When it comes to appalling news about sex, last week certainly took the prize. We were inundated with stories about the behavior of two rich and powerful men: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund until late last week, and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So, parents, do you think you should help your teens process what they’ve heard, seen or read? Have you used these two incidents to initiate a conversation about sexual violence and marital infidelity with your teens? Was the exchange meaningful?
If you’ve picked up on something your teen said, summarized these stories at the dinner table or in the car, and discussed your teen’s points-of-view, congratulations! Your involvement in moments like this is crucial to helping your teen understand your morals and values about sexuality and form his or her own.
However, if you were too busy or felt uncomfortable talking about sexual assault and marital infidelity with your teen, it is not too late to have a go at the issues. With our tabloid press in hot pursuit of every lascivious detail of these stories, you’ll have a second or even a third chance to start important conversations with your kids.
Don’t be afraid. For many years, I worked with teens to publish a magazine and website about sexual health. I learned that teens are only too eager to engage in serious discussions about sexual issues. Besides seeking complete and accurate information, they want substantive discussions about the morals and values inherent in sexual behavior. Yet I found that they often faced a wall of silence at home.
My conversations with teens may have started with a little embarrassment and silly humor, but when my answers were respectful and sensible, the embarrassment soon faded. These teens were eager for honest, accurate information and the chance to really learn about this important aspect of their lives. They were not—as so many adults assume—seeking information about sexual matters in order to “do it.” Rather, they were hoping to understand the important role sex plays in adolescent and later-life relationships. They were sincere and eager to learn about sexual health, for themselves and their peers.
Your teens might welcome your questions about the issues arising from these two stories. Here are some possible questions you can ask your teen to get the conversation flowing:
- Are you and your friends talking about the Strauss-Kahn and Schwarzenegger stories?
- What are your friends saying? How do you and they feel about what these men did?
- Is there any excuse for using coercion to get sex?
- Why do you think Strauss-Kahn is claiming that the sex was consensual?
- Do you think that Schwarzenegger broke his marriage vows, and are there any excuses for his long-time deception of his wife?
- Where do you think we get our morals and values about sexual behavior?
- Do you think the increasing amounts of sexual violence and infidelity we see on TV and the Internet encourage sexual violence and infidelity in real life?
As I write these questions, I remember two recent comments in the media about solving the problem of abhorrent male sexual behavior. One journalist wrote that “the bottom line” for the Strauss-Kahn and Schwarzenegger incidents is: “Keep your hands off the household help.” According to Reuters, former Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, after hearing about her former fellow Governor, tweeted “Another guy guv admits 2 cheating on his wife…. Guys: keep ur pants zipped.”