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How to Talk to Your Kids About Porn (Because Yes, You Have to)

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

There’s a lot more to raising kids with healthy attitudes about sex than just knowing the egg and sperm story. With increasing access to adult content online, kids need to be prepared to deal with images that aren’t meant for them to see.

Porn can seem like a scary subject, but these conversations don’t have to be. The online world is not all that different from the offline world, after all. It’s about respect, and waiting until you’re really ready to plunge into the world of sexual content.

The key here is openness. Listen to your kids and guide them without shame or blame, and start earlyMarnie Goldenberg, a sexual health educator, says that porn should be explained early, pretty much as soon as kids start using the Internet without you sitting right next to them.

For younger kids, she suggests telling them that curiosity about naked bodies is natural but that there are things on the Internet that are only for grown-ups. Let them know that you’re totally cool with answering their questions and that there are books just for kids that can help satisfy their curiosity, but that the Internet is not the place to find those answers.

Goldenberg reminds parents that banning porn entirely or telling kids it’s always bad can create a situation where your kids won’t come to you if they have questions or find something troubling online.

The best way to help older kids and teens navigate the world of porn is to guide them in finding their own moral compasses so they can determine what’s right for them. I firmly believe that when kids are modeled good values but feel empowered in establishing their own internal sense of right and wrong, they are more likely to behave within their own personal code of good conduct.

To help make things easier, I’ve created a handy guide for starting conversations with your kids about pornography. Use these as conversation starters to help your teens think critically about pornography, and make sure you’re doing at least as much listening as talking. (And remember, teens should be invited into personal conversations, not forced to share personal information.)

Does looking at porn reflect your morals and values as an individual?

Every family has different values in regards to porn, so talk about what you believe to be healthy. Of course, you should always center consent in these conversations.

Jenny, a married mom with adolescent sons, has admittedly conservative values when it comes to sex and has taught her kids that sex should be saved for marriage. But Jenny is also realistic about their 14- and 12-year-old sons’ exposure to porn.

“We’ve explained to our oldest that he will encounter it. Whether he accidentally clicks into a site, or receives a texted picture or link, it’s going to be around,” she says.

She and her husband explained to him that it’s normal and okay to be aroused by those images, but that he gets to choose how he behaves regarding porn.

“It’s a powerful medium that can shape their understanding of sex before they even experience it,” she says, and they’ve expressed to their son that they hope he will form a sexual identity with his future wife not based upon pornography.

Ask your kids what they believe to be right for them, and how they will know when they’ve crossed that boundary.

What do you think are the downsides to watching porn?

Listen without judgment to what your kids say, as their understanding of the ethical issues surrounding porn might pleasantly surprise you.

When you raise your own concerns about porn, focus on the systems surrounding porn (consent, exploitation, unrealistic body image, etc.) and make sure you do so without shaming or blaming your kid for being interested.

Do you think porn actually teaches people how to be good partners in real life?

Millennials, the first generation to grow up with unlimited access to Internet porn, have written a lot about the negative effects of porn on their own sex lives. Young women often feel like their partners are “performing rather than being present for mutual pleasure. Young men have written extensively about personal issues with dependence upon porn and how it has numbed them with partners.

Ask your teen to brainstorm what they think makes a person a good partner and whether those traits are modeled in pornography.

Do you think porn gives people an accurate idea of what men’s and women’s bodies look like?

Ask your teens if they think people in real life look like porn actors. How do camera angles, body makeup, and hair removal affect the way that these people look? Pornographic videos are designed to be a fantasy, and even in real life most actors don’t look exactly how they do on camera.

Ask teens to think about what features of a real-life person make them attractive. Is it their eyes, their minds, their humor, their smile, or just their body and sex appeal? Remind them that the so-called “perfect” body is only attractive in a lasting way if the person’s soul is attractive, too.

How does a person know when they’re viewing too much porn?

Dr. Andrew Smiler, a therapist and author who addresses sexuality issues with teen boys and young men, has seen first-hand what is happening to this generation of boys who are raised with access to large amounts of porn, including a surprising number of young men who cannot get or maintain erections for real-life sex.

“One of the things I talk about with with teens and men in their early 20s is that watching porn trains your body in a particular way, especially for guys who are masturbating to it. Our built-in sexual arousal system, as it has evolved, is primarily based around touch. It is about a gradual build-up, and about being touched all over the body and touching someone else all over their body. But with porn it’s 95% or more about visuals.”

So what happens, as Dr. Smiler explained to me, is that people watch a number of different pornographic scenarios for about fifteen minutes, and then they masturbate and so they are essentially re-training their bodies for sexual stimulation in a way that does not match real-life sex with a partner.

Share information like this with your kids, and ask them how a person might be able to tell if they’ve become negatively affected by pornography.

What porn should be banned from our house?

Again, every family is going to have their own rules, but a good baseline is that anything non-consensual does not belong in your home or on any of your devices. That means up-skirt photography, peep-hole or hidden cameras, any images of minors, revenge porn, scenes depicting rape, or anything else shared non-consensually, including sexy selfies not intended for your eyes.

Be specific about the consequences for viewing content that breaks your family’s rules, and let your kid know that you will be enforcing them.

What are other ways for people to fantasize?

I know this is a tough conversation to have with your teens, but it is important. To make it easier, try making the conversation general rather than specific, asking questions like, “What do you think are healthier ways for people to fantasize?” rather than addressing it directly to them and saying “for you to fantasize.”

Remember that teens deserve privacy, too, and if any of these questions are making your kid uncomfortable, it’s okay for them to not share their thoughts or feelings. The fact that you are willing to have these discussions will not be lost on your teen.

Don’t worry too much about getting this perfect. Your kids don’t need perfect parents. If we can show our teens that we are a healthy part of their support system, we are giving them a gift nobody else can offer.

Article Posted 1 year Ago

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