As a teenager on the Gold Coast in the early 1970s, Kim Bear (born in 1959) recalls a changing yet contested openness about sex and sex education.
I remember reading Female Eunuch and being absolutely blown away by that, and Cleo was life changing, absolutely life changing. The hilarious thing was the Queensland editions had lots of things blacked out or had little block boxes printed over them and sealed sections taken away and there’s all this weird censorship that went on for the Queensland Cleo. I’m still thinking back to 1972, I don’t know how long it actually continued there because all the smart people just knew you went to Tweed Heads and got a New South Wales copy (laughs).
Nicole Curby: Did they teach you about contraception and all?
I think there was some discussion about condoms in the film [shown at school] and that would kind of make it boys’ responsibility, which I remember thinking was a bit dodgy (laughs) since there was no penalty for them if it didn’t work. I think probably just about everything else I learned to do with sex or contraception or anything came out of Cleo. That was kind of the bible really, because not only would they talk about it but there’d be pictures, and discussions, and it wasn’t always about, you know, the wrongness of it. It was that it’s just natural and, I’ve always felt much more comfortable about my own body after reading Cleo. And, you know, that these things were normal and not everybody did everything in the same way and it didn’t matter. I thought Cleo was just absolutely fantastic from that point of view.
Although I do remember my radical feminist [teacher] showing us how to put a condom on a carrot. I had no clue when that was going to be helpful for me, but (laughs) it was a very interesting conversation. Yes, I remember everyone was terribly embarrassed, but she just ploughed on regardless and by the end of it everyone was laughing and then it seemed to be okay.
Mind you, some girls didn’t pay attention and did get pregnant, so — (laughs)
Credit: Kim Bear interviewed by Nicole Curby in the Australian generations oral history project, ORAL TRC 6300/26, National Library of Australia. Recorded on 6, 8, 9 December 2011 in North Melbourne, Victoria.