Talk to your kids about S&M | Amy Johnson
By AMY JOHNSON
Federal Way Mirror Sex in the Suburbs
May 9, 2011 · 4:22 PM
I learned about Rihanna’s new song and video, “S&M,” from two different groups — Federal Way middle-schoolers and adults who work with teens.
There was similar discomfort in both groups. The middle-schoolers were concerned that “little kids” were singing the song without realizing what it meant. The adults were concerned about how to talk to youth when they ask about things like S&M.
We can argue and “tsk, tsk!” all day about whether Rihanna should have a video with this title, whether it should be accessible on the Internet, and who should and shouldn’t be able to see it. The real issue is this: What do you do if a young person asks you, “What’s S&M?”
It’s my contention that we adults need to be askable and unflappable. If we’re not, our kids are going to rely on sources like Google and their peers for information about sexuality. When they do this, they will find things that may or may not be accurate, most likely won’t be the whole story, and often won’t reflect your values. While they may go to the Internet and their peers anyway, being an askable and unflappable adult at least increases the chances that our youth will have a trustworthy source for accurate information.
In the above example, start with taking a deep, calming breath. Then say something like, “I’m glad you asked, and I’m curious where you heard that term.” This will give you information about where to take the conversation. If this is your second-grader who heard the term on the playground, you will go somewhere different from a discussion with your 14-year-old who tells you her friends watched the video, and she wants to know why it’s a big deal.
The second-grader will likely be satisfied with “Thanks for telling me. That’s something that some adults do in private, but it’s not something you should talk about at school.”
With your 14-year-old, I’m going to assume you have discussed sexuality with her before now. I’m going to assume, as an askable and unflappable parent, you have shared knowledge with this eighth- or ninth-grader about pregnancy, contraception, STIs, sexual decision-making and more. You have done this, not in one long awkward conversation, but in a series of conversations over the years, wanting to make sure she has accurate information from a trustworthy source before she needs it. (Hint, hint, to you second-grade parents reading).
Again, after your deep breath, let your 14-year-old know that S&M stands for “sado-masochism,” a type of mutually consensual role-playing some adults do together as part of sex. Make sure she knows that the main points are “mutual,” “consensual” and “adult.” This distinguishes S&M from abuse and assault, much like clear consent distinguishes having sex from rape.
You might even go together to a trustworthy site, like www.goaskalice.columbia.edu — search “s and m,” read the responses together and discuss them. The key here is “trustworthy site” vs. just a Google search of the term. By doing this together, you are also role-modeling where your youth can find trustworthy and medically accurate information, as well as opening up more opportunities for conversation about other topics, which may or may not require more deep breathing on your part.
Being askable and unflappable doesn’t mean you don’t have any feelings about an issue. You may need a night out with a good friend to debrief. What it does mean is that you remain open to having conversations with youth about the issues that are in their world. They are young, they are curious, and even if they don’t have access to Rihanna’s video at your house, there are a hundred other ways they can see it or hear about it.
Be askable. Be unflappable. Talk to your kids.Contact Federal Way Mirror Sex in the Suburbs Amy Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.