Yet another sex education book for children and young adults has become the centre of a censorship controversy in Australia. “Welcome to Sex: Your No-silly-questions Guide to Sexuality, Pleasure and Figuring it Out” by Yumi Stynes and Melissa Kang has a target audience of teens and their parents. The book's creators argue that it is meant to be a frank, sex-positive, gender-affirming introduction to sex and gender, complete with comprehensive explanations and age-appropriate illustrations.
A major department store, Big W, withdrew copies from its shelves following complaints, online threats and abuse directed at its staff.
Controversial radio shock jock Ben Fordham highlighted opposition to its sale. Critics claim that it is inappropriate, too graphic, a form of grooming or bordering on pornography.
Take it off the shelves!
Retailers are being called out over a new book.
It's called ‘Welcome to Sex’.
It’s a sex guide for kids as young as 8…
— Ben Fordham Live (@BenFordhamLive) July 17, 2023
In his tweet, Fordham shared a link to his morning radio show, where he raged against the new book. Rachel Wong's Women's Forum is a conservative think tank that advocates a “life-affirming”, right-to-life agenda.
Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News Australia, a conservative news channel, also covered the issue, including an attack on the book by “social media personality” and conservative commentator Chris Primod.
Most of the comments on this YouTube video attacked the book. One user, @TSpackman suggested a boycott of the store:
If people don't bat an eyelid at this, imagine what they'll be stocking next? Let your wallet speak for you.
On the other hand, @jwa2088 argued the opposite viewpoint, arguing that the book was meant to promote safe, respectful sex:
People in these comments are so naive, please be aware that tweens and teens are watching ACTUAL porn. This book is designed to correct the unhealthy attitudes towards sex that they learn from this. If you are not providing your young teen with sex education then you’re relying on what they learn from porn or from chatting with other students.
In a biting satirical response, Pauline Pantsdown, an Australian satirist, took a swipe on X [formerly Twitter] at both Chris Primod and Rachel Wong.
From award-winning authors Chris ‘Cooker’ Primod & Rachael ‘Gilead’ Wong, a guide for 10–15yo's that shows how ignorance is bliss! Compare STDs (whatever they are?!) w/your friends. Chris teaches how consent education is for losers! Be the 1st kid in school with your *own* kid! pic.twitter.com/lZHYL3fKzr
— Pauline Pantsdown (@PPantsdown) July 20, 2023
That's Sexually Transmitted Diseases, now commonly referred to as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
Greg Jericho relished the fact that the attacks seemed to have backfired, increasing the book’s sales and popularity:
Congratulations to all the cookers, transphobes and general bigots. You did it!! pic.twitter.com/BCr4PZudgk
— Greg Jericho (@GrogsGamut) July 21, 2023
In this context, a cooker is a derogatory term for a conspiracy theorist.
Laura Jackel, at online “women’s media company” Mamamia, canvassed the debate concluding:
The real question is, would you rather your kids learn about sex from porn or an educational book?
Personally, I want to help my kids combat misinformation and so Yumi's comprehensive sex text, co-authored with ‘Dolly Doctor’ Dr Melissa Kang, now sits proudly on my bookshelf at home.
ABC television’s Media Watch program analysed media reaction concluding that “parents are smart enough to ignore the media panic, read the book themselves and make up their own minds”:
There have been a number of posts on Mastodon’s aus.social, part of the Fediverse, weighing in on the debate. Some aired wider issues related to this particular controversy. In an in-depth article, the Blotreport expressed concerns about the role of religious and far-right opponents of sex education:
Stavros wondered why threats and intimidation have not been adequately dealt with by the Australian authorities:
One of the authors, Yumi Stynes, has certainly not been intimidated:
This controversy seems to be yet another example of the Streisand Effect, where attempts to block information only raise awareness of it.