10 January 2008

Review: Sex...with Mum and Dad

I know, I know, the title is horrendous. But actually I think that this programme on BBC3 is worth giving a chance, particularly for teenagers and their parents (who the show is primarily aimed at). The basic premise is that the relationship between the teenager and their parent(s) has broken down. They go to visit Maria Schopman, who is a Dutch "sexologist" and family therapist helps families to talk about sex and their experiences of it, and attitudes towards it.

As a family, they have to involve themselves with various tasks which involve a great deal of nervous giggling and red faces. Some of the tasks have included making clay penises, putting dolls into a variety of sexual positions, and drawing stick people of the number of sexual partners that you have had. But, despite the initial embarrassment that these tasks of course cause, they seem to work. Teenagers and their parents use these exercises as a way of opening up a dialogue about sex which has been missing previously.

One of the most positive things about this programme is that fundamentally it accepts that teenagers are sexual beings, and that that is OK. Whilst teenagers in the last show (who were using casual sexual relationships as a way of trying to seek intimacy) are encouraged to moderate their behaviour, I actually don't have a problem with this. Once they had been able to be honest with themselves and their parents about sex, then they actually made the decision for themselves that they did not necessarily want to engage in that particular behaviour any more. They were not pressured into making this decision, and Maria Schopman appears to be entirely unshockable and unjudgmental.

I think that not talking to children and teenagers about sex, relationships, STDs, pregnancy, and a wealth of other issues relating to sex means that they can feel lost. They engage in risky behaviour because they are not aware of safe sex. As Maria Schopman points out, in the Netherlands, teenage pregnancy and the rate of STD infection is significantly lower, and she believes that this is because they discuss these issues with their children in depth, giving them the tools to go and and enjoy sexual relationships safely, and knowing that they have the support of their parents. We should be doing this in the UK too, as this programme aptly demonstrates.

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