4 Ways Hollywood Can Help You Jumpstart Conversations with Young People About Sex


4 Ways Hollywood Can Help You Jumpstart Conversations with Young People About Sex

by Marisa Nightingale
October 22, 2018
A black and white movie clapper next to a woman's lips

We all have questions about sex, and young people are no exception. Luckily, there’s no shortage of sex in the media to watch, read, follow, and share. Even though it’s not always portrayed in a positive or helpful way, it’s always an opportunity to start an open, honest, and even light-hearted conversation about sex, love, relationships, pregnancy, birth control – and the context in which it all happens—with the young people you care about most. Everyone wants to have these conversations, but nobody really wants to start them.  

A graph outlining the results from asking teens 12-9 who most influences their decisions about sex

Parents and other adults are most influential when it comes to young people’s decisions about sex. But media matters a lot: Among 12-24 year-olds, 7 in 10 have learned something useful about sex, love, or relationships from popular media like TV shows or movies. In honor of “Let’s Talk” Month, here are five ways Hollywood can help you get the conversation started. Because #TalkingIsPower.

Watch, read, listen, follow, ask. The young people in your life likely have strong opinions about the TV shows, movies, social media personalities, and ads they like. Ask what appeals to them, and why. Try watching their favorites yourself. Follow the Instagrammers or YouTubers your young adult loves. Get to know the situations, personalities, and relationships involved. It’s a great way to learn more about their tastes, and to better understand the voices that are shaping their views. It will also give you a reason to open a dialogue on questions such as:

  • How are sex scenes handled?
  • What types of relationships are portrayed?
  • How do people treat each other?
  • Is contraception treated as a normal part of sex?

Just remember, these conversations are a two-way street, not a lecture.

Talk about “what if…” Among 12-24 year-olds, 2 out of 3 agree: when “there’s a story about teen/unplanned pregnancy that I can relate to in popular media, such as TV shows, movies, magazines, or online, it makes me think more about my own risk.” When a favorite character faces a tough decision about sex, breakups, or bringing up birth control, it’s a great opportunity to ask:

  • Did that seem realistic to you?
  • What would you do in that same situation?
  • How do you think they handled it?
  • What would you say if that character was your friend?
  • What do you relate to?
  • What don’t you?

One of the most valuable ways a parent, aunt, cousin, mentor, or ally can truly support the teens and young adults in their life is to help them figure out what they would do in the heat of the moment before they’re in it.

Netflix and Chill Out. Often, a well-meaning adult can feel so uncomfortable talking about sex with their teens and young adults, the only thing anyone remembers is awkwardness. That’s a huge deterrent to future conversations on both sides. If you and your young person are watching together you can talk about it in real time (see #1). But you can also binge-watch separately and then talk about it later. More than half of young people say that something in popular media about sex, love, and relationships makes it easier to talk to parents about these topics. We all love to dish about our favorite shows and characters. Get hooked together and the conversation will flow.

What does sex have to do with pregnancy? While sex is a hot topic in all kinds of media, birth control is often absent – or relegated to a “very special episode.” In fact, 7 in 10 young people 12-24 wish the TV shows and movies they watch portrayed birth control use as a normal part of sex. Fully 99% of women who have sex with men use birth control at some point in their adult lives. Normalizing birth control by talking about it, showing it, referring to it, and being open about it is an important way to take the taboo out and help young people feel comfortable asking questions. Because yes, they have questions. You don’t have to be an OB-GYN or have a science textbook on hand to give helpful answers…just bookmark StayTeen and Bedsider.

If you need ideas for where to begin watching check out what our partners are putting out. Start watching, start talking, and tell us how it’s going!