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Parenting in the Age of Internet Porn

This post includes some discussion of sex acts.

Recently I was hanging out at the pool with my friend Jo-Ann, and while the kids were off swimming we started doing what so many moms do swapping funny stories about our kids’ behavior. She told me that she’d recently found her son, who is seven, googling “nakid gyrls” on her iPad. I told her about realizing I needed to set parental controls on Netflix because I found my daughter watching an anime movie where some pretty explicit sex was happening. While we both laughed, this led to a lengthy and sobering discussion about raising our kids in an age where porn hardcore, violent, and explicit is available with the click of a mouse.

When I told my daughter that she couldn’t continue watching the anime video that it was inappropriate she said, simply, “But it’s a cartoon!” This is difficult logic to challenge. In a New York Times article about this subject back in May, blogger Jeanne Sager talked about her daughter stumbling across something equally inappropriate:

[She] assumed it was safe to let her 6-year-old daughter, Jillian, watch “My Little Pony” videos. But when she left the room for a moment, she heard something that didn’t sound anything like a cartoon.

Her daughter had stumbled upon a graphic video by clicking on a related link listed to the right of the video player. It is one of the most common complaints of parents who discover that their children have been exposed to sexually explicit material online — that a few clicks on YouTube can land a child in unexpected territory, like a subgenre of pornography where popular cartoon characters, like Batman or Mario Bros., are dubbed over with alternate soundtracks and editing to show the characters engaging in explicit acts.

My mother a typical anti-war marching feminist didn’t believe in restricting me from reading or watching anything, and I expected to be the same kind of mom. But it turns out that unlike when I was a child, there is no reasonable expectation that pornographic content will be hard to find. It’s everywhere, now. It’s free, it’s incredibly explicit, and it’s not like the porn I remember watching with a boyfriend in the late 80s.

The few times I’ve seen porn online, I’ve been startled by the increase in brutal behavior toward women exhibited in even the most mundane porn: choking, slapping, spanking, gagging and more are in nearly all of it. There’s almost always anal sex involved, and anything that might be viewed as foreplay or pleasurable for women is completely gone. In the porn I saw in the 80s there was at least a NOD to women’s pleasure.

Knowing all this, Jo-Ann and I discussed our mutual challenges are parents. We both agreed that like it or not, eventually our kids will end up seeing some pornography. We can do our best to control what they watch at home, but with the massive influx of screens in our lives it’s likely that soon all of our kids and their friends will have smart phones with internet access eventually they will see it.

Her children are both boys; how does she teach them how to love and honor a woman and respect her? How do I teach my daughter to honor her body and know her limits? How do both of us teach our kids that the people in porn are acting, that it’s not even remotely real, and instill realistic expectations about sexual relationships all while trying our best to keep them safe and protected? How do we teach them that many of the acts common in pornography today are awful for women? This is discussed in the New York Times article:

Dana, a divorced mother of three in Massachusetts, assumed her sons would seek out pornography and thought it was normal for her 9-year-old to want to look at pictures of naked women. But when he was 13, he asked why women liked to be choked. She then realized she needed to explain to him that pornography isn’t real and that the people are paid actors. She compared it to WWE wrestling matches, which her son knows are fake.

Both Jo-Ann and I talked about how we didn’t expect to be dealing with this already. Our children are still so young in early elementary school so we’re surprised that we have to start talking and thinking about this so soon. We thought we had more time, at least until the tween years.

But we don’t. It’s something we have to start discussing already, and frankly, it’s tough to know how to navigate it in an age appropriate way. The website Internet Safety Online offers this smart advice about talking to kids about it after discovering that they’ve seen pornography online:

First, try to:
·         Understand that children are naturally curious about sex
·         Realize that kids need and want adult guidance
·         Educate your child about healthy sexuality, respect for themselves and the opposite sex
·         Help your child to replace counterfeit messages with messages of wholesome sexual values
Keep the lines of communication open by listening to what your kids say and what they don’t say.

Good advice, but I do not want to start discussing “healthy sexuality” with my six-year-old daughter. It’s just too damn soon, Yet the last thing I want is for pornography to become sex education. My plan, at this point, is to maintain the parental controls and answer any questions she has truthfully but appropriately. Right now, saying something is “inappropriate” is enough for her. But once she gets older, this will become more challenging.

What about you? Has this issue come up for your family as well? How did you handle it?

also write at my personal blog, Uppercase Woman. Find me on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Google+.  More from me at Babble’s MomCrunch, where we talk about the business of parent blogging.

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