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Setting the Stage for Talking about Sex
By Sharon Maxwell, Ph.D.
“Mom, do you know what a stripper and a hooker are?,” asks my 7-year-old son as I drive him home from school. My brain freezes. Fortunately, I realize that I’m at risk of blowing a very important moment. When the brain freezes, we all risk saying something that will shut down our children. Kids know by our words and tone of voice when we’re tense, and they won’t go there again. The best antidote to brain freeze is a deep, relaxing breath. I take several and say in my most casual voice, “Yes, I know what a stripper and a hooker are. Do you?”
“Yes,” he replies. “A stripper is a girl who takes off her top and a hooker is when she takes everything off.”
I did a lot of breathing that day.
The story begins at recess when my son’s classmate described a video game that he had played at his 12-year-old neighbor’s house. If you kill a lot of people, you go to a room where a “stripper” takes off her top. By killing more people, you get to see a “hooker” take off all her clothes. This game is called Duke Nukem, available for rental in video stores. It gets worse. A parent recently told me that if you get to the highest level, by killing everyone, you enter a room where naked women are hanging off of meat hooks.
I listen to my son’s thoughts about this game. I tell him that I don’t think this is a good game, and that putting naked ladies together with killing people – like a reward – is wrong. As we talk, I’m trying to put myself in his head. I’m aware that the camaraderie of boys all sharing a secret has been stimulating. He has no context for understanding why naked ladies would be a reward for anything and he’s trying to make sense out of it. If I don’t step in and help, someone else will.
Someone else already has. My son now has a category in his brain where sex and violence are connected, where women’s bodies are viewed as a commodity that violent men are entitled to. Someone has sneaked into my child’s playground and taken away my right to introduce my son to the beautiful intimacies that happen between men and women.
I call the little boy’s mother. She is horrified. She had given explicit instructions to the 12-year-old’s parents that her son is not allowed to play video games at their house. She calls the parents. They are mortified. They have no idea what Duke Nukum is. They are both professional educators.
How We Think and Talk about Sexuality