By Rebecca Reynolds
Many young folk call us or visit us at Twenty10 because they want to practise the language around coming out.
It starts with coming out, but by engaging with and listening to young people as they grapple with big questions, we build a trust that leads to conversations about other aspects of their life.
I have been thinking about this process this week as it has been Sexual Health Week in NSW. To mark the week, we had a display in our drop-in space, including a condom-counting competition, that sparked a number of hairy and somewhat humorous conversations for our workers and volunteers.
After listening to a conversation where a young person was discussing whether itchiness ‘down there’ was an STI or just the growth of pubic hair, I decided to do some research on the internet. Why, when we have come some far in talking the language of sexual diversity, do we still have trouble with the language of sexual health?
My Nanna used to say, “Don’t forget to wash possible.” That was her code word for the old va-jay-jay. When I asked her why she said that (before I was old enough to be embarrassed) she explained that when she was at school, hygiene classes had referred to: 1. Wash as far down as possible; 2. Wash as far up as possible; and 3. Wash possible.
Nan was at school in the 1920-30s, so it is slightly mystifying to me, in my net quest to understand language, that in 2009, one of the largest sexual health campaigns in the US uses the language of ‘Take care down there!’. If you search Google with a focus on Australian sites that use the same language, it is truly staggering.
If working with young people has taught me anything, especially through having those first conversations about coming out, it is that language — and honest language — is the key to achieving something that is meaningful for everyone in that process.
Why then, 80-odd years down the track can we still not bring ourselves to say ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’? Seems we still have a way to go.