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Question to the Sexpert:
“In all of the articles you’ve written that I’ve read you’ve never shown any concern with the effect all this graphic sex talk has on kids. I see that your site says it’s for adults only, but you’re part of an overall system of in-your-face sexuality that I see and hear every day. What do you have to say to us parents who have the responsibility to protect our kids?”
Let me begin by agreeing with you entirely. I actively seek through every column to encourage open dialogue about sexuality: a goal often perceived as indistinguishable from the salacious, for-profit, instant gratification culture cultivated by modern media. And rarely have I digressed from a topic to discuss how children are affected by the conversation being held. And this commoditization of sexuality, this “in-your-face” skankitude, is having a serious effect on kids.
In short: you’re right… But you need to look further.
Let’s start by talking about how sex is similar to its equally maligned brethren: drugs. We hear “drugs are bad” and immediately after doing a Mr. Mackey impression in our heads, we sort of agree. Drugs, like heroin and meth, have ruined the lives of people we know and maybe even love. But amoxicillin has cured many a sinus infection and leukotriene inhibitors have saved many lives that might have otherwise been lost to an asthma attack. Not all drugs are the drugs the TV tells us are a “dead end.” And not all sex is hedonistic, irresponsible degradation of innocence.
What differentiates the good from the bad is both content and context. My site, as you mentioned, is intended for an adult audience, or at least folks who can handle my obfuscating poly-syllabic responses to questions about the Dirty Sanchez. But what about less-avoidable media like the radio and TV?
I’m not going to come at you with the standard bullshit line (although it still is true) that “if you don’t want your kids exposed to something, turn off the damn TV and radio.” You’re not an omnipresent Big Brother who can monitor every stimulus around your children and much of what is presently available is schlocky shite. But what should concern you is not that sex is being discussed or presented, but how.
Take for instance the song “Birthday Sex” by Jeremih. I’ve heard it decried as obscene and in some radio edits the word “sex” is omitted entirely. On its face it could be construed as yet another bitches and hos R & B jam. But in reality, I’d contend that it’s one of the better messages out there for kids.
“Birthday Sex” is about showing affection for one’s partner and mutual pleasure. It communicates that a woman can and ought to derive enjoyment from sexual activity and that her partner can be proud of putting effort into satisfying her needs and focusing energies on building a relationship. It’s a celebration of the physical act of love. Even the most traditional of critics ought to support these notions. And nothing in the lyrics suggests that the couple featured in the song is not monogamous. And arguably there’s no reason to assume they aren’t even married.
But because the beat is hot and the content is sexual, the song is dismissed as being indistinguishable from “Face Down, Ass Up” by 2 Live Crew.
Then, on the flip-side is resident Safe White Girl, Kelly Clarkson. I’ve yet to hear a lot of objections to her lyrics (well, moral objections anyway) but her song “My Life Would Suck Without You” is a glorification of a dysfunctional, mildly abusive, overly dramatic relationship. Kids listening to it learn that it’s normal and even romantic for one’s significant other to deride and insult them, as long as they have a magnetic attraction towards each other and apologize after a fight.
That’s undeniably more harmful to a young girl singing along in the backseat of the car, slowly learning through modeling how people ought to act. Again: it’s both content and context. And that’s where you, the parents, come in.
You can’t police everything that your kids are exposed to and you shouldn’t either. What you can and should do, though, is not be lazy and scared to talk to them. Use each sexually charged moment on TV or radio as a teachable moment and have a conversation about what your family believes about the subject. Ask your kids what they think of the words they’re hearing and the images they are seeing. Share your values on the messages being conveyed. Tell them that an awful lot of media is made so that people can make money off of fantasy and that it may not represent reality.
I’ll do my part: giving you and them factually accurate information when needed. You give them the tools to sort through the information.
Sexpert Timaree Schmit is currently finishing her doctorate in Human Sexuality, the culmination of a lifetime of prurient interests. She has worked as a sex educator writing for both academic and popular media for over seven years, and as an HIV Prevention Counselor, peer sexuality educator and adjunct professor. She was the founding Chair of the Human Sexuality Education Student Organization (HSEDSO) and is an active member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and the Society for Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS). You can see more of her work at SexWithTimaree.com