"They focus on the bad stuff… not how good it can be"
"All girls want to be thin with big boobs"
"You need to turn a girl on to give her pleasure"
These were just a few of the opinions that came to light during my research group with twelve 14 year olds earlier this week.
Initially, it felt a little like herding cats. They wandered in and out of the room, nipping to the shop for chocolate, talking and laughing amongst themselves, playing a guitar - but after a while it felt like they were enjoying the session like a relay race, a process of taking it in turns to focus and I always had a generous quota of engaged minds.
Conversation continued in an unabated ebb and flow for pretty much 90 minutes and their ability to mentally multi-task was both inspiring and energising - when did I get so old and static??
My aim was to explore their attitudes to relationships, to find out what they thought about sex education. I also wanted to get a handle on what they needed to help them develop the confidence to make positive choices about their future relationships and sex life.
By the end, for this group at least, I had a sense of what mattered to them, what they cared about and also how much they are currently in transition, making the move from child to adult - and looking for answers. In the moments when I gave them a few basic facts, the room was silent. They were listening, soaking up knowledge like sponges.
Could they embarrass me? They gave that a go for a while and it didn't work, which they were pleased about. This seemed to be a fundamental issue in their sex education - the people they would look to for guidance weren't confident enough to give them the information they needed. Teachers weren't doing it. Parents were sometimes helpful but the response to their involvement was lukewarm and siblings and peers were only a minor part of the mix.
So who would they talk to if they had a really big problem, or were worried about something? A few said they'd be happy to go to their doctors, but I was conscious of the gap.
Of course this was a very small insight into the extremely broad field of sex education, evolving identity and emotional development - but it's given me a valuable starting point for my workshops. And those teenagers enjoyed it too, wanted to do more and gave me 9 out of 10 for my efforts - and whatever age you are, it's always nice to be appreciated.
So watch this space. There'll be much more to come.