You know the scene. It’s a Sunday night and you’re watching the newest blockbuster with your parents. So far so good — nobody is hogging the popcorn, your mom hasn’t asked “who’s that?” a million times, and your dad is still awake — when suddenly a 12-minute sex scene comes on, and takes all you can to not combust in your seat.
2014 was certainly a raunchy year for television: season two of “Orange is the New Black” launched on Netflix, fans of HBO’s “Girls” saw more of actress Lena Dunham than past seasons and “Game of Thrones” aired a highly controversial rape scene between an incestuous brother and sister.
But why do so many teenagers and young adults feel uncomfortable watching these shows with their parents? Alex Messina, a graduate student at DePaul University, said it could be due to our culture’s conservative views on sex — that sex is an act solely performed behind closed doors and cannot be viewed as art or a universal expression of love.
“I think one of the reasons why sexual scenes on television and movies are sometimes awkward for us to watch with our parents is because we have a hard time acknowledging that sex, the act of doing it and the enjoyment that comes from it, is relatively universal,” Messina said.
“Even as we mature and know that it’s silly to be embarrassed or fidgety during explicit scenes, it’s hard to shake that uncomfortable feeling,” she said. “We’ve been conditioned to think we should be uncomfortable because even now, sex isn’t talked about as openly as it should be at a young age.”
Another plausible reason for feeling mortified is the fear of being confronted about one’s sex life when the show ends.
“Not many people want to admit to their parents that sex is something they think about and possibly partake in,” Messina said. “And vice versa, not many older relatives may be interested in admitting that they’ve done exactly what is being done in the scene they’re currently watching with their embarrassed, younger family member.”
Caress Thirus, a second-year graduate student at DePaul, felt more comfortable talking openly to her family about topics usually deemed unapproachable.
“In my experience if people talk about these things with their parents, then those subjects tend to not be as awkward if they’re watching it on TV,” Thirus said. “It’s all about what your family is comfortable talking about.”
While scenes of a sexual nature didn’t bother Thirus and her family too much, the degree of violence a show portrayed did play a factor as to whether or not everyone could comfortably watch the show.
“One thing we kind of disagree on is if a TV show is too violent,” Thirus said. “My mom hates ‘The Blacklist.’ She doesn’t watch it, and she gets uncomfortable. But my dad and I love it, and it was the same with this TV show ‘Awake.’ It had a lot of psychological, kind of twisted-in-the-head drama, and my mom hated it, but my dad likes it. It’s just a matter of what you’re comfortable with.”
Although some may feel embarrassed about watching explicit scenes with their parents, others feel more embarrassed about being caught watching guilty pleasures, such as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” on Sunday nights.
“Every time my mom walks into the living room and sees my sisters and I watching it, she says ‘Why do you guys watch this garbage?’” DePaul alumna Cynthia Rivera said. “She puts her mom jeans on when she hears them talking about dildos, having sex or posing nude. ‘That’s so trashy,’ she’d say.”
Television network HBO has captured and even capitalized on the embarrassment young adults feel when watching these types of shows with parents by releasing a series of ads promoting its HBO Go streaming service.
In the ads, teenagers and their out-of-date parents have a series of cringeworthy conversations while watching HBO shows. A mother uses a makeout scene between two women in “Girls” to discuss her daughter’s sexuality. A father talks to his son about all the women he could have had sex with during a scene in “True Blood.”
What’s HBO’s solution for avoiding the uncomfortable scenes and awkward talks? Using HBO Go to stream shows on a laptop, tablet or smart phone in the privacy of the bedroom and away from prying parents. Smart move, HBO, smart move.