Sex Education Through Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Early last summer, I hired the amazing Kathy Hubbard to help me edit the first draft of my manuscript. Under her guidance, my main character developed more mettle and her potential love interest became less a stalker and more a mysterious cute boy. I was trying to add more depth to secondary characters when Kathy asked if I’d ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I hadn’t. I’d like to say that I don’t know how I missed out on it the first time around but that’s not true. I know why I didn’t watch it. I thought it was for teenagers. And at that point, I was a young professional and new mother. I didn’t watch stories about teenaged vampire slayers. I was way too mature for that.

“Watch a few episodes,” Kathy said. “Everything by Joss Whedon is exceedingly well-conceived.”

I am nothing if not a good student so off to Netflix I trotted, ordering the first season. The kids and I headed to the shore for a week, Buffy in tow. It took only one episode for us to be hooked. Here was a strong heroine I could get behind and here were action scenes that my boys loved. When we found out a friend owned the boxed set, I knew I’d hit a goldmine. All last summer as I revised my manuscript, we gathered most evenings as a family and watched Buffy, making it through the first three seasons.

Through the school year, our tradition stalled. We were busy with school and activities and we didn’t watch at all. Then summer rolled around again and we started on Season 4. For the Buffy aficionados out there, you might remember that this is the season when Buffy and friends are in college. Doing college things. Lots of college things. Like drinking and sex.

Last week, we were back in Avalon and watched an episode entitled Where the Wild Things Are in which Buffy and Riley’s lust for one another sets off poltergeists of ghost children who were punished for sexual thoughts and deeds when they lived in the house.  As Buffy pleads for Riley to keep touching her and Riley reaches for a condom, my husband frantically fumbled for the remote and I tried to cover both boys’ eyes.

Later, we walked up to 29th Street for ice cream at Sundae Best and Tom asked the boys if they felt uncomfortable watching the episode. Our younger son (age 10) said he felt uncomfortable only because we were uncomfortable. “I mean,” he said, “there’s no point in watching if you’re going to fast-forward through every scene.”

I thought for a moment and then something occurred to me. “You know,” I said, “I think maybe Dad and I missed the point. There was a lesson in the show and we were so uncomfortable with the images that we nearly missed it. The real lesson is that it’s normal for teenagers to have certain urges and feelings. In the show, the lady punished the kids for those urges because she was uncomfortable and those kids ended up feeling like they were bad and then they did bad things. But it’s important for you guys to know that the feelings are okay and you guys are in a healthy environment where you won’t be punished for that.”

Maybe I was looking too deep into the episode or maybe, as my friend said, the episodes are well conceived. Either way, it allowed for a frank conversation in our family so to me – it’s all good.