I realize that in blogging about Glee, and blogging about Glee, and blogging about Glee, I’ve left out one important aspect of the whole obsession.
The parenting piece.
Oh yeah, this blog is supposed to be about Geek parenting, not just being a geek.
As it happens, I’ve been parenting the heck out of the whole Glee experience. Mostly in small ways.
With questions: (Season 3, “I Kissed a Girl”) Why do you think Rachel stuffed the ballot box? What should happen to her? Do you think the punishment was fair?
With answers: Why do they have to have 12 people in Glee club? They have to follow the rules. It’s just like a swim race. If you break the rules, you’re disqualified.
With life advice: This is why you’re going to apply to more than one college.
But the number one topic that Glee has opened up for us is sex. I will NOT reproduce any of the Kid’s comments or any details of our conversations here, because that’s private. But I can write a sort of handbook for parents who want to use Glee to talk about sex with their pre-teen kids.
I have to say, I really like the overall approach to sex on the show. Why they’re generally vague about details (which is my preference, actually) there’s a pretty good range of sexual practice, from Mercedes, who is apparently still a virgin at the end of the show, to Santana and Puck, who engage in frequent casual sex with a variety of partners beginning before their sophomore year of high school. There’s a general preference for monogamy, and no evidence of any kind of honest open relationship, but there’s very little slut shaming. And of course, the show is well known for treating gay relationships with the same directness as heterosexual relationships, which is great. And there was no sexual violence in the show. Cheating, breakups, a gay bashing, and lots of angry words, but the closest they came to sexual violence was the infamous “Vapo-rape,” where Tina opened Blaine’s shirt while he was sleeping and rubbed vapo-rub on his chest. I confess that the scene made me uncomfortable, but the fact that it was later condemned universally by her friends made me feel better about it. (Not the act itself, but the representation of it. I don’t mind representations of inappropriate behavior when it’s represented as inappropriate.)
As the parent of a girl, I liked having a variety of partners to use as examples in teaching her about dating. I could point out when Puck or Jake or Santana was being too pushy in expecting sex. I advised the Kid to find someone who looks at her the way Blaine looks at Kurt.
But then we get down to the nitty-gritty. Glee has a basic conflict at its heart when it comes to sex. They want to be realistic in depicting teens having sex, but they don’t want to actually depict sex or talk about it with any specificity. And while I’m happy to not know what anyone is doing in bed, in this case, it leads to an all-or-nothing idea of what sex is. So you end up with situations like this:
Now, I LOVE this conversation, as a parent. Kurt and Blaine are discussing how they want their sex life to change. They’re discussing it with their clothes on, when nothing sexual is going on, so they can discuss it with clear heads. And Blaine’s completely calm insistence that he can handle his own sexual needs and his relationship priority is to know that Kurt feels safe is pretty much exactly what I want the Kid to look for in a partner. Or BE in a partner.
But the underlying assumption that there is nothing between keeping your pants on and “losing your virginity” (whatever that means) is problematic. It’s especially problematic as a model for gay teens. After all, what does it mean for a gay boy to lose his virginity? Brittany refers frequently to the act of scissoring as though it’s the only sex act lesbians engage in, but there is never a specific reference made to Kurt and Blaine’s sex practices (except Sue’s sign that says “Blaine is on the bottom,” which maybe means she’s saying Blaine is a bottom, which he is embarrassed by and says isn’t true, really).* The implication, I guess, is that they dive straight from making out to anal sex, which is dangerous and foolish and not a recipe for a fun time. Also, they never discuss safer sex until Season 5 when Kurt mentions Blaine’s single hookup as a reason to get tested (but never mentions his relationship with Adam) and Blaine says Artie should use condoms because he could get someone pregnant. True, but still not good modeling for gay teens.
In general, the safer sex information on the show is a bit sketchy, but at least it’s there. The notion that Puck only got one girl pregnant while never using condoms is a bit far-fetched, and while Quinn’s choice to have her baby was perfectly in character, it would have been interesting to see a different reaction to teen pregnancy. Artie got an STI in Season 5, so they didn’t ignore it completely. Both Finn and Rachel brought condoms the first time they planned to have sex. The only mention of birth control pills is when Unique is taking them in an effort to make her breasts grow. (And no mention is made of why it’s not a good idea to use prescription medications off-label without a doctor’s guidance, or what Trans teens should do if they are unhappy with their bodies.) And there’s no mention of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception methods, which is the preferred method of birth control for sexually active teens.
So there’s good and bad, but plenty of fodder for conversations with the Kid. And if you really don’t know how to get started talking about sex with your kid, or you just can’t, Glee filmed what is quite possibly the best father-son sex talk ever written. It’s Burt and Kurt, so there’s reference made to gay relationships, but the advice applies to everyone.
*I’m going to write another post on sexism soon, and the problems in this episode will be discussed then.