Sex and Media Tips

Too much sexy stuff in your kids' media? What to watch out for -- and how to talk about it. By Common Sense Media Editors

We all know there’s no way to completely shield children from sexual images or messages. They seem to be in every commercial, magazine, song, game – everything. But what we can do is talk to kids about those images and try to challenge the exaggerated notions of sex they see every day. We can help our kids develop a normal, healthy perspective about sex. After all, you don’t want to let media teach your child about sex, do you?

Our kids are growing up surrounded by sexual images and messages. Kids and teens are exposed to sexual imagery in advertisements, on TV, in movies, in books, in video games, and on the Internet. Many of these images are played for shock value, so they often contain graphic or violent sex. Even mild shows use sexual situations for humor. Sexual humor is a mainstay of adolescent entertainment.

The more prevalent sexual situations are, the more normal they seem. Sexuality is increasingly reaching younger and younger children. Highly sexual images inform kids’ view of sex long before they have experienced it. And yes, studies have shown links between seeing lots of sex in the media and earlier onset of sexual activity.

Tips for parents of elementary school kids

  • Keep sexual content out of their media. We often think it’s harmless, but young kids imitate what they see and repeat what they hear, even if they don’t understand it.
  • Use safe-search filters on search engines. Kids look for images on Google and Yahoo! Even the most benign search terms can surface something you don’t want them seeing.

Tips for parents of middle school kids

  • Be aware and share your values. By middle school, most kids know the facts. They’re also surrounded by sexual humor that is especially appealing because of how embarrassed and curious kids are by the whole topic. This humor makes kids see sex as a laughing matter. Make sure you explain your values and balance the sexual examples kids see everywhere with your family’s values.
  • Don’t let kids use TVs and computers behind closed doors. Seeing what your children are watching will make it easier for you to enforce your own rules. When possible, watch and listen with your kids so you can answer – and ask – questions that might come up.
  • Look for teachable moments. A TV show in which a teen considers having sex with her boyfriend, or a song featuring sexy lyrics, can be the perfect opening for you to talk. Ask your kids about what they are seeing, hearing, and thinking about. They would rather talk about a movie than their own sexual thoughts.

Tips for parents of high school kids

  • Talk about the difference between scripted sex and reality. At this age, your children are moving into the sexually active zone. Discuss consequences, risky behaviors, and repeat your values. Point out that sex gets everyone’s attention, so in the media, sex is often used to sell something.
Do you use sex scenes in movies or TV shows as teachable moments, or is it too uncomfortable?

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Comments (13)

Teen, 14 years old written by Avery.harper

We joke about sex all the time! Sex is everywhere, my parents let me watch whatever I want, but I don't watch all that stuff. I even watch a few inappropriate movies with them sometimes, but those parts are usually really awkward, so we don't talk about them...
Adult written by earthlove13

As a adult i think it is ok for teens to explore with eachother but there can be rules. Parents can make rules but sexually media is everywhere in movies,cartoons even. We cant stop what goes out on television but we can explain to our kids. What to be safe about and tell them about sex. Parents should be more worried about the cartoons that babies are watching than our teens because everytjing nowfays can be token really wrong.
Adult written by madupers

As a parent and teen leader I recommend some great tv shows for tweens/teens if you care about good values and clean fun or family-friendly shows. Watch Hawaii 5-0 and Blue blood (some violence but great family values, clean, smart, well-written), Shark tank (real company owners trying to survive - learn great tips and discover new ideas, for family fun: guess which products will make it, Person of interest (violent but volunteers to protect the innocent); Chicago fire, Chicago PD and CSI (show behind the scene, team work, relationships. If you want to laugh together I suggest "The middle" (clean, great family values, really fun and great characters, well-written, one of the best shows out there where parents do their best in real family situations but it doesn't always turn out right. Extremely well-written and acted, deserves a lot more credit. Also, watch all of the E/I shows on Saturday mornings on all different channels: they are really good for all ages so watch them together as a family.(Whatdayado, Real life, The winning edge, Teen kids news, Expedition wild, Rock the park...Recipe rehab... Tivo them and watch them instead of the poor choices we have during the week and enjoy TV again as a family without worrying about bad advertisements, sexual content and ennuendoes ...
Adult written by Jared Galczynski

The media features much less sex than you think. Sure, you may not let your child watch some of his/her favorite shows anymore, but they won't believe you. Let them use computer and TV without your sight.
Adult written by Senser123

I feel that the technology we have today is probably the real reason we as Americans have become more sex obsessed in this age than in decades past especially teen and premarital sex and even in advertising I'm just saying it's better for kids not to learn about it from media but from thieir parents and / or guardians.
Parent of a 10 and 13 year old written by Samsafemom

We need to get together as parents and do something about the tv and movie ratings system!I went to the movies with my husband it was rated pg 13 but should have beenR!The opening scene was in bed talking about positions!Then he said he gamer tag was his big black ****!It was funny for adults but their was a 9 year old girl and10boy with their parents in the front row!Know one thinks 13 or 14 year olds should be having sex .So why is it o.k for them to watch it in all kind of crazy ways!!!!!
Adult written by Senser123

I think teen sex should not exist as a whole but I also feel something should be done about the ratings systems.
Adult written by JEDI micah

Yes, sex is probably the most beautiful gift God has given to us (so I've heard). But are young kids really ready to hear or receive info on sexy stuff that is offered from movies, TV shows, video games, and especially the Internet? I certainly don't think so! One time on my school bus, I heard middle school children making jokes about masturbation. I sure hope that they didn't hear those jokes from their parents, otherwise their parents need serious help! Even though I am a virgin now, I hope that someday, I will find the perfect wife to share my feelings with her. That is what true love should be! So parents, keep a sharp eye on what your kids see on the media when it comes to sexual content.