Last week I had two conversations about the perception of sexuality and female identity.One with my eldest daughter by birth and the other with my “adopted” daughter. The latter was focused on a presentation she is doing for her degree. We looked at the perceptions of women in the media and how companies do place a lot of emphasis on using sex to sell. I know she will rock her presentation. The former with my eldest was about how much teens, both male and female, identify themselves through their sexuality. Trust me on that walk home from her school I learnt as much as I wanted to teach.
Parenting and Sexual Education
One of the challenges of being a parent, especially one who has worked for many years with young people, is finding the right tone, moment and approach to talk to your children about sexuality. Fortunately with my children we have encouraged openness about topics from an early age even though I recognise that as a man there are limits to what my daughters will share with me. Cue Mum, aunts and godmothers. That said there is this really fine balance between allowing them to make choices based on the information they receive and the boundaries as a parent you hold and wish to share, as opposed to enforce, on your children.
As a parent I know my kids are exposed to Rhianna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, etc Progressively these singers have relied on a kind of brazen sexuality to sell their music. Often my kids will play a song and I will ask them what does that lyric mean? My eldest and I were discussing a tune, 212, by new emerging rapper Azealia Banks. An infectious and catchy tune but lyrics (warning for those easily offended) that take a somewhat laissez faire approach to sex. My wife hates the song. My eldest will probably listen to it again. Thing is this I feel loathe to advise anything other than for her to make her choices. I have listened to Britney and Christina Aguilera songs, and before that Madonna and Lady Saw, and if I go way back Millie Jackson. Not to mention the various rap, rock and soul songs (Sexual Healing anyone?) which also lend themselves to explicit or cleverly crafted words around sexuality.
Then let’s speak about ads. Whether billboard, TV, not so much radio but definitely online the sexuality of women is used to sell goods. Whilst there are those who may consider something like Lynx adverts as nothing but tongue in cheek, the overarching meme of many adverts is to treat women as the object as opposed to the subject of desire. At best we have to teach (and demonstrate) to our sons and daughters that self worth and identity is much more than what is pumped out by the various media to them.
Now put a subject like sexual education or sexualisation of young girls in the hands of government or one of the more popular tabloids and it gets a bit extreme. As a parent where do you really turn to? How do you create honest dialogue around this and be informed? So yes it is easy to have a discussion about “sexualization” in the media, talk about STI’s and preventative measures. Not so easy to embrace the subject of porn. How many parents know the difference between porn and erotica? Not so easy to discuss non heteronormative sexuality. What if your teen asks you about advice if they thought they were gay or bisexual and you have no first hand experience of dealing with this ? What if your teen asks about polyamory or as one student in a school challenged me with the other day, how do you know the full depth of your own sexual identity if you haven’t lived your whole life yet.
So yes while it is easy to hand wring and shout at the TV when the latest female singer sits astride as part of her routine, the conversation about identity and sexuality being part of their identity is deeper than that. Teen years are fraught with emotional and intellectual turmoil. Our children are faced with increasing challenges as their bodies and minds have to deal with this shift from childhood to adulthood. It is for many a time of rebellion as they try to carve out their identity. Yes indeed through various media and peer pressure they will be bombarded with messages to which they will align our identity. How many of us parents hope and pray our daughters never turn our like Kim Kardashian, Katie Price or a Jersey Shore clone? Yet we have to trust them enough that we taught them self worth, values and principles to be themselves.
It’s not an easy one and I for one am glad I can talk to my daughters about this as with other areas in their life, but heck it’s not easy is it?