The questions that parenting books don't prepare you for -

The questions that parenting books don’t prepare you for

Game’s on. What better time for ads offering to cure a parade of sexual dysfunctions?


Lukas Creter/ GETTY IMAGES

Our two sons, 11 and 9 years old, aren’t sure what Cialis and Viagra are for—but dammit, they’re starting to ask questions. They’re maturing as young men. Clearly the time has come to sit each boy down, put an arm around his shoulder and continue to lie like hell. Viagra? Well, son, it’s uhhh . . . it’s basically a Flintstones vitamin for grown-ups. And Cialis? That one prevents older gentlemen from growing a third arm out of their backs. Now go to bed.

There was a commercial for one of the erectile dysfunction pills before the screening of Iron Man 2. The older boy turned to me and said: “I don’t get it—does that stuff make you happy?” I briefly considered an experiment in honesty: Well, that dude there couldn’t get it up to pleasure his wife. Now he can. So she’s singing and playing the lute or whatever. Instead I fell back on the time-tested response of pretending to choke to death on my popcorn. Terrifying for the kids, but a real conversation shifter.

My boys love playing sports and watching them on TV. I was the same. Back in my day, that meant exposure to commercials that emphasized the virility of men: sports cars, power tools, beers that actually had alcohol and calories. Now a single football game can bring drug ads promising relief from an enlarged prostate, a feeble heart, clogged arteries and—especially—a quiet, unresponsive penis. To judge from all our failing parts, kids today must grow up thinking the human body was designed by Toyota.

Distracting our children from the sexual themes in TV advertising isn’t a new challenge. Neither my wife nor I will soon forget how hard it was to encourage our youngest to abandon his habit of running through the house singing, “Vivaaaaaaaa Viagra!”

And it’s not just the ED commercials. One afternoon during the 2008 Summer Olympics on CBC, they actually cut to a commercial for . . . K-Y Touch Massage and Personal Lubricant. It featured a fella in bed who gets all hot and eyebrow-archy when his wife mentions the words “personal” and “lubricant.” The product’s slogan: See what happens!

Well, here’s what happened: “Daddy, what’s a personal lubricant?”

Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip: there must be an answer to this question somewhere in this damn parenting book. As I sped toward Mexico that night, I remember thinking, “Thanks, CBC people. Thanks for running that personal lubricant ad at 4 p.m. during coverage of a major global sporting event. Remind me to drop by your homes around dinnertime and kick off a fun conversation with your kids about threesomes.”

I was so unprepared back then—a novice at changing the channel and the subject. But I’ve since achieved a level of Jedi mastery to rival Yoda himself. Talk about this man’s limp business we will not.

If I’m really on my game, I can spot the very start of an ED commercial and flip away from it instantly. Less than a second. It doesn’t matter where I flip to. A baseball game. A Murder, She Wrote rerun. Uhh, yeah, kids—I just want to check how many of these delicate porcelain figurines are left for sale here on the home shopping channel. We can turn it back to hockey in 23 seconds.

Otherwise it’s all about the science of interruption. You observe the child watching the TV screen. You see him trying to process why a fiftyish man is telling us about his “strolling problem.” You begin to sense a question being formulated in this young and confused mind. And then it’s go time.

“Daddy, I don’t understand what he means about his—”


“Yay, Daddy!”

I don’t think of myself as overprotective, but maybe that’s what I am. I try to distract my kids from those over-the-top promos for the various CSI shows. I don’t like them being exposed to that much violence, gore and terrible acting. I’m constantly hovering over them as they work on the computer, especially since that one morning we tried to upload some photos to Black’s and typed “.com” instead of “.ca”. Long story short: I sincerely doubt the people at would have any use for my pictures.

It’s not that I’m not ready to give my boys The Talk. Believe me: I am ready to give The Talk. I’ve prepared the speech draft, the PowerPoint and the puppet show. My Talk will be so good that there will be demand for it from the neighbours’ kids. I’ll take it on the road. It will play a series of increasingly large venues, be filmed and ultimately premiere at Cannes. It will be adored by the French, and not just because I spend most of The Talk dressed as a baguette.

But I’d prefer to give The Talk when my wife and I think our kids are ready. And I’m still not sure any kid needs to know that one day he may need to pop a pill to perform. That would to be tough to take—especially when he’s young enough to be cranky that he can’t have his bath out in the middle of a cornfield like the Cialis people.

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The questions that parenting books don’t prepare you for

    • you have not substantiated your (i would suggest erroneous) assumption that it is attempts to enhance sex ed that are speeding the 'loss of innocence' amongst kids. not to mention, that even if it were true, it still might be worthwhile given that "Better access to contraception, higher quality sex education and shifting social norms have contributed to a 36.9 per cent decline in Canada's teen birth and abortion rate between 1996 to 2006".

      so while it would be nice if kids innocence was extended, it is better to protect them through education.

  1. Sexual dysfunction drugs to Yoda in one fell swoop. That kind of ninja-like literary prowess is what makes Scott Feschuk great.

  2. Hi Scott. I am the mother of three boys, aged 12, 10 and 8. On Tuesday when my Maclean's arrived, I flipped straight to your column on ED, read it, and enjoyed it thoroughly – I could so relate to the dread one feels when a Viagra commercial comes on, and my kids slowly stop playing mini hockey, and their brows begin to furrow…My two oldest boys actually read Maclean's, so before they got home from school, I squirreled it away in my bathroom so I wouldn't have any unnecessary explaining to do. However, when my 10-year-old got home from school, he asked, "Hey, didn't we get a Maclean's this week?" I'm sure you can imagine my panic. He did manage to find it, and I tried to act casual as he thumbed his way through it, getting ever closer to his favourite, your column. And so he read about half of the column before I distracted him ("Hey, isnt' that Paul Wells walking down our street?") and took it away. His older brother is totally onto me, though, and will eventually hunt the magazine down. (You'll notice I'm refusing to throw it out.) While I realize that at age 12, my oldest son should have long ago had The Talk, I think that's my husband's responsibility, and he's too busy watching snippets of Murder, She Wrote, if you catch my drift. So, since you've opened up this can of worms, and you claim to have a full presentation prepared, I think you should you dedicate your next three columns to The Talk. I know my boys will read it. Besides, you owe me.

  3. Doesn't your TV have a mute button, Scott? One of our favourite family activities is muting the commercials and making up our own narrative to go along with the pictures. Wholesome and subversive – all at the same time!

    Also, on an unrelated note – 9 and 11? Don't worry, they've already had the talk, many times over, probably from my kid, who had it at 7. You're totally welcome.

  4. Hi Scott,
    I enjoyed your May 31st column, which brought back not-so-fond memories. In December, 2008, around 8 p.m., during a hockey broadcast, Molson aired a commercial that talked about "knowing a girl who got jiggy with a hockey player" and a reference to a "booty call". Now I may be elderly, but I'm not a prude, and I'm sure that all my kids and grandkids know the meanings of these terms. However, I sympathized with all the parents of younger children who might have to explain these references, so I decided to lodge a complaint with the Broadcast Standards council, stating that it was inappropriate to air this commercial when younger children would see it. Seven months later I received a 2 1/2 page letter explaining why they refused to adjudicate my complaint, even though the code of bradcast standards states quite clearly "Advertisements which contain sexually explicit material or coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before 9 pm." I'd be happy to send you a copy –
    Art Davison

  5. Did you notice those commercials don’t actually say what the stuff really does? I asked my 10 year old to tell me a Viagra joke. “Viagra. I took some to improve my tennis. Two days later, my tennis stopped. The next day, my heart.”
    te he…
    Viva viagara!
    That’s sooo cute!

  6. "But I'd prefer to give The Talk when my wife and I think our kids are ready. " Love this line. Thank you for writing this article!

    My big beef with naked women on highway bulletin boards, Viagra commercials, etc., is not so much that kids will hear about sex for the first time ever and know what it means. My problem is that they get constantly repeated sexual messages, especially "all of life is guaranteed horrible without daily (or more) mind-blowing sex." This is not an idea children should have ingrained in their minds going into adolescence. It's not a healthy idea for anyone.

    Muting the TV during commercials sounds like fun (truly, thanks for the idea) and a good way to reinforce to kids that advertising is a game and not truth, but really, should we HAVE to? It doesn't change the fact that inappropriate material is being broadcasted during potential family time. My children barely watch TV, but please help me with this: what kind of button do I need when I drive by the Buffalo clothing commercial with the two girls wearing only panties and sweating next to a nearly naked man? It's not about one particular ad or medium.

    I love sex, but I don't want my drive home or relaxation time with my kids to involve sexual references and images over and over and over. Knowing what sex is (i.e. sexual education and 'the talk') and being repeatedly bombarded with it are different things. It's insulting when people defend sexually explicit commercials in the name of education. These ads are made by people wanting to sell something and they are using the oldest trick in the book to get attention–sex. Gardasil is a consumer product, not a public awareness campaign. We don't need this many sexual references for any reason, and it's not OK that corporations and advertisers get to decide where to draw the line for public viewings.

  7. Dude..seriously?? It's pretty much a no-brainer to tell your kids, that it is an ad for pills, that older folks use to have a happier life.
    if they ask how??
    tell them it has to do with sex and you will explain it all when they are older.
    End of story.
    you will be pretty shocked at how easy it is to answer their questions without getting into a looong winded essay on the joys of sex.

    I have done ' the talk' for most of my nephews…my nieces and for my daughter, is now over 18….in fact, it seems I did ' the talk' for a few kids whose parents seemed to freaked out to talk about and the broad picture of what happens…without all the gory details.

    I can offer tips if any one is interested…LOL
    hit me up..