Sex and the Super Bowl
“Where do babies come from?” That perfectly normal question from children has been striking fear in the hearts of some parents since our culture started allowing children to be seen AND heard. The question sometimes seems to come too soon (why are you thinking about that already?) and almost always at an inopportune moment (while in the car really is a typical time for kids to ask their parents).
Kia’s Super Bowl commercial this year features a young child asking where babies come from, followed by an elaborate fictional answer concocted by his father. When the kid starts to question the fiction, his father stops conversation with one of Kia’s “standard options,” quickly putting on music. The ad asserts that Kia has an answer to every question (follow this link to view commercial).
As this commercial illustrates, the days of giving kids some tossed-off answer to the question of where babies come from (the stork brings babies) are thankfully long over. There’s far too much information available to them — some of it ridiculous, some of it minutely detailed and accurate. And despite the discomfort the question can cause, most parents want to be the primary people giving their kids information and values about sex and sexuality.
I’ve been speaking with parents for 25 years and have been a parent for 14 and I can tell you that these conversations get easier and easier if they are integrated naturally into day-to-day life. Kids need age-appropriate, accurate information that responds to the questions and concerns they raise. For all children and teens, it is useful to start by clarifying what they are asking or why they are bringing up a topic. There is a popular joke in my field about a young child who asks, “Where do I come from?” After the parent jumps in with a clear, detailed answer about the penis, the vagina, eggs, and sperm, the child says, “But Sophie says she is from Brooklyn, where do I come from?”
The truth is we give our kids information about sex and sexuality all the time — whether we mean to or not. Sexuality includes messages about the differences and similarities between boys and girls, men and women, messages about relationships and bodies, as well as what is typically identified with sex — like reproduction and sexual behavior. Rather than allowing Super Bowl ads to impart erroneous information to our kids, we can use everyday opportunities to have conversations with them about our values and how to make sense of what they see in the media and hear from friends.
We can use teachable moments, use humor — it’s okay to own our own discomfort! — and put some thought into the main messages we want to give our children about sex and sexuality.
That way, we don’t have to worry about turning on music when the unexpected questions come up. We’ll be prepared to give our kids the answers we want — and set ourselves up as the ones to come to when they have questions.
Leslie Kantor is the mother of a 14-year-old son who is an avid snowboarder. She is also the Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which offers resources for parents on their website.