Talking to Kids About Porn

Today’s New York Times features an article which asks the question, “Does Porn Hurt Kids?” The answer was a resounding, “Maybe?”

I won’t argue if porn should or shouldn’t be. Porn just is. It’s always been here and it will continue to be here. The only things that are markedly different about porn now versus my childhood is that kids have unprecedented access to it and because of the short attention span of the internet it’s all been fast forwarded to “the good parts”. Magazines and sidebar images seem tame and there’s some guy talking for 15 minutes on a TedX stage about how porn is men being violent to women. It’s not. Some of it is but some of it involves violence from women to men. Let’s not pick and choose fetishes and pretend it’s representative of pornography.

Getting rid of pornography will not protect women and children.

Your kids are going to see porn. Some of it will be ridiculous, some of it will excite them, some of it will mystify them and some of the porn they never see will affect their lives. This is why we need to talk to our daughters as well as our sons about porn.

I find that trapping kids in the car is a great way to engage them in discussion. They can’t jump out of a moving vehicle, well, maybe they can but no one in my family’s done it yet. Here’s a little taste of what goes down in my car.

ME: [nonchalantly] When’s the last time you guys saw porn?

ALEXANDER: MOM!

JANE: Eww Mom. Never.

ME: Are you sure? Because I hear that there’s quite a bit of popup porn ads online.

JANE: I don’t really use the web. I just read Buzzfeed and go to Facebook groups for school stuff.

ALEXANDER: You blocked all the ads on my computer. [So I did.]

I will address the horrors of a steady diet of Buzzfeed another day.

ME: What about you Alexander? Are you seeing porn on some of the sites you visit?

ALEXANDER: No. I don’t think so?

ME: Girls in bikinis aren’t pornographic.

ALEXANDER: Okay then, no.

ME: Even girls with their shirts off aren’t always porn.

ALEXANDER: Really?

And then we talk about all the ways that men and women can be naked without it being pornographic and I vaguely mention that things can be very pornographic without explicit nudity.

I talk to them about the fact that violence and sex are two things that never go together. I talk to them about mutual consent and what consent means. We talk about young people and crazy people. We talk about drunk people and drugged people. We talk about how people have a right to behave strangely and not be touched. We talk about how nudists aren’t always being sexy and wouldn’t it be nice if someone could walk down the street naked?

We talk about the fact that even though it’s wrong what we wear brings about reactions in others. That we can’t fight every battle.

women powerless

Then I talk about porn in a way that I know makes my kids uncomfortable. I tell them that they may date someone who has watched a lot of porn and they may want to try things that seem overly acrobatic. I tell them that sex in front of a camera is sort of like watching a car chase on TV. Things just don’t work that way and it’s okay to not be interested in sex acts that feel like a performance.

I’m okay with making my kids uncomfortable. I’d rather they squirm and not have the words for things with me, in the car, so that they’re not blindsided when they’re alone with someone they’re thinking about intimacy with. Most women I know have at least one story of a man asking for something odd in the bedroom that he must have seen in a video. If you are an adult and you know that this is something that’s happened to you and your friends why would you not discuss it with your children?

I won’t be telling my kids that porn is bad or dirty. The rest of the world can go ahead and tell them that. Kids know that it’s for adults the same way that they know alcohol, smoking and gambling are meant for adults. Those age restrictions are ignored daily so I’d rather not pretend that they’ll see porn for the first time the day they turn 21. If I want my kids to talk to me (and it’s very important to me that my kids do talk) then I have to talk to them about the real world and not a world that we’re pretending exists.

I don’t know who it will be, but one of Jane or Alexander’s friends or classmates will have at least one nude photo of themselves made public. This isn’t a good thing but, like the teenage drinking, smoking and sex, it exists. The TedX talk that I refuse to link to because it’s so ridiculous talks about girls killing themselves after taking naked photos. Well, if a whole lot of people are able to look at naked photos and sort of shrug that seems like the first line of defense. It seems to me that teenagers (and plenty of adults) are going to make bad decisions. Rather than putting obscene amounts of energy into protecting the purity of every horny kid how about we train ourselves and our children to look at these photos without condemnation.

How about we all tell our kids that although it’s a bad idea to take naked photos of ourselves it’s a worse idea to make life difficult for someone who has? How about we talk to our kids about the sexy photos and mention something about the fact that we ourselves have made bad decisions in the past? What if we taught our kids to be better friends? What if we separated teenage sexuality from promiscuity? What if we stopped pretending that everyone was a virgin on their wedding day?

So I continue talk to my kids about porn. I don’t tell them to not watch it. I can’t bring myself to say that to them. I try to prepare them for what they might see and I express my hope that they won’t be watching porn at their ages but that I understand that kids are exposed to it every day. I ask them about the billboards they see and the parents they’ve googled (thanks Mr. Skin).

I won’t let anyone tell them that porn is all bad. I also don’t trust anyone else to discuss porn with them in a way that will actually help them. The same way we remind our kids life isn’t like the movies we need to remind them that sex isn’t like porn.

It seems simple enough but it’s not a discussion I’m hearing many people have. What discussions are you having with your kids about porn?

Image via flickr creative commons. 

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6 Comments

  1. alexandra

    You did a great job with this, Jessica. I knows schools don’t cover this subject, but we do at home. I tell them my opinion, my husband and I are on the same page. This is not something for viewing, this is not something that will build intimacy. I like your approach, and it just so happens that I agree with it. Sons, daughters, yes, we need to talk about this. For reasons of accessibility, fast forward. I think of in marriage, too, as a point never considered when we married twenty years ago…. when everything was at the click of a mouse, able to X’d out in a flash. Nice job. Thank you.

  2. SharonGreenthal

    I never talked to my kids about viewing or not viewing porn. I talked to them about love, sex, relationships, birth control, respecting other’s wishes, birth control, sexual satisfaction for your partner (no pointers, just a general suggestion that they try to be reciprocal), the media and sexual images and how unrealistic they are, good movies, bad movies, and birth control. It’s not the porn that’s the problem, it’s the way the kids glamourize it and the lack of understanding they have about sexuality in general that creates issues.

    Honestly, the most pornographic thing in my mind was that all of the girls were waxing their pubic hair when my daughter was in middle school in the early 2000’s. I was horrified. Now I guess it’s what they all do.

  3. Leslie Modisett

    I have had my kids google me. They understand if you use your real name, it is forever-ish. My mantra is “make good choices” So far, so good. Mine are also 9 and 12, and they are boys. The most we talk about is girls irl, and how to understand them. Our conversation about that will probably never end.

  4. theworthingtonpost

    I loved this, Jessica. I love your approach and seek to emulate it, though not as often as I should. To both my older kids I’ve talked about sex, consent, empowerment, understanding, what constitutes abuse, not owing ANYONE ANYTHING in terms of their body and what they do with them. I also gave my daughter a huge box of condoms (along with her being on the pill,) and made her practice saying, “Either wrap it or zip it.” I’ve shown my son the Steubenville video (of the boys bragging, not the actual abuse) and was pleased to see that he was disgusted and upset and not able to watch the whole thing. I’ve talked to him about ways to help in that situation, and how to protect someone being abused without putting himself at risk. I’ve told him that even though I’d never be disappointed in him for not risking himself, I’d always be proud of him for taking risks to stand up for the little guy (or girl). We talk about never passing along nude pictures, should we receive them, as it is guaranteed to contribute to someone’s misery. I remember mentioning in passing that porn isn’t real life, and they roll their eyes and say, “I know, Mom.” Porn doesn’t get much play in our discussions, as I’m hoping the sensitivities we’re trying to instill will make the porn stuff go without saying. Maybe not, though. Maybe it should be a topic in itself.

  5. TakeActionWAHM

    Just talked to my son the other day about girls with “bad” reputations; not to judge, not to believe everything he hears, remember that those girls are someone’s sister, someone’s daughter… I know my kid is a good kid, but peer pressure can be powerful mighty.

    Good idea about the videos – here in Peru, it seems like even though millions don’t have hot water in their homes, even the kids have cell phones. I’m going to bring that up this afternoon.

    Our office is small, has two computers on opposite walls; when we sit, our backs are nearly touching. I find that’s a good time to talk to him, because he doesn’t actually have to look at me – he’s more open when he’s just dealing with my voice!

  6. TakeActionWAHM

    oh – and internet porn? I told him the same thing you did about a lot of it not being “real” – but I that I understand it’s natural that he’s curious and that he can always ask me about things (which he does!) My big porn rule is NEVER on my computer, because gods only know what malware might come along with it, and my computer is for work!

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