Controversial ‘Welcome to Sex’ book receives unrestricted rating

The book has drawn ire from some and praise from others.
The book has drawn ire from some and praise from others.
Warning: This article contains brief descriptions of sexual acts, which may offend some readers.

A controversial sex education book for teenagers that had to be pulled from shelves in Australia has been given an “unrestricted” rating by New Zealand’s chief censor.

The book, Welcome to Sex: Your no-silly-questions guide to sexuality, pleasure and figuring it out, by former Dolly Doctor and youth health expert Dr Melissa Kang and TV personality Yumi Stynes, has divided library-goers and parents.

The book traverses everything from consent and sexuality to sexual positions, pleasure and information on sex acts such as oral sex, “fingering” and “scissoring”.

Te Mana Whakaatu Classification Office today announced the book has received an unrestricted classification, meaning parents can decide for themselves if the book is right for their teenagers.

“For young people seeking information about sex, resources like this provide an alternative to pornography or other material online that could be harmful. The classification allows parents to determine if its right for their teens,” said chief censor Caroline Flora.

“Restricting this publication would take away the ability of parents and whānau to use this publication as an educational tool in discussions around sex,” Flora said.

The book has drawn ire from some and praise from others.

“For us, it was a very straightforward decision. Our legislation is very clear as to what constitutes an ‘objectionable’ (i.e. banned or illegal) publication, or why a publication should be restricted in some other way. To meet the legal threshold the availability of this publication would have to be ‘injurious to the public good’.”

The Office instead found the publication to be an educational resource written in plain language and combined with simple, and non-erotic illustrations.

“The book is clearly about sex. It is written in very large letters on the front cover so is unlikely to be mistaken for a book on another subject,” Flora said.

The Office will, however, be advising libraries and booksellers to consider how they display the book, as it is a publication that is more suitable for teenagers or for parents as an educational tool, she said.

“The labelling regime for books is different from films and does not provide us with the option to label unrestricted content. If it did, we would have labelled this ‘M’ like we can do with films and streaming content. This flags to parents that they might like to review the content first to decide whether or not it is suitable for their younger teenagers.”

The Office received 15 original requests for the book to be classified. It then invited the publisher, library associations, the Booksellers Association and the Department of Internal Affairs to make submissions on the matter.

The Office then received more than 400 emails from members of the public asking for a classification.

The book's authors, Yumi Stynes (left) and Dr Melissa Kang. Photo: Supplied
The book's authors, Yumi Stynes (left) and Dr Melissa Kang. Photo: Supplied
Flora said the original submitter and members of the public were calling for a classification which restricts the book. The publisher and the representative organisations submitted that the book should be unrestricted.

The book, the latest in a series focusing on youth sexual health, consent and sex, sparked angry comments on social media recently from one Lower Hutt resident.

“Did the purchaser at Lower Hutt Library actually view the Welcome to Sex book that they’ve now purchased for the libraries? Were they taken in by the cutesy colour and juvenile illustrations of fruit and vegetables on the front cover?” the poster asked on Facebook.

They said the book had illustrations and information about numerous sex acts and was marketed to teens aged 11-14.

“The author is also happy for a ‘mature 8-year-old to view it’. The marketing blurb says it will make sex fun and will help readers ‘navigate their sexual debut with confidence’.

“Well, I can’t think of any 8-12-year-olds I know, particularly the young girls, who need this info, or to stumble across it in the library.”

The book has already caused heavy debate in Australia, with retailer Big W forced to remove it from shelves after staff members began receiving abuse from members of the public.

Co-author Stynes told SBS News she’d received death threats over the book, but did not regret writing it.

“It’s not going to hurt a kid to hear about sex, and anyone who’s had a kid or spent time with them understands that they have a huge curiosity about sex when they’re ready.”