16 September 2023

Sex book ban on the agenda for Wagga City Council

| Chris Roe
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book cover superimposed on building

Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes have sparked a lively debate over their controversial sex book for kids. Photo: Supplied.

The stage is set for a lively debate at Wagga City Council on Monday (18 September) when Councillor Michael Henderson brings forward his Notice of Motion to remove a controversial children’s book from the library.

The book in question is Welcome to Sex: Your No-Silly-Questions Guide to Sexuality, Pleasure and Figuring It Out, written by Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes, with illustrations by Jenny Latham.

Cr Henderson wants to “remove the book titled Welcome To Sex from council’s library collections” and make appeals to the relevant government bodies to reclassify and further restrict access to the book in public libraries.

“I’ve had a lot of questions from people in the community about it,” Cr Henderson explained.

“So I actually had a bit of a squiz at some of the sections in the book and I thought it was pretty outrageous for where we’re sitting it in the library.

“It’s just inappropriate material where it is in the children’s section.”

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The book triggered a backlash when it was published in May, with some parent groups and media commentators objecting to its frank approach to topics such as physical development, masturbation, gender diversity, safe sex, gender identity and even ”sexting”.

They complain that the book’s detailed sexual content is too explicit and argue that the bright cartoon illustrations could expose younger children to inappropriate material.

Publisher Hardie Grant describes Welcome to Sex as an “age-appropriate introduction to sex and sexuality pitched at teenagers aged between 12 and 15”, although co-author Stynes has said that it would be appropriate for a “mature eight-year-old”.

Supporters argue that the book provides well-researched information for parents and children and is a better alternative to schoolyard innuendo and online material they might be exposed to.

pages from a book

A peek inside Welcome to Sex by Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes, with illustrations by Jenny Latham. Photo: Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing.

Wagga City Council is not the first LGA to seek a ban. Councillors in Yass last month voted to keep Welcome to Sex on the shelves, seven votes to two.

Wagga’s Cr Dan Hayes described the Notice of Motion as “ridiculous” and slammed moves to remove any book from the library.

“What I’m concerned about is councillors trying to replace parents in their decision-making,” he said.

“Libraries are designed to have a range of information available freely to the public, so where does this end? What other books do we decide are not suitable?

“It’s an absurd approach to a book that he admits he hasn’t even read!”

Wagga councillor Michael Henderson

Wagga Wagga City Councillor Michael Henderson wants Welcome to Sex removed from Wagga City Library. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

In his submission, Cr Henderson declared that: “In any other form, or format, the content of this book would be considered grooming. That would result in criminal charges being laid against those promoting such material.”

In particular, he highlighted the book’s “graphic descriptions of sexual activities” and said it “aggressively pushes gender ideology in children”, placed children at risk of sexual abuse and “advises children how to send nudes by cropping out their heads”.

The section of the book on the taking and sending of sexual images, titled Nudes, texting and online sex, has been particularly controversial and is the target of a campaign by advocacy group Collective Shout.

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The group campaigns against the exploitation of women and girls and is calling on the publisher to amend this section and remove the line on page 174, which reads: “If we were talking to our own kids, we’d tell them to always crop their heads out of any photos, just in case …”

The letter points out that it is a crime under Australian law “to possess, produce or distribute sexual images of minors” and argues that the book’s subsequent qualification is misleading.

On page 175 of Welcome to Sex, the authors warn: “If you send a nude with someone you’re being intimate with, they aren’t allowed to share it with anyone else without your consent, and vice-versa – it can be a crime.”

Collective Shout claims that the wording implies that it is the “lack of consent” that is an offence, not the act of producing or possessing the material.

The group is not calling for the book to be removed, only for the amendment to be made in future reprints.

Cr Hayes expects a lively debate at Monday’s meeting but said the council shouldn’t be drawn into “conspiracy theories”.

“I think it’s embarrassing that council is wasting time on this rather than spending time working on the real issues we have to deal with.”

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