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About last night: At 70, I would like to meet someone attractive

Q: Since my divorce, I’ve seen a couple of women, but am basically single. At 70, I’m fearful of growing old alone. I’ve joined a dating site, and have met some pleasant women, but nobody special. One woman had used an outdated photo, and I was dismayed when we met. I’ve tried to be honest in my profile, and, while no Adonis, I do try to keep fit and healthy. I’d prefer to connect with someone I find attractive, as well as likeable. Although semi-retired, I keep very busy, so taking time out to meet someone totally unsuitable is frustrating.

A: The ageing process is daunting, and there is nothing like a birthday ending in zero to focus the mind. You sound like an active and vital man, but no one can predict what life will throw in his or her path, and it can be frightening to imagine walking it alone, so finding a partner could be wonderful.

Many older women would also love to meet a life partner. Online dating sites are one tool that can bring people together, but it is not as straightforward as online shopping. How you think, and feel, about this process will affect your chances of success.

Ask yourself some hard questions, and be honest. Are you really looking for a soul mate and partner, or are you looking for an attractive, live-in nurse? What do you have to offer that might enrich and enhance another person’s life? Are you willing to be a carer? Do you actually have the time needed to form a genuine relationship? Are you willing to make changes to your life to accommodate someone? Are your expectations realistic?

We often focus on what we are looking for in a partner, but spend much less time listing what we have to offer. Meet each person with an open heart, as well as a critical mind.

 When using a dating site, it can be hard to assess the accuracy of the profiles. Some people are deliberately misleading, but many are inaccurate because it is difficult to describe oneself. How difficult was it when you wrote your profile?
It is a big mistake to use an excessively flattering picture when you know you hope to meet people. You might think a glamorous portrait will get your toe in the door, and your personality will do the rest. However, if your date believes you have been dishonest, it could close that door forever. Better to only meet those who have agreed to meet when they have seen the real you.

Dread of a lonely old age might lie behind your dating site adventures, but engage with every woman you meet in good faith. They are all precious human beings. If you like someone, do not try too hard. An underlying whiff of fear or desperation could be off-putting.  Get to know each person, without an agenda. Go beyond first impressions.

Listening is far more important than what you say. A date is not a job interview, so you do not need to itemise your resume. By listening, you will find out a lot more than what you have read on a profile. Also, being a good listener is very attractive, and will elicit far more goodwill than a self-promoting monologue.

We all have a history that impacts on our present. Some women have had bad experiences with men, and are fearful and defensive. A widow might keep comparing every man with her lost love. Some older women are struggling financially, while others find themselves comfortable, and fear engaging with someone who wants to access their assets. Some feel free for the first time in their lives, and would run a mile at the idea of taking on someone who wants to be looked after. Some feel all at sea on their own and yearn for a rock to stand on.  All of them want an equal, loving connection.

None of them were put on this earth to be your helpmate, so be careful not to seem entitled.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night: how will a hysterectomy affect me?

Q: I’m 42 and happily partnered.  I’ve been told that I have several large fibroids growing in my uterus, and my medical specialist has recommended I have a hysterectomy, which removes my uterus, but leaves my ovaries. I’m concerned that if my cervix is removed as part of the hysterectomy, my sexual pleasure and orgasm might be affected.  What role does the uterus and cervix play in orgasm? 

A: Fibroids are firm, compact tumours that are made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus. It is estimated that between 20 and 50 per cent of women of reproductive age have fibroids, and up to 77 per cent will develop fibroids sometime during their childbearing years, although only about a third of these are large enough to be detected during a physical examination. Fibroids are usually benign, and are not associated with cancer, but they can cause a range of symptoms, including heavy and irregular bleeding, an increased need to urinate, or pelvic discomfort.

All women are different, and experience sexual pleasure in diverse ways. The deep network of nerve endings that make up the internal structure of the clitoris plays a major role, so surgeries that might cut through these, such as bladder surgery, can have an impact.

I showed Melbourne gynaecologist Dr Desiree Yap your letter. “That is a complicated question,” she responded. “I have always understood that some women feel their uterus contract with orgasm and some women get pleasure from stimulation of their cervix. I ask women to reflect on what they feel, as I can’t assess that.”

Consciously notice exactly what is happening in your body the next time you have an orgasm. Where is the sensation centred? Can you feel your cervix contracting? Understanding your unique arousal patterns will help you to make an informed decision.

Dr Wendy Vanselow, the head of the Royal Women’s Hospital’s Sexual Counselling Clinic, has a particular interest in this area. She says that the research indicates that most women feel their most focused sexual pleasure in the lower vagina.

This would not be affected by a partial hysterectomy. She also points out that hysterectomy research shows that overall sexual pleasure is improved with hysterectomy.

A total hysterectomy that involves the removal of the hormone-producing ovaries definitely does have a negative affect on libido, and sexual function – but this is not what has been proposed in your case.

Many women experience a hysterectomy as a major operation from which it can take time to recover. Dr Yap suggests that you get a second opinion if you’re worried.

So, double-check your options. For example, some fibroids that are about 3-5 centimetres in size can, depending on their place and impact, just be left there, Dr Yap says.

On the other hand, if surgery is necessary, but you want to keep your cervix, a subtotal hysterectomy (which leaves it behind) is possible. Ongoing pap smears would subsequently be required.

You may prefer to explore non-surgical options. “There is a new drug to shrink fibroids,” says Dr Yap. “Blood flow to fibroids can be blocked to try and shrink them, and there is an MRI treatment to conservatively treat fibroids being trialled at the Royal Women’s Hospital, so, depending on [your] circumstances, there are alternatives to surgery.”

Meanwhile, take a holistic approach to your sex life. Try not to worry, or fixate on the purely medical and physical aspects of sexual pleasure. Remember to nurture your relationship, take care of your overall wellbeing, and enjoy every aspect of your intimacy. After all, great sex is about enjoying the journey, not reaching an orgasmic destination.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night: Should I feel guilty for being a man?

Q: The majority of sexual predators, violent criminals, abusers of women etc, etc, are men, and women get annoyed when men protest that it isn’t all men. I’m a man who is definitely not doing any of these bad things, but I end up feeling guilty, and wanting to apologise for being a “person with a penis”.

A: The website Good Men Project was set up by men who are striving to counter many of the negative traits associated with being male. Recently, retired therapist Jed Diamond posted an article examining the truism that “all men want is sex”. He argues that “there’s something that is more important than sex, but it’s something that men have difficulty admitting and women have difficulty giving.”

In “What Men Want More Than Sex”, which focuses on heterosexual relationships, Diamond explains that we are conditioned to believe that wanting a lot of sex is manly. Many men would rather be seen as “a jerk who is totally preoccupied with sex than to want something more than sex and be seen as less than a man”.

Some of this is biological. Whether we are peacocks or people, he says, we strut our stuff and hope it’s good enough to get us chosen by the woman we go after.

This process involves competition with other men, and the risk of being rejected, which can leave a man feeling vulnerable. By the time they reach adulthood many men, he says, “feel battered and bruised by the world of competition and rejection. We long for that safe harbour where we don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not in order to be chosen. We long for someone who sees us for who we are and wants us anyway, who can hold us and touch, not just our body, but our hearts and souls.

“Sure, there is the physical pleasure, but there is a deeper need that is being satisfied. Getting taken into her body gives us a sense of peace and homecoming that goes way beyond simple sexual pleasure.

Men yearn, Diamond says, for “the feeling of being nurtured that most of us didn’t get enough of when we were children. But admitting these needs makes us feel like little boys, not big strong men.”

It is difficult for women to give that kind of intimacy. They have their own conditioning, and if a man is not trying to have sex with them they can believe that they are not attractive enough.

When a man wants to be held and nurtured it can trigger feelings that they are dealing with a boy, not a man. As some women say, “It’s like I’ve got three children – two kids, and my husband”.

There is another, extremely serious, obstacle.

“Women fear men who don’t feel manly. They know that the most violent men are men who feel weak and powerless. They’ve often had experiences of men allowing themselves to be gentle and vulnerable, only to have them respond with anger and rage later.”

Bringing about change is not easy.

“It takes a lot of time and maturity for men to admit to themselves that they need a safe harbour where they can be nurtured and embraced by a woman. It takes a lot of courage to let his woman know he may want sex, but more important is his need for security, love, and nurture. It requires a level of wisdom to know that allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable as a child may be the manliest thing a man can do.”

Women also need to be willing to move beyond their own conditioning, says Diamond. A woman should try to be “open to a man who is making himself vulnerable in new ways. She must have a great deal of self-love and self-confidence to accept being a safe harbour. She must also have the strength to protect herself, when his shame at being vulnerable turns to anxiety, anger, or depression. It isn’t easy for men and women to take these kinds of risks, but the pay-off is a lifetime of deepening love and intimacy.”

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: My vegan, feminist girlfriend is too intense for me. Am I just shallow?

Q: Emily and I (22) met at uni three years ago. She’s a good person – politically and environmentally active, vegan, feminist, and a defender of the oppressed. But I’m finding her too full-on and intense. I walk on eggshells for fear of being politically incorrect and cringe when she comes down on others, either crushing them, or making them angry. Maybe she’s a better person than me, but I’m going to leave if she doesn’t lighten up. Does wanting to have more fun make me a typically shallow male?

A: Virtue without the leavening effects of humility, compassion, and humour can be a horrible thing. Many of the world’s despots and dictators have believed that they were in the right, and some of the worst cruelty inflicted on others has been done in the name of an ideal. It takes more than having the “right” ideas to make the world a better place. Indeed, many of our problems are caused by people competing over who is right, in religion, politics, and lifestyle choice.

The first ingredient that needs to be added to the mix is humility, and a willingness to admit that one is flawed, and fallible. Jesus defines a hypocrite as the person who is so busy pointing out the speck of dust in their neighbour’s eye that they ignore the plank in their own eye. Only a person who is without “sin” should sit in judgment on another. When you acknowledge your own failings you become more tolerant and understanding.

Another key ingredient is compassion. It is tempting to treat people the way that you think they deserve to be treated, but that is not where true goodness lies. As Hamlet says: “use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity – the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.”

A kind, inclusive and loving world can only be achieved through acts of generosity and kindness.

The third vital ingredient is a sense of humour. Emily reminds me of the joke: “When I met Ms Right I didn’t realise her middle name was ‘Always’!” Needing to be right all the time is very unattractive. Being able to laugh at yourself, and to see the funny side of things is more endearing.

Emily might argue that she is not in a popularity contest. She wants to see substantial change in a damaged world.  However, what it boils down to is not who is right and wrong, it is about being effective and achieving positive outcomes. If the way you act or speak results in people tuning out, due to paranoia or defensiveness, then any message you hope to communicate, or any change you hope to effect, will have failed. In fact, you are in danger of increasing the total of gross national unhappiness.

Deciding that you do not want to be with someone, no matter how worthy they are, does not make you a bad person. If it is over, it is over. However, the kind of earnest, dogmatic and brash manner you describe can be a function of youth. Time and experience can often mellow a person, and help them to take a more nuanced and less binary approach to life.

If you still love Emily it might be worthwhile trying to let her know how you feel.

Model a more effective communication by avoiding blame and accusation, and by demonstrating active listening. Use “I” messages, such as: “When you assume that I am saying the wrong thing, I feel like I am not being listened to”; or “I want to have more fun with you. I would like us to find a balance between the serious side of life, and enjoying the moment.”

By avoiding criticism and judgment of her in what you share, you are more likely to achieve a breakthrough in understanding. If this cannot happen, it might be time to move on. That would not mean that Emily is wrong, just that she is not right for you.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: Moving into adulthood

Q: My daughter, 17, and I are very close. As a child, she had cancer. Hugh and I supported her through painful and traumatic procedures, which welded us together. Sophie recovered, but, five years ago, her Dad died suddenly, making us even closer. Last week, Sophie went out with her friends Kat and Ben. As the car drove away, I saw there was another young man with them. When I asked about this she clammed up. She won’t tell me anything, and gets defensive if I suggest she brings any male friends home. I sense a widening gap between us and am terrified of losing her.

A: I am sorry to hear about the challenging times that you have all been through. Sharing trauma can form a close bond between people, but part of the recovery involves rediscovering and embracing one’s individuality and autonomy.

Sophie is at an age when it is important she becomes her own person. How you respond to her transition into adulthood will shape the nature of your future relationship. Do not allow your fear and neediness to drive a wedge between you.

You have been through hell, and I understand that you are reluctant to experience more pain, but you need to be brave. Step back, and give Sophie space to grow, trusting that, in time, you will evolve a healthier closeness with your daughter. Trust and respect are key right now.

It is natural and desirable for Sophie to blossom into a sexual adult, and you cannot be too closely involved in the process.

You could, through a combination of guilt trips, emotional blackmail, and bullying, bind her to you, and isolate her from her peers, but this could result in resentment, or could cripple her, making her incapable of forming healthy adult relationships. What do you want for her future? Surely you hope that she will end up happily partnered, and would love to have grandchildren? If so, try to let go.

Consider the incident you describe. Maybe the mystery man was just a friend. Maybe Sophie’s friends were matchmaking. Maybe Sophie has a huge crush on him, but does not know if he likes her. Maybe they are connecting, but she fears that suggesting he meet her mother might scare him off. There are any number of reasons why she is unwilling to go into it with you.

The drive to become an autonomous individual is primal and ruthless. Just as a plant will lift a paving stone to get to the light, so too a young person who feels trapped or constrained can be brutal in pursuit of freedom. Sophie’s history demonstrates that she is a fighter and a survivor. Do not stand in her way.

She needs to believe that you trust her, are willing to let her go, and that you will respect her privacy, and her ability to make her own decisions. If you have the courage to release your grip it is more likely that she will come back to you. Your relationship cannot remain unchanged, but it can develop into a mature and healthy mother-daughter connection.

This change in Sophie is a sign that you too need to make some changes in your life. You can no longer depend on your daughter alone for friendship, companionship, support and intimacy. If you try to maintain the status quo you could lose Sophie’s respect, and cause her to resent and despise a clinging vine that binds her to her past.

Lead by example. Start to organise activities that you do on your own. Try to build up a network of friends to supply some of what you get from Sophie. This is never easy, but be proactive – enrol in a class, join a Meetup group (meetup.com), join a gym or a sporting team, cultivate the friends you have, go on an organised tour.

When your daughter sees you getting a life, it will give her a role model for her own journey. She will no longer feel guilt or pity about you, two toxic emotions. Handled well, you will be able to look back on this scary transition with pride, enjoying a happy relationship with your daughter and, perhaps, your grandchildren.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: I still want to have sex but my body doesn’t respond

Q: Ron and I have been together for 44 years. Our sex life, in which I’ve been an eager participant, has had its ups and downs but has always been a pleasurable and important part of our lives. In recent years I’ve experienced diminished desire and a lack of sensation, meaning I virtually never achieve an orgasm, and find myself simply waiting for him to ‘finish’. I still want to have intercourse but my body doesn’t respond. Ron is aware of this and feels he’s just using me, which puts him off. We’re financially secure and enjoying our retirement but for this. My GP has put me on an oestrogen pessary, which has helped comfort-wise, but nothing else has improved.

A: Dr Sonia Davison, endocrinologist at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, says many factors have a negative impact on sexual desire. These include longer relationship length, being married, menopause, psychosocial stressors and some medications. Studies have shown that sexual function and levels of activity decline with increasing age.

“There is no one correct answer or approach to female sexual dysfunction and it is useful to consult with an expert in this area, who may be a sexual counsellor or a dedicated women’s health practitioner. Further information can be found at  jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/sex-sexual-health or at the Australasian Menopause Society webpage, “Sexual difficulties in the Menopause”.

Dr Anita Elias is the head of Monash Health’s Sexual Medicine and Therapy Clinic, and Sexual Counselling Clinic at the Royal Women’s Hospital’s Malvern Psychotherapy Centre. She agrees that, “Anything and everything can have an impact on sexuality. The problems you describe are very common. Decreased desire for sex (libido) and arousal can be caused by general health issues, problems with physical or emotional wellbeing (including anxiety or depression), any relationship difficulties and general life stresses. Unfortunately, many medications have sexual side effects, such as the difficulties you describe”.

Dr Elias suggests you try to tease out the factors that have brought you to where you are now. She suggests a strategy that might narrow down the process.

“It can be helpful to track when this problem began. What was happening around that time? For example, did you have a health issue, ’empty nest’ syndrome, a bereavement?”

Think back. Was sex painful, post menopause? It often happens that a woman tries to ignore discomfort at first. This is a mistake. Each incident of painful sex acts like aversion therapy, making arousal increasingly difficult. The pessaries have eased the discomfort, but the reluctance continues.

Be realistic about the ageing process. Even the fittest person begins to slow down and lose their physical prowess. Neither of you are going to be randy teenagers again.

Dr Elias says, “As we get older, both women and men need more or different stimulation (physical, mental and emotional) to achieve the same level of pleasure and arousal”.

Allow more time for lovemaking. Spend more time on foreplay and flirting. Try not to be goal oriented. Rather, try to enjoy all of the sensual pleasures, moment by moment.

If you are both really stuck in an unhelpful pattern, Dr Elias says, “It may be helpful to stop intercourse for a while, which sounds like it has become a chore –and chores are rarely a turn-on! Instead, focus on relaxing, having fun times together and exploring what is enjoyable and pleasurable in other ways of being intimate (general closeness, touch, massage etc) without worrying about the outcome. This can free you both up from the stress that comes with ‘trying’ to orgasm.”

In order to get back on track with your happy lives it might be helpful to get some professional assistance.

“The first step would be to have a thorough assessment by a doctor with experience in managing sexual difficulties,” says Dr Elias. “There are two free public outpatient clinics in Victoria: The Sexual Medicine and Therapy clinic at Monash Health and the Sexual Counselling Clinic at The Women’s Hospitals, where experienced doctors assess and treat these issues all the time”.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night : Personal growth: Can sex have a spiritual dimension, and what are chakras?

Q: I’m a 25-year-old woman who is very interested in personal growth. I have had a number of boyfriends, and enjoy sex, but I am keen to explore and develop my full, sexual potential. Although I am a sceptic, and am suspicious of gurus, and New Age extremism, I am interested in understanding the concept that sex can have a spiritual dimension. Many people talk about chakras. What are they? Do they exist, and if so, how do they function, and what do they have to do with sex?

A: I too approach new concepts with my intellect and critical faculties engaged. I have never been attracted to over-the-top spiritual fads, and whacky, fish-slapping practices. However, I also try to keep an open mind. Even when I cannot fully embrace a belief system, I can often learn something of value. Quantum physics tells us that there is so much that we still do not know, and it is important to acknowledge mystery. You might be 99.9 per cent sure of something, but you must keep some room for new evidence, and stay mentally flexible enough to able to change your mind.

Chakras are a concept found in Indian Hindu philosophy. They are said to be seven centres in the body through which energy flows. If any of them are blocked you will feel bad.

Each chakra is associated with a part of the body, a characteristic, and a colour of the rainbow. The seven chakras are the root (perineum), the sacral (genitals), the solar plexus, the heart, the throat, the third eye (pineal gland) and the crown. For a quick, basic summary, Google the YouTube clip “How to Open Your 7 Chakras as Explained in a Children’s Show”.

The Chinese have their own, ancient belief system about energy (Chi), and how it flows in the body, and they work with acupuncture sites. Science does not fully understand if, or how, this might work, but increasing numbers of medical practitioners acknowledge the efficacy of acupuncture in treating a range of illnesses.

I am not sure if chakras or acupuncture sites are empirically provable, a metaphor, or a placebo, but, in non-life-threatening situations, such as in the bedroom, if something works for you, go for it.

When it comes to sexuality, the healthy flow of sexual energy through the chakras is something that is explored in Tantra. As with most things, you can choose to pursue this thinking to the point where it becomes your religion, eschewing physical orgasm and ejaculation in the pursuit of a higher state of consciousness. Alternatively, you can incorporate some of these ideas into your sexual practice as a way to expand and enrich your sexual experience, and to reach your full potential as a sexually authentic individual.

In the West, we tend to associate sex with “down there” (the root and sacral chakras), and with physical orgasm. We focus on, and concentrate sexual energy in, this area, and the sounds we make are deep, and guttural.

If you are able to visualise that energy flowing up through your belly (accessing your power), and into your heart, you may engage the heart, bringing a rich, empowering, loving connection to life. This can be especially wonderful for men, who are often stuck in their genitals.

As the energy shifts, you will notice the sounds you make going up in pitch. When the energy moves through your throat, you can speak your truth, and when the energy passes through your head, all sorts of spiritual insights and experiences can occur, allegedly.

You can use this process in a beautiful, solo meditation which will enhance your sexual experience, with, and without, a partner.

When you have time and privacy, get comfortable. Imagine your root chakra being connected to the earth. Now, combine deep breathing with squeezes of the pelvic floor muscles, which act like a pump. Begin to stimulate yourself, perhaps with a vibrator, as you visualise the sexual energy moving up through the chakras. For the ideal soundtrack to accompany this meditation, listen to the YouTube video “All 7 Chakras Healing Chants”.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night : I have negative feelings about masturbation – is there something wrong with me?

Q: You often talk about the benefits of masturbation as a means to improving sexual response, and the ability to achieve orgasm. For me, however, masturbation suggests something dirty, furtive, and wrong. I have never felt like it is OK to touch my genitals when I am alone, let alone with my partner. Is there something wrong with me?

 

A: Your feelings are very common. Many social, cultural, and religious groups have negative beliefs that strongly affect people as they grow up. The fact that there are so many slang words, and comic phrases for the word “masturbation” reveals how much anxiety and discomfort that word causes. I prefer to substitute terms like self-pleasuring, self-exploration or solo sex for this unappealing word that conjures up the mental image of a glassy-eyed dog humping a pillow. However, for the sake of simplicity, I will use the “m” word here.

Touching one’s own genitals, for pleasure, is something that babies do from the time they are in the womb. It’s a natural and normal part of healthy sexual development. Surveys conducted in the US suggest that 94 per cent of men, and 85 per cent of women, admit to masturbating. Unfortunately, social attitudes vary greatly, and it still carries a stigma.

Until relatively recently, it was either seen as sinful (“playing in the Devil’s playground”), or declared to be bad for your health, causing blindness, insanity, or infertility. Although few people believe this today, there is a lingering taboo, especially among women, many of whom are uncomfortable even applying personal lubricant in front of their partner.

Mother Nature is efficient, and there is a purpose for most of the things our bodies do. Research has shown that, in fact, masturbation has a number of health benefits.

For women, masturbation can help prevent cervical, and urinary tract infections through a process called tenting. During arousal the cervix opens. The contractions that occur at orgasm are then able to flush out bacteria-laden, cervical mucous.

For men, masturbation helps to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Again, potentially dangerous agents are flushed out.

The range of health benefits is surprising. Masturbation has been linked to a reduced risk of type-2 diabetes. It relieves insomnia through hormonal and tension release. It increases pelvic floor strength through the contractions of orgasm. It improves immune function by increasing cortisol levels, which can regulate the immune system. It can help with depression, by increasing the amount of endorphins in the bloodstream.

Another enormous health benefit is that it is the ultimate in safe sex. There is no risk of pregnancy, or STIs, which can compromise fertility. Also, by satisfying desire, it makes it less likely that one will take risks with partners.

If unpartnered, masturbation ensures that you have orgasms, and their benefits – reduced stress, reduced blood pressure, increased self-esteem, and reduced pain.

Masturbation has a positive role to play in partner sex as well. Without emotional baggage,  It can take away performance anxiety, or the fear of disappointment, especially as we get older and erectile function can be unreliable.

Older women can become slower to get aroused, and begin to believe that they have lost their libido. Regular masturbation helps the body to experience the arousal process, without the pressure to go all the way. As with all of our bodily functions, if you don’t use it, you lose it, and being single need not result in you losing sexual function.

Mutual masturbation, where partners are pleasuring themselves in the company of the other, is a great, safe activity to incorporate into your lovemaking. It can be a welcome circuit breaker when you are tired, such as when you have a young baby.

When you are comfortable masturbating with your partner, it is wonderful for communication. You can learn more about what your partner likes and demonstrate what gives you pleasure. This will improve your sex life and relationship.

As your own inhibitions and anxieties about sex are dispelled, you can also communicate more positively with your children. A relaxed, sex-positive attitude will help them to grow up with  fewer hang-ups about sex and intimacy, improving their chances of forming healthy relationships.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night:Sex education for children ;

Q: I enjoyed an article you co-wrote with Vanessa Hamilton, about sex education for Lunch Lady magazine. There is only one thing that I am not sure about. When I was a child, we used euphemisms such as “pee pee” for the genitals. This was not entirely due to sexual shame or prudishness. Small children often shout out random things in public, and last week on the tram I heard a little girl talking loudly about her vulva. This was very embarrassing for the other passengers.

A: Vanessa Hamilton is a sexual health nurse who educates the educators, including parents, on the best way to deliver sex ed to our children. (talkingthetalksexed.com.au). I spoke to her about your concern, and this was her response.

“Experts agree that although it is fine to have ‘family’ or ‘home’ names for private parts, it is essential that children also know the correct names or ‘science’ names for their sexual anatomy. Parents’ fears about all things sexual often prevent them from addressing this most basic of safety and wellbeing education for their children – that of correctly naming sexual body parts.”

She goes on to explain that what might appear to be trendy political correctness is in fact a vital safety skill.

“The benefits of this empowering information for children can not be ignored. It gives them a vocabulary to speak to adults – to ask questions or to ask for help if something is wrong with that part of their body. But most important is the protection from abuse this knowledge can provide. Children can learn who can and cannot touch these parts and under what circumstances. Predators will most often target children who do not know the correct names of their private parts or the body safety rules.”

Hamilton says every child needs to know these rules, which include teaching even very young toddlers and children the following five things:

❑ Their body is their body, and how to say “Stop I don’t like that!” if their body bubble is breached without their consent. This can even include when their parent is tickling them more than they want to be tickled.

❑ Their private parts are parts under their bathing suit, and also include their mouth. So this can include their classmate kissing them on the lips unexpectedly. 
Their private parts are for them only, unless they need help with care or hygiene and one of their trusted adults is aware. We must not allow our embarrassment to cloud their judgment, or to cause them to doubt their responses. We need to help them,

❑ Identify their early warning signs that tell them they are not safe, such as feeling sick in the tummy or heart beating fast.

❑ Have a safety network by naming five trusted adults on each finger that they can tell if they have a problem.

❑ Explain that no one should ever tell them to keep a bad secret, which is a secret that gives them their early warning signs, Hamilton says. “Happy surprises however are always good because they will always be told, but a secret that they are told to never tell is not OK.”

Hamilton understands how you feel about anatomical names, but she says: “Parents often worry that children will repeat the words at school or say them out loud in public and yes, this may happen, but it is better that they are saying accurate body part names rather than inaccuracies.”

She encourages parents to take advantage of “teachable moments” as they arise. So, the “vulva” incident would be useful for explaining about appropriate times and places.

“Accurate comprehensive sexuality education, such as correct names of body parts, has benefits for children’s whole sexual journey over their lifetime,” Hamilton says. “When they are adolescents they will have better communication skills with partners during intimate experiences. This familiarity with their body will assist them to negotiate needs and desires as well as consent, mutual exploration and pleasurable experiences.”

Words such as “vulva” and “penis” might sound a little shocking when spoken by a young child, but that is the adults’ problem, and we cannot allow our squeamishness to come before their education.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: How can we learn to treat each other with respect?

Q: When I was a child, we were taught to respect our elders, authority figures, and professionals, such as doctors. Today, nobody seems to show any respect at all. When our children see presidents, churchmen, and community leaders, disrespecting each other, women, refugees, Muslims etc, how can we expect young men to respect women? We all need to learn respect – for ourselves, and for one another, in all aspects of life, not just in the bedroom. How can we achieve this?

A: “Respect” is a word that has been much misused. While it is easy to demand that people should respect their elders, or respect authority, the truth is that respect has to be earned. While it is not desirable for young people to actively disrespect the people they encounter, it was mindless respect that made children vulnerable to predatory authority figures, and too fearful to speak out against them.

One of the most fundamental betrayals of community trust and respect is the hypocrisy and corruption exposed among so many groups of people who trade on their respected positions in society. It is easy to understand why young people become cynical and disillusioned, and why they are reluctant to offer up a respect that has not been earned.

Steve Biddulph, Australian psychologist, and well-respected author of books such as ManhoodRaising Boys, and Raising Girls, has published a new book, 10 Things Girls Need Most. He says that what they need most is a revolution.

In the chapter on sexuality, Biddulph covers a range of issues, but, in the end, he boils it all down to one thing – respect.

Biddulph offers a short questionnaire to help you to assess the level of respect in your own household, based on the following statements:

Dad treats mum with respect; Mum treats dad with respect; People are loving and warm to each other; There are no put downs in the way people talk to each other; There is no fat-shaming or judging; Brothers treat sisters with respect; Sisters treat brothers with respect; When you see people out in the world, you talk about them with respect, and don’t make put-down comments even among yourselves; You don’t watch or allow violent or degrading treatment of people on the television or videos or computer games that you watch or play as a family; You keep lines of communication open, so that things can be talked about and people aren’t afraid to bring up a worry, or ask about something embarrassing.

On a sliding scale give four points for total agreement down to one point for total disagreement for each statement and calculate the total. Biddulph says: “If you had a total between 30-40, you are doing great. Well done! 20-30: You could be doing great, but need to target those points that were 2 or less. Go back and circle those. 10-20: In the danger zone, but it’s not unusual for families to score this low. Please do begin to make changes. Your family may be under a lot of stress that is causing this, so look into this as well. You have to work as a team, and not undermine each other. 0-10: That sounds like a pretty hard family to feel good in. Even if you are used to it, it’s not good for children to be around that much negativity or criticism. It might be a good idea to get professional help, or do a parenting course or seek relationship help. If violence is a risk, it’s essential that you seek help. You all deserve and need to be in a better place.

“Respect for each other’s ideas, points of view, each other’s bodies, each other’s innate worth as human beings, however flawed, is simply the keystone of all life,” Biddulph says. “Treat others with respect, even if they don’t always deserve it. And respect yourself. Then happy sexuality is guaranteed.”

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com