Editor's note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author or co-author of 19 books, the latest of which is "The Normal Bar." She is the AARP love and relationship ambassador and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. She is a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families, and chairperson of the advisory board for the PhD in Sexual Studies at the Institute for Integral Research.
(CNN) -- The film "Blue Is the Warmest Color," a French import, has kicked up a storm of controversy, mostly because of its extraordinarily long, detailed and explicit lesbian sexual and romantic scenes. So graphic was a roughly six-minute coupling, that the Motion Picture Association of America gave the movie an NC-17 rating, that is, no one under 17 admitted.
But there was additional controversy when a prominent film critic suggested it could be a good movie to introduce one's teenage daughter to. In a blog post on The New York Times website about a theater in New York that chose to flout the MPAA rating, critic A.O. Scott said that "in some ways, because of its tone and subject matter, 'Blue' is a movie that may be best appreciated by viewers under the NC-17 age cutoff." His 14-year-old daughter had seen it twice at the Telluride Film Festival.
My take on his comment -- as a sex researcher, a university professor and a mom who has seen the film -- is: "Are you kidding?!" I would not recommend anything so vivid portrayed by a same-sex or opposite sex couple to any young person, particularly one who was not already sexually experienced.
Furthermore, while my family is hardly shy about sharing information and opinions on all kinds of sex, it would be awkward and inappropriate to be the one introducing either my daughter or son to three highly-detailed sex scenes (even simulated, which these are). We may have frank conversations about sex, but they're not fully illustrated, and that makes a difference!
If you have not yet sat down with your kids to look through pictures of sexual positions and intercourse, having them watch this movie would be a strange place to start. "Blue Is the Warmest Color" is not family entertainment. Its athletic, rough and tumble sexuality can look aggressive, even frightening, to an inexperienced young person, and it is hard to explain to many teens why that might also be loving.
In a perfect world, one would want one's child to go through stages of experiencing sex, from kissing to fondling to an intimate connection with a first lover. Perhaps this is idealistic, but at least their exposure to vivid images of sexuality might occur over time, graduated according to what they are ready to see and understand.
In any case, it's certainly not something they'd want to watch with their parents, although it's not clear whether Scott actually accompanied his 14-year-old to the Telluride screenings. I am also mystified that Scott talks about the movie as a realistic depiction of young love that teens will identify with. Huh? This is not a realistic depiction for most teenagers. Approximately 40% to 50% of them will not have had intercourse until they have graduated high school. Very few of them will have had a relationship of this caliber or impact.
How sexually explicit films affect kids is debated among health professionals and sex researchers. Some maintain that they can encourage sexual experimentation and a change in values in young people, while others disagree -- but as a parent, why go there? Why consciously risk flipping youngsters ahead of their own experience by introducing information before they are more erotically mature?
One other reservation about taking a teen to this movie? I love a love story; gay, straight, bisexual or undecided. The chilling part of this film is that it's basically the story of an adult woman (she's 5 or 6 years older) poaching on a high-schooler. The issue is glossed over in the movie. But parents should be wary of taking their kids to see a movie that glamorizes sexual relationships between a sexy older person and a teen. Yes, it's only a movie. But it is one that can deliver a message.
Of course, there should be lots of conversations between parent and child on all these topics -- lesbian love affairs, affairs with older lovers, sexual desire when you are young -- before a child is launched into the adult world. But a parent exposing a child to deeply intimate sexuality -- people having oral sex together, slapping and grabbing each others' butts and bringing each other to orgasm -- is neither necessary nor desirable.
We can have, as sex educators call it, "a teachable moment" other ways. If your child does go see this film, by all means, discuss it. But I am pretty sure this kind of field trip would make parent and child feel they'd had an exceptionally squeamish, and highly regrettable, experience.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pepper Schwartz.