On “Friday Night Lights,” the TV Sex Talk Done Right

Sarah Seltzer

This week’s Friday Night Lights was the rare prime-time drama to feature an explicit, appropriate sex talk between a parent and child.

Spoilers follow!

week’s "Friday Night Lights," a show often
ahead of the pack on being realistic about teen life
, featured one of the most rational
"birds and bees" talk between parents and child I’ve ever seen
on TV.

plot arc started with a bit of humor, as gruff, harried Coach Eric Taylor
accidentally walked in on his daughter Julie in bed with her newly-rekindled
love interest, quarterback Matt Saracen.  

fans know that Julie and Matt are the show’s "golden couple" – both
of them sweet and fairly well-behaved by conventional standards. They decided together to postpone having sex in the first season because
neither felt ready. So it’s clear to viewers that Eric and his wife,
Principal Tami Taylor, are lucky their daughter is in such a healthy

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for Eric and Tami, it’s a shock that the slightly-younger Julie is
entering the world of the town’s older kids, so many of whom come from
broken homes and turn to the Taylors for help with wrenching
problems. It’s clear that Eric and Tami, much as they respect those
other kids, want their daughter to be different, and this is
the last in a series of moments which shatter that illusory hope: they
can’t stop her from becoming a teenager. 

they handle it well. When Eric tells his wife exactly what he walked
in on, Tami immediately gets up to confront their daughter.

Before you go in there, you’d better know what you’re going to say,"
he says.

have no idea!" she replies, with a shocked expression on her face
(it’s a funny moment, as her character rarely doesn’t know what
to say). And so they silently decide to hold up, which is a wise move.
Neither of them will lose their tempers and Tami can ponder over how
best to handle it. 

when Tami first broaches the subject with Julie, Julie glumly asks
what her punishment is. 

punishment is you have to have a talk with me," says her mom. 

then, at last, they have that talk. The video is embedded below
and I transcribed the whole thing while watching it so you can judge for
yourself how effective it is:  

    Tami: "So, umm. Do you
    love Matt?"

    Julie: "I love Matt."

    Tami: "Does he love you?

    Julie : "Matt loves me."

    Tami: "He does…And
    what about birth control?"

    Julie: "Mom, I don’t
    want to talk about it.

    Tami: "Hon, that’s
    the conversation."

    Julie: "Yes, we’re
    using birth control."

    Tami: "What kind specifically?"

    Julie: "Condoms. We’re
    using condoms."

    Tami: "Do you know how
    to use them properly?

    Julie: "Yes, I know how
    to use them."

    Tami: "You, know you
    have to use them every time, because you know sometimes boys try to
    tell you…"

    Julie: "Yeah, Matt’s
    really good about it."

    Tami: "And you know,
    just cause you’re having sex this one time doesn’t mean that you
    have to all the time, and you know if it ever feels like he’s taking
    you for granted, or you’re not enjoying it you can stop anytime…
    and if you ever break up with Matt it’s not like you have sex with
    the next boy necessarily."

    [She tears up]

    Julie: "Why are you crying?"

    Tami: "Because I wanted
    you to wait…but that’s just because I want to protect you because
    I love you, and I want to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you.
    And I always want to you to always be able to talk to me even if it’s
    about something so hard like this."

    Julie: "I didn’t want
    to disappoint you."

    [Tami shakes head, hugs

Later on, Eric’s "talk"
with Matt is far more succinct: 

    "I know your father
    is in Iraq but if he were here we’d agree on one thing,: Women are
    to be respected," Eric says. And then he pauses. "That is my daughter,"
    he adds.

    Matt’s only response
    is a series of "yes, sir"s. 

episode effectively mined the awkwardness and humor
in the situation: shockingly, teens and their parents on TV can talk
about sex without being either cavalier or hysterical. The talk also
demonstrated how Tami, who has been hard on Julie in the past, and indeed urged
Julie to wait when she was first dating Matt
has matured and accepted the reality of her daughter’s growth. 
It’s also rare to have such an explicit, physically and emotionally
realistic sex talk on TV, going into the nitty-gritty of condom usage.
Often on teen dramas, the characters are unrealistically verbally and
physically mature, have nearly nonexistent parents, and seem to have
lots of sex without protection being mentioned.  

other show in my memory, which I consistently compare to FNL for its
nuanced view of teen life, featured a long "sex talk." Compare Tami
and Julie’s conversation to
this one between Angela Chase and her mother Patty
in the short-lived drama "My So-Called

    Patty: Ah, this is hard.
    We need to talk.

    Angela(voice over):
    When I was twelve, my mother gave me my sex talk. I’m not sure either
    of us has fully recovered.

    Patty: Now that you and
    Jordan are, ah–

    Angela [looking pained]:
    Oh my God. Mom, please.

    Patty: Angela. I can accept
    that you have a boyfriend.

    Angela: I don’t have a

    Patty: Fine. A pal. A male
    pal. Whatever word you want to choose. The point is–I’m your mother,
    and I don’t think you’re ready.

    Angela: Mom, pleeease.

    Patty: I don’t think you’re
    ready. But, I have to know if this is what’s happening because–I don’t
    think that I-I keep you from–

    Angela [covering her ears
    and curling up in a fetal position]: Mom, I beg you to stop.

    Patty: I need to know that
    you are using – I mean, I remember how this feels. I do. But – but – it’s
    the times that we live in, it I-

    Angela: Mom, please–

    Patty: Honey. I know you
    don’t want to think about these things. I know you think that you’re
    invulnerable, but–

    Angela: I don’t think that.
    You have no idea–

    Patty: You have to use
    some kind of protection if you are going to be–

    Angela: Mom, I’m not having
    sex, alright. Really. I’m not even close. To an embarrassing degree.

    Patty (relieved): Oh, ah.
    Ok. I’m sorry honey, I just–I just want you to be prepared when the
    time comes. Whenever the time comes.

    Angela: It will never come.
    Not with Jordan.

    Patty: Is that’s what’s
    bothering you?

    Angela: No, nothing’s bothering

    Patty: Something’s bothering

    Angela: Mom, you couldn’t
    possibly understand or help, so please. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings,
    but just please.

    Patty [hugs Angela]: I’m
    here if you need me. You know that.

    [Patty leaves. Angela
    sits on her bed with a pained expression on her face.

primary difference between the two scenes, besides the clear gap in
characters and context, is that Patty starts out by assuming that she
knows what her daughter’s up to, while Tami begins by asking more
open-ended questions. Even though the answers she receives are monosyllabic,
Tami gets the information she needs so she can give Julie advice on
how to be emotionally and physically safe. Although her "I wish you
would have waited," feels like a nod to the right wing, it’s not
inconsistent with Tami’s character. She makes sure that Julie understands
that her desire for her daughter to postpone sex came from her own
maternal protectiveness, not some kind of absolute moral judgment. 

Chase, on the other hand, starts out by being judgmental – "you’re
not ready" – and ends up making her daughter Angela feel bad about
herself for not having sex. And although she also urges safety
in the sense of using protection, she’s less concerned with her daughter’s
emotional well-being and more with going through the motions of the
talk, and basically getting it over with. The show took a realistic
approach as well, but its parent character handled the situation more
poorly. Perhaps if Patty, like Tami, had been given another chance
later on, she would have fared better. 

course, on the opposite extreme from both these "talks" are characters
like "Big
"’s Barb,
who is Sarah’s mom, and "Beverly
Hills, 90210
Felice Martin, who is Donna’s mom. Both these characters throw fits
and get angry at their daughters when they discover they’re sexually
active. Barb actually shouts Sarah, "You need to stop!" Needless
to say, neither are effective at influencing the behavior in question,
nor should they be. 

there’s no perfectly right way to talk to kids about sex, Tami’s
method of waiting until she’s calm, being honest about her own feelings
without projecting them on her daughter, and covering the bases of physical
and emotional safety is a surprisingly good model. And it’s a good
model without being a preachy one or being inconsistent with the show’s
tone or characters. 

you remember any other notable talks about the "facts of life" between
parents and kids on TV dramas, sitcoms or even reality TV? Are there
any "talks" you recall between dads and sons that stood out? Please
share them in comments!

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