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How can parents deal with sex in the media?

As parents, can we compete with our kids’ friends and the media to positively influence them? What should we say?

In the film Starsky & Hutch, there is a scene in which the two detectives are on a first date with cheerleaders, Staci and Holly. When David Starsky is accidentally drugged, his friends carry on without him, with the women cuddling up on either side of Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson. Staci and Holly kiss Hutch and then kiss one another, with the clear implication that more is to follow. This scene from a PG-13 movie is just one example of a message that is frequently found in the media: sex is for entertainment and immediate gratification. Parents, however, can offer a counter-cultural perspective that embeds sexuality within the context of spirituality and relationship.

Keep talking about sex throughout your child’s development.

In learning about any subject, we give children a foundation and then build on it. The same is true in regard to sexuality. It begins with discussions about the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies and where babies come from. Over time, new information builds on this foundation. It is easier to maintain discussions over time than it is to initiate them when children reach puberty.

Take advantage of “teachable moments.”

Conversations that are true give-and-take interactions are more effective than are parent dominated discussions. Instead of a formal sit-down talk, it may be more effective to have brief conversations while driving in the car or clearing dinner dishes. Talk about movies or TV shows that you’ve seen, newspaper stories or school events. Remember the old saying, “The Lord gave us two ears and one mouth so that we would spend twice as much time listening as we do talking!”

Talk relationship, not just safety.

Research indicates that most parent-teen discussions about sex stress the risk factors, such as AIDS or unplanned pregnancies. Although it is important for adolescents to understand these consequences, there are other aspects that are essential to incorporate into the development of healthy sexuality. The Catechism states that sexuality affects “the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.” (2332) True intimacy with another person involves more than just a physical relationship. If sex is just for entertainment, pleasure disappears quickly and the person is left with greater unhappiness.

Chaste and sexual.

Whatever our state of life, we are sexual beings called to chastity. (CCC 2348) Adolescents are just beginning this lifelong task: “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.” (CCC 2339) Parents help through discussions with their teens, but also by serving as positive role models in regard to their own sexuality.