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Sex vs. Violence: What's Appropriate for Our Kids?

Children need more access to video games, books and plays designed to help them understand sexuality, media that incorporates sex as a normal, positive activity to counter the popular narrative among children that sex is "bad" and "gross."
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The other day, a friend asked me about a video game my child was playing on her iPad, The Sims. Created by EA Maxis, the game features virtual people created by whomever is playing.

In the game, the characters go to work, make dinner, feed the cat, and they also participate in what the game calls "woohoo," code for sex.

My daughter is 9 and we read about "woohoo" a lot.

The Sims offered an opportunity for her father and me to talk with her further about sex and sexual relationships. "What's woohoo?" I asked. "Well, they get in their underwear and then go under the covers and kiss," may daughter explained. "Well, they have sex," she continued. Then I asked if I could see what that looked like, to which she responded, "Not right now. They are at work. They have to work all day or they won't get paid." "Oh, then can I see it after they get home?" "Yes. They can have woohoo--sex--if they want to. They don't have to," she concluded and went back to playing.

I didn't have these kinds of dialogues when I was a child. In fact, my mother never even talked to me about menstruation. Luckily, my sister, two years older than me, was ready to help me when I started my period in sixth grade.

Children need more access to video games, books and plays designed to help them understand sexuality, media that incorporates sex as a normal, positive activity to counter the popular narrative among children that sex is "bad" and "gross."

I have seen many theatrical productions created specifically for children in countries outside of the U.S.

In Austria, I watch a play called Pussy'n'Pimmel with a theatre full of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. The play included rock music and penis and a vagina puppets. In Copenhagen, I saw a play called Fucking Alone where a teenaged girl was exploring her body and the physical and emotional feelings that came with her actions, while she learns about sex from the internet. In Buenos Aires, I saw a play called Tengo una Muñeca en el Ropero (I Have a Doll in the Closet) about a teenaged boy who is discovering his sexual identity.

While plays in the U.S. explore such issues (with less veracity in my experience), it is rare when schools welcome these plays, and the parents and caregivers who will bring their children to such productions are likely the same caregivers who ensure that books about sex education are on their shelves.

Too often at homes of my family and friends, the television is on while no one watches. But, my daughter, who is not accustomed to background television noise, has trouble turning away. I have noted how much violence she sees because of this.

Some of the same family and friends I mention would say that sex should be sacred and therefore it is important to not show it to children. Of course I am not advocating showing pornography or erotic media to children. I wouldn't show "Porky's" at our child's sleep-over, but I for one would rather my daughter see sexual activity in consensual relationships than guns and killing, which aside from the unattended television is often consciously selected for ten-year-olds.

In their article "Media Ratings for Violence and Sex: Implications for Policy Makers and Parents," Professors Brad Bushman and Joanne Cantor argue that, "exposure to media violence promotes aggressive behaviors, engenders attitudes more accepting of violence, increases hostility, and results in other antisocial outcomes." They offer that less research is available showing the impact of sexual content on youth. The article also discusses a need for less ratings and more content information so that parents can make their own decisions about what is and is not potentially harmful to their children. They posit, "parents find media ratings useful but that they have a very strong preference for content information over age recommendations. One reason for this preference seems to be that many parents have different ideas about the degree of harm produced by exposure to violence versus sex versus coarse language and so forth."

I think we'll stay home and play the Sims with our daughter while other parents bring their children to see Star Wars this month (nothing against Star Wars for adults).

What we normalize as adults is what our children will see as normal. Sadly, violence is recognized as normal more and more in our society while sex is shushed and shunned. Let's put less violence and more sex in front of our children. After all, I hope they will have more sex and less violence in their lives.

Roxanne Schroeder-Arce is assistant professor and teaches theatre education in the Department of Theatre & Dance at the University of Texas at Austin and an affiliate in the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, the Department of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies and the Center for Women and Gender Studies. She is a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.