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

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In light of the Mumbai photographer causing outrage after publishing images which glamorise the attack of a female student on board a New Delhi bus, I felt it was time to revisit this topic.

I received an email from a parent with the exact subject heading as the title of this post. What got me thinking was that this was not the first time I had been asked/emailed/tweeted this question in recent months. 

The ‘S’ Word

What I find is that most of today’s parents grew up in an era when mentioning ‘sex’ was taboo at home. But, 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, as parents now ourselves, it is 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). 

Remember: Some children will continue to bring up the topic often, while others will not. For those that do not, I have found that they are mostly still very curious and it is important for you to continue discussing new elements as they get older. Better you than Google I say! 

Being a mother of 2 sons myself, this brings me back to the question, “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?” 

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

Two and a half men_1Two and a half men

Grand theft Auto

A study
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,

“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”). 

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.”

Further research indicates

“…that men and women view sexualized images (of both men and women) as lacking “mind,” which is basically a denial of thoughts and emotions.” (Loughnan, S et al., 2010)

So let’s talk:
On my journey as a psychologist and a school counsellor, speaking with many young men on the topic of sexuality in education, here are a few resources I have found useful. I believe you could use these as a spring board for your own 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:

Miss Representation

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):

Relax, it’s just sex


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: ‘How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality’ - Part 1:

5. Fathers and male mentors need to step into your son’s life (This is an incredibly powerful video):


This is 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!

Follow our series: Parenting within the sexualised wallpaper of society


(An earlier version was published on Mamamia)


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  1. Thanks Collett, this is such an important topic. I have read several times recently about fraternities or colleges promoting rape culture to male college students. Hearing rape being referred to as ‘non-consensual sex’ is incredibly disturbing also,

  2. Collett – this is a fabulous post. The last clip of Tony Porter speaking is incredibly powerful and very moving. Thank you so much! Julie

  3. Yesterday I walked past a group of senior high school boys at a bus stop, laughing and talking loudly. All I heard was ‘pity about her face, but from the neck down she’s alright.’ ‘No worries, just go doggy style’ ‘hahaha’. Now I can forgive a teenage fascination with sex but to speak about a girl, probably a classmate, like that, was just unbelievable. And these were boys from one of Adelaide’s most elite private schools!

    I had my (quite small) kids with me so I just kept walking, but regretted it immediately. If I could have 5 minutes of my life back, I would stop right then and there, and challenge them on what I had overheard. Now you’ve given me the confidence, Collett – I hope I have the opportunity again!!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic blog post and such great advice. I am not a parent but I am around alot of young people and I do find it difficult knowing how to respond to certain things. I never want to take the place of any parent, But sometimes kids bring up things, maybe because its a safe place to do so (or maybe they are looking for a shocked face!) either way, I found this blog helpful.

    I have found the language young people use alarming. I was at an event where the young people replaced ‘I want to be with that person’ to ‘I want to rape that person’. It was said so casually. I was able to engage and break it down with them but it was a concern that it was acceptable langage for a mixed gender group.

    Have others experienced this kind of langage?

    Thanks again for a great post.

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