Young people we work with are developing a sexual identity and exploring sexuality in a world with many unhealthy attitudes and practices surrounding sex. One woman a week dies in Australia as the result of intimate partner violence, GLBTQI young people still experience higher rates of suicide and self-harm than their straight peers, sexualisation of young women remains a practice in media and advertising and double standards about promiscuity and sexual behavior persist between the genders.

For any health message to be effective it needs to acknowledge the complex political, social and personal context that young people operate in. Naming up what is unhealthy about society’s attitudes towards and practices involving sex creates space to also articulate what healthy sexual expression might look like for each person.

Engaging young people around issues concerning sex in society and modeling healthy attitudes towards sex can be a less daunting way to begin a dialogue about sexuality than honing in on the young person’s own sexual practices. This not only eases practitioners and young people into a dialogue about sex, it has benefits in terms of efficacy. New research indicates that sexual education for young women is more effective if it includes a discussion about power and gender inequity.