How do I make rape 'not funny' to my teenage son?

Many of today’s parents grew up in an era when mentioning the word sex was taboo at home. If you dared to, you would receive a brief clinical talk on the biology of ‘where babies came from’ – Conversation closed! Your parents’ body language and discomfort lead you to intuitively discern that you should never bring ‘that’ topic up again.

So with that message seared into our brains it’s important to be mindful of the ‘baggage’ that we bring along into conversations about sexuality with our own children. Young children will talk about sex as frankly as they would about what they had for lunch at pre-school. We need to shove aside that baggage, take our children’s lead and launch into it (at age appropriate levels of course).

But how do we assist a generation of boys to grasp the notion that rape jokes are part of a destructive cultural mindset that undermines, demeans and objectifies women and ultimately harms boys too?”

Here is a brief look at the TV and gaming diet our boys are fed:

Two and a Half Men

A recent study has revealed that the public find it hard to differentiate between the language used by convicted sex offenders and mainstream magazines. The quotes for the study were taken from The Rapist Files: Interviews With Convicted Rapists by Sussman & Bordwell and four titles: Zoo, Nuts, Loaded and FHM – Dr Miranda Horvath, a senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Middlesex University who specialises in researching sexual violence explains, “They (the public) clearly had considerable difficulty making quick decisions about where these quotes came from.”

Psychologists know that sex offender programs challenge the men on them about their sexist, misogynistic and derogatory beliefs about women. The programs seek to reeducate them. “Yet it appears that some similar beliefs have been presented in recent lads’ mags, which are normalised and accepted in mainstream society. Rapists usually try to justify their actions, suggesting that women lead men on, or want sex even when they say no. There is clearly something wrong when people feel the sort of language used in a lads’ mag, (which shapes many boys’ conversations) could have come from a convicted rapist.” Dr Hovarth. (words in brackets are mine)

What if my child is now a teenager? Is it too late to talk about this?

Be honest with your teenager. If you have never spoken about sex or sexuality before you could say something like, “When I was growing up I could never talk to my parents about sex or sexuality and I may have brought some of that culture into our home. I know it may seem a bit awkward at first, but I think it is an important topic for us to be able to chat about because I really care about the man you will become.”

You could make use of video clips (such as the ones below), or articles for your teens to read and then ask them if you may have a chat about it in a day or so. Choose a time to go for a walk, while driving in the car, unpacking the dishwasher (where our conversations usually happen – don’t ask me why?) or kicking a ball. Eye contact during initial conversations can be awkward. Don’t give up after one conversation – You’ll both get the hang of it!


Ask questions like:

– “What kinds of things do your friends talk about?”

– “Do you hear guys joking about rape a lot?”

– “How do you think rape jokes would make your cousin, sister, girlfriend feel about herself?”

Why is it so important to keep talking to teen boys?

The APA recognise that, “Exposure to narrow ideals of female sexual attractiveness may make it difficult for some men to find an ‘acceptable’ partner or to fully enjoy intimacy with a female partner.” (Schooler; Ward, 2006)

Burn and Ward (2005) found that, “undergraduate men’s satisfaction with their romantic relationship was negatively correlated with most masculinity beliefs, including ones that are relevant to the objectification of women. i.e., dominance (“I should be in charge”), power over women (“In general, I control the women in my life”), and playboy (“If I could, I would frequently change sexual partners”).

Dolce & Gabbana ad

Empathy may be important in understanding the relationship between objectification and relationship satisfaction.When one person objectifies another, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to treat that person with empathy (Herman, 1992), an important predictor of satisfaction and stability in intimate relationships (Davis; Oathout, 1987; Long; Andrews, 1990).

If girls and women are seen exclusively as sexual beings rather than as complicated people with many interests, talents, and identities, boys and men may have difficulty relating to them on any level, including working together for higher causes (e.g., volunteer work or activism), or to enjoy their company as friends.”


So let’s talk:

On my journey as a counsellor and on speaking with many young men on the topic of sexuality in education, here are a few resources you can use as a spring board for open and frank conversations to assist the boys in your life to grow into GREAT men:

1. Discuss how popular media portray women as ‘objects’ and also communicates that violence and sex are OK.

2. Mothers, talk from a woman’s perspective about how their mother, sister, female cousin, girlfriend may feel when placed in actual situations like this (or even walking past someone wearing a t-shirt like this):

Sold at surf and skate stores

3. Chat about the music they listen to and genuinely ask (don’t lecture) how they think it portrays women:

4. Discuss the history of the porn industry

5. Make use of great male mentors

It’s not about helicopter parenting, but about providing children with age appropriate boundaries and structures within which they can adequately develop. It is about opening up conversations that we possibly never had with our own parents. It is about growing great men!

Collett Smart is the director of Family Smart and is both a psychotherapist and an educator renowned for her work as a speaker, blogger and parenting advisor. Collett is currently working on her PhD in the area of boys and their online relationships.

This post originally appeared here and has been republished with full permission.

00:00 / ???