Stacey Jacobs is the Community Sexual Health Educator at Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, ppwr.on.ca, and has taught sexuality classes at the University of Waterloo.
I was talking to grade six boys about puberty when one boy blurted out, “I am never having sex, I hate cigarettes!” Confused I asked him what he meant by that. It turns out he thought it was a requirement to roll over after sex and have a cigarette in bed. He had seen this so many times on television and in movies that he assumed they went hand in hand.
There are many factors that influence our knowledge, beliefs and values about sex — families, friends, education, religion, culture and, of course, the media. When I say media I am referring to radio, television, movies, commercials, music, Internet, video games and social media sites. Young people are bombarded like never before with images of sex and sexuality, often with no explanation or education about what they are seeing and hearing. This often leaves children and teens confused and misinformed.
I have been a sex educator at Planned Parenthood for over ten years and every year I have noticed an increase in the amount of answers from children and teens that are simply, “because I saw it on the Internet.” For instance, one month I had approximately five teens tell me that a human head could easily fit into a vagina. When I asked them why they thought this they all said “Because I saw it on the Internet.” When I searched Google, I found a video of a man putting his head into a woman’s vagina. And yes it appeared that it was an easy accomplishment. I also noticed that the vagina remained open when the man took his head out again and the vagina appeared to be made out of some sort of modeling
clay. This, however, was not apparent or important to the teens.
The ability to decipher what is real and not real seems to be lacking. I know many adults who have the same problem. Few of us are taught how to critically analyze what we see and hear, and because the media has such a large influence in modern society this is an essential skill to learn. Many institutions like schools, public health and Planned Parenthood have begun to incorporate this type of learning into their education, but parents must also take part.
It is also important to monitor what your children are watching and which technology they are using, so you are aware of the content and can answer any questions they may have, as well as offer explanations, debunk myths and help them to critically analyze what they have seen and heard. Talk to your children and ask them questions about the media they are viewing and using.
Sit down with your children and watch their favourite television shows with them. During commercials or after the show talk about what you have seen. Listen to the music they are listening to. Google the lyrics if you need to. Offer to play a video game with them. And, whether you want to or not, you should be using the same social media as your children so you understand how it works and you can see what your children are reading and writing. No matter how much we try to shelter our children, media is everywhere and they need the skills to be critically aware.