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New Publication: Challenges in working on sex and consent

The fourth publication from the DECRA study is now available to read! "‘I’m not going anywhere near that': Expert stakeholder challenges in working with boys and young men regarding sex and sexual consent" has recently been published in Critical Social Policy.

Copyright @taypaigey Unsplash. Adolescent boys sitting at long tables in a classroom, a blurred man stands upfront teaching the class.

What's it about?

In this paper we interviewed 23 expert stakeholders working across various sectors in Australia, including gendered violence prevention, sport, emotional and physical health and wellbeing, sexual health, and boys and masculinity. We asked them what challenges or difficulties they experience in designing programs that can include discussions of sexual consent, intimacy, sexual practices, and sexual communication with boys and young men. This paper builds on the data set published recently in Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

What did you find?

Stakeholders noted a real lack of clarity as to who is ultimately responsible for teaching boys and young men about sex and sexual communication.

Derek (Community, Sexual health and wellbeing): Too many times schools think that this conversation is the parents’ responsibility, and the parents think it's the school’s responsibility, and then at the end of the day it falls to nobody except for Dr Google.

Alongside this uncertainty as to the responsibility, stakeholders also noted that adults did not necessarily have the skills or comfort level to discuss sexual topics, and yet expected young people to be well-versed:

Julie (Private, Sexual health and wellbeing): Isn’t it funny we’re expecting our 13, 14, 15 year-old young boys and girls to be able to do it [have conversations about sex and intimacy], and we [adults] can’t… If we can’t talk about it [sex and intimacy] what on earth are we doing expecting 14-year-olds to take on these conversations?

Stakeholders noted the overall lack of political and social support meant it was difficult to engage challenging and provocative topics for fear of retribution:

Nadia (Government, Emotional and/or physical health and wellbeing): [Discussing backlash to programs with sensitive content] It [a program] could get shut down at any time, and unfortunately, we still are in that world where we must be strategic about what we shout from the rooftop about, even if it is positive, because for the fact that once you know something gets into the media. And I’ve seen that happen with, unfortunately with some of the work that’s been done, had unfortunate ends to parts of it because politically someone wasn’t happy about it.

Best settings to engage boys and young men were also noted as a concern, with stakeholders highlighting that most work is done in schools, which means many disenfranchised boys and young men miss out:

Hannah (Government, Sexual Health and Wellbeing): I think what about the young people that [are] disengaged from school, they’re not in the school setting – how do they get their health information?

This was compounded with limited capacity to address home environments, noting that many programs, even sustained, may not necessarily do the work needed to change the environment in which boys and young men receive the majority of their sex messaging:

Declan (Community, Boys and men): I sometimes wonder whether I’m getting a look into what certain households look like […] I think the major issue for us though is that you know we’re spending an hour, 2 hours with the boys, and then they're back to you know 23 hours a day of media messaging of the opposite of what we’re talking about.

Stakeholders also noted the over-reliance on boys and young men at the expense of older men who hold power to make necessary social and cultural changes:

Duke (Community, Gendered Violence Prevention): We portray young men as like “you’re doing the wrong thing” […] one of the barriers is our lack of curiosity […] rather than taking the time to say “what’s going on there and what’s that like for you” and “how do you feel about it” and then working with and in partnership.

We conclude with several recommendations on how to address these challenges which include:

  • Whole of society approach, such as that advocated in Change the Story Framework

  • Responsibility expectations need to be embedded at the highest Australian government strategic and policy level to filter down

  • Building sector and policy capacity in this space. This includes creating access to education, training, funding, and resources that can support capacity-building work.

  • Need to produce reaffirming messaging in support of gender equality initiatives and comprehensive relationships and sex education, and to tap into existing spaces in which these messages may be effective

  • Tap into programs that are already doing good work in bridging together harm minimisation and pleasure, such as that found with LGBTIQA+ spaces

Where can I read it?

This paper is available freely at Critical Social Policy or please feel free to get in touch and we can send you a copy!


Waling, A., James, A., Fairchild, J. (2022) “I’m not going anywhere near that.”: Expert stakeholder challenges in working with boys and young men regarding sex and sexual consent. Critical Social Policy. DOI:10.1177/02610183221103817


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