Sex ed in the age of Snooki
December 16th, 2010
08:20 AM ET

Sex ed in the age of Snooki

These days, all you have to do is turn on the TV or pick up a gossip magazine to see the future of our youth—and let me tell you, it’s not pretty. In the age of Snooki, "Girls Gone Wild," and Tila Tequila, where on Earth is a young woman supposed to find positive female role models? And how are our boys going to grow up to respect female sexuality when the girls themselves seem to be throwing all sexual caution to the wind? From sexting to the mainstreaming of amateur pornography, a new culture of raunchiness has emerged, one in which women aren’t just participating—they’re often taking the lead.

At Good in Bed, it’s a trend that has many of us concerned. In one of my favorite books on the subject, "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture," journalist Ariel Levy argues that our culture’s model of female sexuality encourages women to perform for men—think strip clubs and porn. And, writes Jennifer Egan in her New York Times review of the book, “Women have bought into this by altering their bodies surgically and cosmetically, and— more insidiously—by confusing sexual power with actual power, so that embracing this caricaturish form of sexuality becomes, in their minds, a perverse kind of feminism.” But, as Levy points out, “‘Raunchy’ and ‘liberated’ are not synonyms. It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we've come, or how far we have left to go.”

The sexual objectification of women is nothing new. Even Cleopatra, one of the most intelligent and powerful rulers the world has ever known, is mainly remembered by history for her skills as a seductress. But these days, men aren’t the only ones doing the objectifying. In fact, women don’t just objectify themselves—they often objectify other women, too. They’ve come to see themselves through male eyes, whether they’re looking at themselves in a mirror or out on the dance floor. The male gaze is everywhere. If there weren’t guys looking, there wouldn’t be girls posting semi-nude photographs online. If there weren’t guys looking, there’d be no reason for girls to “go wild” in the first place.

Parents blast portrayals of teen sexuality

On the surface, I’ve got it easy as a parent—my wife and I have two sons. “Boys will be boys” goes the conventional wisdom. We’ve come to expect—and often excuse—their bad behavior. That means it falls on a girl’s shoulders to have the self-confidence and self-esteem to create and protect boundaries in respect to her sexuality. While I think it’s important to teach girls how to be empowered gatekeepers of their own sexuality, I also believe that we have to focus on the boys, not let them off the hook. If girls operate in the male gaze (both actual and internalized), then we need to change that gaze. Boys need to learn how to see girls differently. Here’s how:

· Start with your own relationship. Almost from birth, children model and imitate what they see at home. If you and your spouse don't treat each other with respect , you can't expect the same from your child.

· Talk about sex. The information is out there. In books. On the Internet. At Good in Bed, we have many free resources dedicated to the topic of communicating with kids about sexual intimacy. Don't avoid “the talk” - embrace it. It's particularly important that Dad, or another positive male role model, helps to cultivate a sense of respect towards women. Parents cannot take a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to sex education.

· Help your children decode the media. Point out images that objectify women and explain why they do not accurately reflect female sexuality. Keep an eye out for positive female role models. They're out there.

· Stay in tune with their world. Talk to your child’s teachers and other parents to get a sense of what's happening in and out of the classroom. Let your child make mistakes. You made yours. You can't shut the world out, but you can help your children live in it.

Remember, you can't stop your boy from seeing the world around him. But you can change how he looks at it. And what he needs to be looking at are strong women who know the difference between reality and reality TV.

Ian Kerner is a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

soundoff (289 Responses)
  1. andy

    Nice article, but remember that that son might be gay, and only talking to him about girls might make him hide it or feel bad about it. Make sure that talk is open to whoever the child will be.

    December 16, 2010 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Laura

    There is nothing new under the sun. Men want their wives to be a lady in the parlor and a wh*re in the bedroom. And, most of the time, they want a woman with some intelligence even though they don't admit this.
    As for what women want, I, as a woman, have a harder time defining what most women want. I think they too want, just once in their lives, the hot guy that everybody else wants, but prefer to marry the stable geek with a job......
    Then again maybe we all just like action in and out of the bedroom.

    December 16, 2010 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. theknowing1

    the return of rome and there ways

    December 17, 2010 at 01:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ted

    ....Anything that Hollywood..."Stars"...Celebrities" like and promote..is BAD...These "Pretend" beautiful people,,earned their degrees ..spread open..laying on their backs or bent over for Directors, Producers , etc.....This is the extent of their wisdom and education...They are disgusting to most everyone except themselves ..as they pollute the world with dirty music..movies..talk..drugs ..total Hedonism and Debauchery...The opinion of a Rabid Dog carries more importance.

    December 17, 2010 at 04:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. jean grey

    I agreed with the author up to the point which expected that men (more particularly, boys) should change their internal biochemical wiring and dynamic. They're wired the way they're wired; BUT, what we do with that as parents and society is a different story. They can't change their initial underlying feelings but they can change their responses and behaviors. Women have done themselves a great disservice by teaching an entire generation of boys - soon to be men - as to how their corresponding generation of girls (to be women) expect to be treated. We take our leads from each other. If our nine year-old playmates and 12 year-old sisters and our 16 year-old buddies behave a certain way, then that is going to be the primary model for how we interact. Everyone touts parents and adults as being the role models. It doesn't play as large a role as we adults would hope. We give ourselves way too much credit. There's a numerical problem with the idea: we have only two parents; four with step-parents if you wish, and various teachers. Perhaps aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends of same ... but as children and teenagers and even college students, the ratios of the people with whom we actually associate are 10, 20 30 or more times slanted in favor of being surrounded by, impressed upon by, guided by and learning from ... other children. We seek one type of approval from adults / teachers / parents, but another from our peers. No, until we start looking at the way things actually are instead of the way we would like things to be, we are merely engaging in more "magical thinking;" and, in doing so, the cycle of ignorant failure to change will continue. Yes, a woman "should" be able to run naked in the streets unmolested, but if she does so, she can't be surprised when "cause and effect" take over and something undesirable happens. This is not blaming the victim: it is looking at reality straight in the face and stating that we are all responsible for our share in our own human condition and the human condition in general. Denying reality will lead only to one place: where we are right now, with its accompanying whine of "how did we get here?"

    December 17, 2010 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Yellowtail and Scallions

    Us guys just want to bang broads and move on. Fire off both barrels and find another target. Its all we really want. Closeness is great as is marriage but being neutered in marriage is killing off my nature and I want to act natural. Id even give it to Snooki as long as she was tested first. That drunk little wench must be wild.

    December 17, 2010 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. tim in spokane

    Funny, I tried to post a reply that didn't agree with the authors view and it didn't get posted. Huh...

    December 17, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Huh?

    Ignore what bothers you. Paying attention to what you find offensive and then complaining about it seems like you want to have something to complain about.

    I like to read, code and learn about mathematics. I Also like to go out and have a good time. I find most women of my generation are deficient in both the liberal arts and applied sciences. I agree our media breeds philistines. But this makes those who are refined so much more enjoyable. And thats what I cherish.

    December 17, 2010 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Calculator

    So it's wrong to objectify women for sensual purposes. However it is perfectly okay to objectify women and use them as a scapegoat to champion a cause,voice personal disagreement with societies current state, or using her woman's name as a means to garner publicity and recognition. I find it hard to agree with the article because it does the very thing it sets out to ridicule. At least men and women who engage in this type of behavior don't pretend to be something they are not; or hide behind the guise of "moral superiority" and "class". The funny thing the writer is engaging in the same behavior that he abhors without even consciously being aware of it.

    December 19, 2010 at 19:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. morg

    wow its funny how people see this. its simple what is self-respect? why is it tied to a puritanical lifestyle? ive had enough of the OMG she is misbehaving! get real why do women chase bad guys? they are interesting for the short term but arent worth crap long term.why is it the first thing a woman does in a relationship is try to fix the way their man acts? why do both stare and chase what they find beautyfull? its human nature tv is just making it more apparent to us.

    December 20, 2010 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. vegge head

    As far as nice guys go... The ones that I know as friends and dated.. they virtually have no spine, balls, practically door mats.. which can be very unattractive. No woman likes a guy who can't stand up for himself, doesnt' take charge, can't plan a damn thing. Hence the saying.. "nice guys always finish last", all women like the bad boy". Perhaps it is because the bad boy does eveything the nice guy can't or know how to.

    As far as women go... it is not so fashionable to dress modestly anymore. I'm not talking (pilgrim era type dressing either), women who don't dress like a tramp do not get that much attention in our society unfortunately. sign of the times. sigh!

    December 21, 2010 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Wing Man

    The media encourages us to liberate ourselves from reality and responsibility by unecessary means, at any convenient time. We are now raised by High-definition LIFESTYLES and broken perspectives of "confused" role models. The chains of curiosity have been broken and our freedom has taken flight- however our freedom is just an empty blank cell. By age 30, the most resolute feeling will hit the masses: We imitated bad actors?

    December 24, 2010 at 04:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Grama

    AMAZING! No where did I see any mention of the need for birth control/condoms and preventing pregnancy. All of you simpletons be damned. I hate having to take care of your accidental births and single mothers with my hard earned money. Get a clue. Get a job, and get some responsibility!

    December 28, 2010 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Han Solo Says Relax

    As far as I can tell in my long experience of dating men... there are no "nice" guys, there are just guys who are lesser jerks than other guys. Just like there are no "respectable" women- just women who are more scared of letting out the freak.
    Everyone is a selfish, obsessive and crappy person to some degree, the key is to find the person whose crappiness best melds with yours to create a stable amount of home life crap that you can both handle and which won't scar your crappy future children too much.
    Because, basically, we're all just CRAPPY. I've yet to meet someone who isn't at least 50% poop.

    January 25, 2011 at 21:25 | Report abuse | Reply
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