Have you purchased your ticket yet? You’re not alone if you’ve bought an advance ticket to one of the most talked about movies in years, Fifty Shades of Grey. On the heels of E.L. James’ unbelievable successful trilogy (more than 100 million copies sold around the globe), we now get to see if the pictures in our heads match what’s on the screen.
In my soon-to-be-released book, Why Married Couples Don’t Have Sex…at Least Not with Each Other! I write about what I call the ‘Fifty Shades Phenomenon’: ‘Perhaps spurred on by the book itself,or, more likely, by the open dialogue about sex and intimacy that it’s encouraged, women are beginning to look beyond the bookshelf in their quest for a more fulfilling sex life.’
If erotic books and movies offer some spice at night or ideas that two consenting adults can explore together, all the power to them. But that’s not what this article is really about. It’s about what happens when children have access to the books or see the movie (despite it having restricted access in the theatres). And it’s not just about this series of books or movie. What about all the under-agers who are watching porn—soft or otherwise—on their computers or iPhones? Will their perception of what making love or having sex is be forever distorted? Will their exposure to porn and sex outside of the box forever change their definition and expectations of sex?
So, when my fifteen year old shared that she was looking forward to seeing the movie, I turned fifty shades of grey. While I can’t blame her for being curious about what all the fuss is about, and recognize that she knows a lot more about sex than I did at her age, I’d rather she not identify with Anastasia Steele as a female role model or see Christian Grey as an example of the kind of man to lust after. I’d also rather she not identify good sex with role playing a submissive female and seek out a dominant male to do it with. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong in exploring different approaches to sex once she’s had more experience with sex and intimacy. But not yet. Not now.
Parents with children much younger than mine will often share their concerns about the sexual images their sons and daughters are exposed to, even in YouTube or music videos. Many password protect their devices so that their children are less likely to find what should be restricted to adults only, but still many do, in their bedrooms or when they’re with their friends.
So, while I may be able to stop my daughter from going to Fifty Shades of Grey in a movie theatre, I know that she’s beyond me when it comes to knowing how to download a movie on her computer and that forbidden fruit is very powerful.
I’m thinking that perhaps, rather than just forbidding her from seeing the movie, it may be better to find the right time to talk to them about our concerns and why. In my case, this means talking about why I’m concerned about the portrayal of sex in Fifty Shades becoming her benchmark for what sex is all about and then, if she does see it, she will at least (hopefully) hear my voice in her head. But before I do that, please excuse me. I’m off to purchase my advance ticket. For research purposes only, of course.
Image of Fifty Shades of Grey from Shutterstock.
Consent. It’s a word we’re hearing more often these days. It especially started gathering momentum shortly after the Jian Ghomeshi fiasco hit the news—a story involving alleged non-consensual sexual acts. Consent is a word that’s been a big part of my vocabulary for the last 25 years—thanks to my work counselling clients. Before I provide any therapeutic help, clients need to sign a consent to treatment form after reading the parameters of our relationship and what to expect. Most are not unfamiliar with this protocol. But with this word making headlines and coming to the fore, I was reminded again of how important consent really is, and how it fits in to our day-to-day family lives.
This got me thinking even further about the age at which we deem children capable of giving consent—not only from a legal perspective with professionals but even on an everyday basis with parents. I was especially thinking about the divorced parents who share with me that their child is not happy spending overnights with the other parent, only to be told ‘sorry, but the legal documents say you have to,’ and also reflecting on other words we use and the power we exert when insisting that our children do something that they’d rather not.
If you listen to conversations between parents and their children (yours and mine included), you will no doubt hear lots of examples of a parents imposing something against his or her child’s will. I get that there are daily activities that, given the choice, most kids would prefer not to engage in: brushing teeth, taking a shower, waking up early and going to school, to name a few. I also get that there are decisions that parents need to make and give consent for on behalf of their children that make them pretty unpopular, like ‘Yes, you do need to let the dentist take pictures of your teeth even though it is uncomfortable,’ for example.
However, I’m thinking that there are also times when we disregard our children’s wishes and impose our own on them, when we might not need to. ‘You need to wear gloves. I don’t care what you say. It’s cold outside’, or ‘You will sit here and eat your vegetables even if you have to sit here all night,’ are examples of times when a parent may consider a different approach so that a child can feel more in charge of his or her own body. So, instead of insisting that gloves be worn, let your child’s hands be cold as a reminder for next time that gloves are better worn than left at home. Or, instead of insisting that your child eat everything on their plate and thereby teaching them not to listen to what their body is saying (‘I’ll gag if I eat those green beans’), let your child serve himself food from platters on the table. If he sees you eating green beans, I promise there will come a time when he will try one instead of being turned off beans for the rest of his life after being forced to eat them.
Even though these examples might seem trivial when compared to the kinds of acts that probably come to mind when we think of consent, the takeaway message here is this: if you show respect towards your children by acknowledging their desire to be in charge of their own bodies and that their tastes and needs differ from yours, then they too will not only learn to respect themselves but appreciate you more, too. In addition, if you talk with them about choices and allow them to stand up for what they believe in, then they will be better equipped to make good choices later in life.
The silver lining to all of this shocking news is that a somewhat taboo topic is now out in the open. Parents are springing into discussions with their sons about how to respect girls (and others of course) and to their daughters about how to trust their intuitive selves, how to say no and how to speak up until someone listens (even when they’re afraid to do so).
I urge you, as parents, to consider what you’re modelling in your own relationships. Remain true to your messages about consent by being conscious of how you’re molding your children into respectful and sensitive people by first being respectful and sensitive towards them.
Image of holding hands from Shutterstock.