This article is Part 5 in our Sex in Video Games series. Sex education can be a contentious topic among parents. With different laws in each state and different programs in each school, it can be tough to know what kind of education your children are receiving—both whether they are getting enough sex ed and whether the sex ed is high quality. If you’re in doubt, these policy maps will…well, they’ll probably scare you, regardless of your personal views.
I can’t tell you the number of teenagers who’ve told me they didn’t learn anything from school or their families—instead, they got their sex ed online, whether from a comprehensive nonprofit site like Scarleteen (a fantastic resource), or from pornography or fanfiction (far less fantastic). Here’s the thing: kids deserve the best quality sex education we can give them. If school programs aren’t adequate (they aren’t), then we need to find new and different ways to help them learn safely. One of those methods might be video games.
Okay, currently there isn’t a lot out there, especially in terms of video games (there are some board games and card games). So, although this is Part 5 in Pixelkin’s Sex in Video Games series, it’s not about the current reality of sex ed in video games; it’s about the potential for games to be a healthy supplement to sexual education. We all know how tough it can be to talk about sex, especially with our parents. Kids and teens often need fairly substantial ice breakers before they’ll speak up even a little bit, and it all comes with a lot of giggling and embarrassment…and at worst, shame and fear.
This is, of course, one of the reasons sex ed is so important—teenagers, many of whom are learning about their own sexuality, need to be able to discuss sex with partners, with doctors, and yes, with parents—especially if they need help. Getting rid of the shame and stigma surrounding sex is important for kids’ health, both physical and emotional.
(And lest you begin panicking at the idea that your children are going to be free of shame, you should know that kids who’ve received comprehensive sex education are far less likely to become teen parents or get STIs, more likely to use protection, and more likely to wait to have sex.)
So what can video games do about this situation? Well, many things. First, most teenagers like playing video games. It’s a format they’re both comfortable in and confident in. It’s also a format that can be both personal and interactive. At the very least, it’s a good distraction—when you’re trying to have complex, scary discussions with kids, sometimes it’s nice for all involved parties to be able to relax. Another thing that games are good at is repetition. One of the reasons sex is so scary a topic is that most of us don’t have a lot of experience talking about it, and kids typically don’t have any experience with it period. Familiarity with the terms and concepts can go a long way in making that talk easier on everybody. Video games might be a great way for kids to really learn things like anatomy and the proper way to use protection.
Consent is another serious topic that, sadly, is often overlooked in schools and in family discussions. This is another area where games could be a resource; in roleplaying games (RPGs), players take on a role and act out scenarios. It’s a way of practicing, of trying on different personas, and simulating “experience”—practicing adult decision-making in a safe and moderated environment.
For example, if a game had players taking the part of a boy at a college party, kids might have to navigate a situation where an acquaintance they’d had a crush on for a long time was drinking heavily and being very friendly. What is the right choice here? We, as adults, know that an intoxicated person can never consent to sex, but most kids don’t. This gap in understanding too often leads to life-changing consequences. There are limitless scenarios that kids could explore in a game without putting themselves or others in harm’s way.
Looking for a list of media that does exist in this space between games and sex ed? I’ve compiled some here. I can’t vouch for all of these, not having played them, but here’s hoping more—and better—video games focused on sex education are in the works.
- Update! Birdees is an sex ed app not for kids, but rather for parents navigating the discussion. Nicole Nymh wrote a review which can be found here.
- Here is a list of board games and card games you might check out.
- Talk the Talk is a board game where players act out scenarios.
- Safe Sex With Friends is a vocabulary game for mobile devices.
- HappyPlayTime is an app aiming to de-stigmatize female masturbation. It is not available in the Apple Store, unfortunately, due to the stigma surrounding female masturbation.
- Sex City is a video game developed by a Canadian health organization. It’s, uh…it’s a teeensy bit silly.
- Catch the Sperm is an older game focusing on AIDS prevention and condom use.
- Sexumuxu is another sex ed video game, but it isn’t in English.
- The Sex Ed Game is still in development, but its maker (Kelly Rued), who was a teen mom herself, has some powerful insights into what teens need in terms of sexual education (both anatomically and relationship-wise).
- The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs has three games that aim to teach violence prevention.
As with any educational media, it’s essential that you become familiar with any games being used to teach kids life skills. Not all developers or programs have the same values as you. And remember, the “Sex Talk” really isn’t a talk–it’s an ongoing discussion!