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Without good sex education, we grow up with a considerable number of incorrect ideas about sex and a lot of gaps in the good information we're able to get.

We learn early on to be secretive about our sexual explorations and not to talk about sex to the adults in our lives. We feel guilty about our "normal" thoughts or actions—because we don't know they're normal. This continues to haunt us as our bodies develop and our interest in sex increases.

If we have some childhood sex play, we don't know it's normal, because it's never been discussed. If we masturbate as children, we may not know anyone else has ever done this or that it has a name or that it's normal, because this too has never been discussed. (Boys are more likely than girls to talk among themselves about masturbation, and it's fairly common for boys to masturbate together.) Most children have some kind of sexual fantasies or engage in some kind of early sex play that frightens them and leaves them feeling guilty. This leads to the vague feeling that sex is bad—and that they are bad.

One thing we do extremely well in our society is produce guilt in our children, particularly in the area of sexual behaviour. Shame and guilt are pretty effective at inhibiting behaviour, but they are even better at inhibiting openness about behaviour. Once a child has hidden a lot of stuff from their parents, the fear of dealing with it often becomes larger than life. If a child can acknowledge these experiences to an accepting adult, it defuses the fear and guilt and opens up channels for future communication. The longer they are hidden, the more difficult it becomes to deal with them.

It takes a concentrated effort to make it easy for our kids to talk about sex at each stage of their development. They need to be able to discuss their feelings and experiences and hear us say,

"that's normal; that's OK; that happened to me too."

Even then, they may never completely shake the automatic guilt feelings they experience whenever they think about their childhood sexual explorations.

As parents, it's never too late to develop an open relationship with our kids and start undoing the damage from a lack of good sex education. We need to attempt to stop the negative attitudes where they're destructive and replace them with a healthy, responsible outlook on sex.

Robyn Salisbury, Founder of Sex Therapy New Zealand Speaking about Sexuality in Regard to Early Learning

Creating space for people to learn and talk about sex across all its dimensions ( 

The project was funded and generated by a director of String Theory, a PR/marketing/branding agency in Auckland

About research into the powerful and harmful effects of internet porn on young people: View Video