“My 12-year-old started talking about blow jobs with his friends after seeing the show,” a parent, whose son had seen ‘Love Island’ last year told me, and the new series is likely to lead to more discussions about ‘adult’ topics in the playground.
The ITV reality show, which airs after 9pm, involves a group of single men and women being sent to “find romance in Majorca”. Sexual activities are discussed and happen a lot on the show and, like it or not, your kids may hear about it through their friends or on social media, even if they don’t watch it themselves.
But rather than seeing this as a negative thing, parents should view this as an opportunity to kickstart conversations about sex, relationships and pornography, says Jeremy Todd, CEO of charity Family Lives. “These conversations should be happening, whether it’s with ‘Love Island’ or something else,” he says. “It’s a positive thing for a child to speak to their parents about these issues.”
Laura Hannah, spokesperson for sexual health charity Brook, agrees, as she believes TV shows can be an “excellent starting point” for conversations between parents and their children, as it’s much easier to speak about reality TV stars, rather than ask children directly about their own life (and potentially embarrass them).
So how should you handle conversations about sex sparked by ‘Love Island’?
Watch with mother (and father).
Relate counsellor Dee Holmes suggests if your kids want to watch ‘Love Island’, to watch it with them - this may feel as uncomfortable as watching a sex scene with your own parents, but it’s important to overcome your blushes so that you’re there in the moment and can decide how to approach issues as they arise. When conversations do arise, take onboard the guidance below to make sure the conversations go smoothly.
Make sure you’re approachable.
Try not to be alarmed, shocked or defensive if your child discusses things they’ve seen or heard about on the show. As adults, we may have strong views about the show ourselves - we can choose to watch it or discard it - but young people may be approaching it without that level of understanding. “The enquiry [from your child] has an innocence to it, so don’t be freaked out or anxious,” Todd says.
Be open to the conversation and don’t launch into a lecture. Mel Gadd from sexual health charity FPA advises: “Make sure your child know you’re there to talk about it with them, and answer any questions they might have. Make the conversation a dialogue, rather than a lecture, giving your child a chance to develop their own views.”
Discuss what happens on the show and what doesn’t.
Last year on the show, Gabby was open with Marcel about wanting to wait until after the show to have sex. “This is a good opportunity to talk to young people about consent and the importance of not feeling pressured into doing things they don’t want to do,” says Hannah. In contrast, Kem and Amber were open about the fact that they were having sex on TV. “In this scenario a parent could say to a young person: ‘I notice that the couple haven’t had any open conversations about whether or not they are using contraception, how do you think they could approach this conversation and why do you think it’s important they do?’” she advises.
This is a good opportunity to talk to young people about consent and the importance of not feeling pressured into doing things they don’t want to do." Laura Hannah, education and wellbeing regional lead for Brook
Discuss the issue of reality vs. reality TV.
It’s no secret that reality TV shows can be heavily edited and situations can be staged. Todd says this is a good thing to mention to your kids, “Ask them, ‘What do you think is happening in that situation?’ or ‘Why do you think those people want to be on TV?’”.
Hannah agrees, adding that it’s worth reminding young people there are a number of factors that make the relationships unrealistic, such as the fact they have no external influences like friends, family, social media or home and work life. The participants can therefore dedicate all their time to their relationships and on their appearances. “The couples on the show live together from the start, which is something that would not happen in real life and means that their relationships accelerate in an unrealistic way,” she says.
Address body image.
The lack of diversity in body types on show could make young people feel negative about their own bodies. So Todd says it is important to remind them about the bodies they see around them every day. “Ask them, ‘Do you think the people you see on TV are like the people you see at school or in our community?’”
Gadd agrees, and says you may want to point out that the people they know in real life all look very different to each other, but people on TV, in films or magazines, often look quite similar. “Encourage them to think about who chose those people to be on there,” she says. “You could also discuss the time and work it takes for people on programmes like ‘Love Island’ to look like they do - such as wearing a lot of makeup or fake tan, spending a lot of time in the gym, and having a restricted diet or plastic surgery - and whether that seems worth it to them.”
Answer questions about sex age-appropriately.
Holmes says to answer questions age-appropriately. For example, if a younger child asks what a blow job is, you could say: “It’s a phrase adults use to describe something they do in private”. They may then ask more questions but equally they may not.
If a child is older and likely to also hear these phrases at school, Gadd says to answer them clearly without giving them more information than they’re asking for. “If they ask what a blow job is, just tell them it’s when one person uses their mouth and tongue to suck and lick someone else’s penis – and it’s a part of sex, which should only happen when you and the other person are old enough to consent,” she says. “If you say you can’t talk to them about it, or they’re not old enough to know, you’re likely to leave them feeling that sex is something shameful, and not something they can ask you questions about.”
For more information
Family Lives helpline - The charity acknowledges these conversations like these can be difficult, but feel it’s essential parents have them. If you’re struggling about what to say and would like some advice, call 0808 800 2222.
Brook - The Ask Brook 24/7 tool to find answers to over 500 frequently asked questions about everything from contraception and sexually transmitted infections to good sex, relationships and sexuality.