One of the most common questions I get from parents is how to start the conversation with their kids about sex. I was recently on a little vacation in New York City, and because I rarely take a mental vacation even if I’m taking a physical vacation, I took pictures of a few items of note that demanded that a parent use them to start those conversations about sex.
First, an advertisement that I saw on my first day there:
Yep, that’s an advertisement that’s equating a woman’s ass (see the man’s grip?) to frontage real estate on 5th Avenue. So what’s wrong with that? Do you think it’s effective? Why or why not? By the time a young person is in middle school they are well equipped to have conversations like this in the home environment, and they should be having them. There are precious few places outside of the family where critical and thoughtful analysis of advertisements will take place, so it’s the parents’ job to make sure they happen there. Without it, children are far more likely to believe the silly associations so prevalent in advertisements, but they are are also less likely to be thoughtful about issues like gender dynamics.
Which brings us to the next advertisement that I couldn’t walk by without taking a picture of:
This one was in the subway. As a side note, I know nothing at all about this television show except what is shown on this billboard. Maybe I’m wrong in my analysis of the show itself, but regardless, the advertisement is a blatant and outrageous presentation of a woman as an object which will benefit a man’s penis, improve its general approach in the world (“Jock therapy.”). It also has an undercurrent of violence (“Necessary Roughness”). Now, I have no beef with the thorough enjoyment of sex or rough sex among consenting adults. However, this advertisement is not speaking seriously about either of these topics – it is pure titillation, presenting women as objects, and using crass sexual desire without (I assume) taking up any of the responsibility for education and serious discussion that must accompany these topics. It is disrespectful to women, men, good sex, rough sex, and everything associated with it. But because it drives deep into the sexual psyche, I expect it works. Parents need to give their children and teenagers the tools to understand the things that try to short circuit their brains to drive deep into them, and conversation is that tool.
And lest you think that I am encouraging you to only look at advertisements, here is a place I visited intentionally (and had the pleasure to dance in!): The Stonewall Inn.
The Stonewall was the site of the Stonewall Riots in June, 1969 that led to the Pride movement. While the riots are an extremely painful part of the movement to bring full rights to LGBTQ individuals, it led to great things. There are generally historical and interesting sites to see that can open dialogue about sex and sexuality in many cities, so why not include them in your summer vacation itinerary? The legal and social history of gender, sexual orientation, contraceptive rights, etc. is a fascinating one that can open hours of dialogue.
Maybe you’re very excited about starting (or continuing!) these conversations with your children. But maybe this kind of conversation seems arduous to you – not something you’re going to enjoy bringing up or talking about. But it will give you insight into your child’s mind, into how they perceive the world in ways that may be different from your own. Having this kind of serious, real-world conversation with your children and teenagers will ease you into having them with your child when she or he is an older teenager, a young adult, an adult. In other words:
Engaging in conversations about sex and sexuality with your child/teen: Potentially harrowing.
A lifelong parent/child relationship: Priceless.