathing a veiny fake cock, peach-toned, bell-end and all — I relished in assisting Mum’s staff teach ‘art of the condom roll’ to the Croydon massive, Slim belting out ‘Grandfather Johnson’ in the football field behind us.

The episode paid dividends years later in Year 10 ‘Health Ed’ class. Asked to procure a phallic vegetable for a condom-rolling lesson, I channelled lessons gleaned and slid a fresh dinger adroitly onto a raw carrot. Full marks. Others hit prophylactic struggle town — especially the class jock who, ever concerned with one-upmanship (and no doubt compensating), had sourced the most offensively mammoth cucumber he could muster, girth that few Trojans would ever hope to contain. Last I heard he’s hitched with four kids.

It was too late for that fella. Too late for us all, really. Education about sex and all it entails is critical stuff — it need not be or irksome or crammed into a class full of vegetables and prophylactics. And it needs to come earlier. Studies support what’s been long known — the overwhelming need not only for proper sexual health education in schools, but that it’s dished out well before puberty (something creeping up even earlier these days) in order to beat potentially harmful pre-existing cultural attitudes to the punch (as well as hard-core porn and daily fapper Miley Cyrus).

Moves over the past two years to include sex education in Australian primary schools is a step in the right direction. Sexuality is identity. It is self. It’s powerful stuff; kids deserve honest two-way communication to teach them about their bits and what they can do with them — frank conversation that will go a very long way.

Of course, there’s such a thing as too much frankness. In my late teens, the old STD warning got more than a fair run in my household.

“Have a great time, darl,” you’d hear from the lounge on the way out of a night. “Don’t forget — STDs!” Equal parts jest and seriousness, the old lady was not talking about long distance phone calls. Over time, this ubiquitous acronym became uncomfortably embedded in my subconscious. Still, I’d much prefer that as a reinforced warning than end up with bits compromised. So too, more than happy to have crossed a few fruit cocks in my youth than be forced to deal with unexpected teenage fatherhood.

“Moves over the past two years to include sex education in Australian primary schools is a step in the right direction. Sexuality is identity. It is self. It’s powerful stuff”

There wasn’t a whole lot of support out there for Mum and Dad when I — the healthy product of last minute onanism — popped out to surprise them during their HSC year. As for assistance from their conservative Catholic high school, a place that gave as much thought to dick and pus as a fair and thorough overview of the Qur’an, well… you can probably guess the level of commitment.

Sadly, it’s not too far from the present state of affairs in the US today, where half of males and a third of females fail to get any proper information about contraception before having sex for the first time (little wonder that the US holds the highest STD and teenage pregnancy rate of any developed country).

Thanks to open familial discourse, I got through my teens sans fatherhood. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, a healthy sex life — solo and with company. Moreover, I look forward to the day where I shirk the frangers and pump out some children of my own.

Like the example bestowed upon me, I’ll be honest and open with my kids. I’ll be real. I’ll remind them that sex is complex; that it’s their unique creative exploration. I’ll see them off into the night with STD warnings howled out the front door for the neighbours to hear, and I’ll be sure to do my best to embarrass the hell out of them at their 21st parties. The way it ought to be.