When it comes to children of all ages, it's now inevitable they will be exposed to sex in the media – whether in television and film, online, or through good old fashioned books and other printed material.
Such is the hyper-sexualised world we live in: sex is so prevalent everywhere from HBO dramas to health and fitness magazines.
In no way am I a parenting expert, but I like to think I'm pretty knowledgeable about sexuality and how to discuss it. Recently I've been asked countless times what my thoughts are on sheltering kids from sexual material in the media – if it can or should be done.
I come from a very anti-censorship place on this one. I don't believe it's possible to hold onto a child's "innocence" in the 21st century, nor do I think we should turn a blind eye to things that happen regardless but we're uncomfortable with.
I believe the best way through this is not to shelter, but to teach kids from a very young age how to understand the highly-sexualised world we live in.
Contextualising everything in the media is pertinent here. This is why parents shouldn't restrict what their kids consume, but rather, invite an environment whereby nothing is taboo and they can ask you about anything they see without feelings of shame or guilt.
The risks are far greater in trying to shelter kids from sex (and/or keeping mum on the topic) than in purely being an open book about it. For example, pornography is being accessed by young people very easily now, and it's dramatically misinforming them about appropriate sexuality. With no other reference points, kids are learning that sex is just a power play combined with loud screaming to insinuate enjoyment, oversized penises, and "money shots" over a submissive partner.
When I was a kid, we still talked about sex as "what two people do when they love each other and want to have a baby". The concept of pleasure was never discussed and thus, when hormones kicked in, we were wildly unprepared. I'd like to see more parents take the recreation of sex more seriously when they see it portrayed in the media, so we can all accurately discuss what is going on from a critical point of view.
I also don't believe in infantilising young people by using silly words like "diddle" and "front bum" to talk about the human body. When you see a full-frontal image on your TV set, please go ahead and discuss it using anatomically correct words. Making sexuality childish helps nobody.
It would also be beneficial, I believe, to start teaching kids at a younger age that sex is not just penetrative intercourse. It's not something one person "does" to another. Sex is a myriad of physical expressions. We should explain sex not as a transactional or biological agreement but an expression of mutual feelings of attraction and intimacy (not necessarily love).
Most valuable in opening up this kind of rhetoric with your family is an underlying comprehension that what we see in various forms of media is not real, it won't ever be reality, and the way it's presented is not necessarily something a person should feel they need to act upon one day.
I believe this takes the pressure off young people when it comes to how they consume sexual content in the media, and puts sexual content more in line with, say, fantasy or sci-fi. Realistically, this is where most sexual material out there in our glossed-over, Photoshopped media world actually belongs.
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