Talking to Kids About Porn

03.30.14

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. 

Talking to the Kids About Porn

10.6.13

Growing up in the 70’s meant that more than a few parents left Playboy out in their living rooms. Reading material I suppose. My parents didn’t. We didn’t really talk about porn much but at a certain point there was a step-family connection and our refusal to talk about it actually became the talk. That’s an elephant from a very old and very wealthy ex-living room.

Porn became a little more mainstream when it transitioned from movie houses to VHS and then completely exploded (bad choice of words but I’m too lazy to go to thesaurus.com) with the internet. With free porn online it’s not a matter of if the kids will see porn, it’s a matter of when.

Last night Mr. G and I had the porn talk with each other and this week it’ll be a divide and conquer with the kids. I get Jane, he gets Alexander. We’re probably really late to have this first talk (all talks worth having need to be repeated for a dozen or more years) but at some point I’ll have to steel my nerves and talk to Jane about porn.

I need to ask Jane if she’s seen porn. Then I need to deal with her reaction to it. I can practice the scenarios in my mind a million times but this is going to be one of those talks where I just wing it. Mr. G and I have decided that there are important points that Jane needs to hear (I was shocked and thrilled that so many of these came from him):

  • Porn is as relevant to real sex as Marvel Comics are to real life
  • You’ll probably find yourself with at least one boy who only knows about sex from porn. If things seem weird and strange they are. Trust your instincts
  • It’s okay to not shave. This goes for armpits, legs and pubic regions
  • Sex isn’t typically an aggressively athletic endeavor
  • Use condoms
  • Seeing porn doesn’t make you bad

I’m sure there’s more to talk about, I have no idea what it will be because every time I try to plan one of these talks I find that my kids surprise me with both their knowledge and lack of it.

We’ve talked to them about sex, drugs, driving, trusting their instincts, protecting each other and being a trustworthy friend. We’ve talked to them about how to get out of uncomfortable situations and the myriad of things that could go very wrong for which they will never be punished so long as they never get in a car with someone who worries them (parents of friends included). We’ve empowered these kids every way we know how but we forgot about porn because when we were teens porn wasn’t in our faces. We didn’t have a free porn culture.

So this week we’ll be talking about porn. Poor Jane, I’m going to trap her in the car and have a good long talk.

 

Apparently I Am A Feminist: Girls Have A Little Respect

06.15.09

I’m in my hotel room and my friends are at the rooftop bar drinking with the guys. Why am I not there? It is too depressing for words. When I walked in the bartender had her tank top down to there and I could practically see her areola. Rather than standing around, pretending like I care about the chatter and being distracted by a young woman’s lack of self respect, I am resting. I am tired.

Let me get a few things very clear. I love being a woman, I love that I’m a sexual being, and I know the power of a great rack. I also know that when the shirt gets a little too low, it reeks of desperation. Once you toss the shirt off, it’s time to start charging like my Twitter Friend Alexa who is a sex worker. What can I say? I like clean lines.

There are women from various lines of work at the bar networking right now. One of my old neighbors is up there and we’d like to visit. I’ll have to see her another time. I feel really badly for her, she’s a 20 something lady, trying to make it in a man’s business, and she’s in a bar trying to drum up business while a tit and ass parade is being featured by a hotel staff with neither taste nor tact.

It’s the unfriendliest place I’ve seen in years. 

There is a place for it though. The problem is that everything has a place. When a business decides that they are going to have women look seductive they may lose a certain segment (not me). When a business decides that they are going to have women looking as if they are ready to drop to their knees and blow a guy for $7.49 then they lose 51% of the population. Sadly some women still have to show up, they have to be a part of the network, it’s a dance as old as time.

I don’t have to be there. So I left.

I think that I’m more sensitive to it since I’ve noticed the tech community fold in upon itself. Recently a man who goes by the name Hoss69 (no I’m not making that up – there is someone that poorly branded) spoke at a conference and was left unmoderated to insult his entire audience starting with the women.

Why do I say starting with the women?

Men, if you think that a shot of a shaved vagina along with a message that virtually says “buy me” doesn’t assume you are a walking, breathing idiot, think again. By teaming together in a lewd attempt to demean our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends, a group of less than brilliant men has tagged you stupid, horny, gullible and mean.

It’s okay with me if you want to buy sex. 

Be clear about what it is you are buying and selling. If you are going to sell software with a shaved vagina here’s what you need to know. I will not buy it. If you are going to have a conference with speakers like these, ever again I will not buy your conference tickets.

I would urge people to put the conferences behind them, as I think everyone has learned their lessons, however there has been no apology from the speaker nor will there ever be.

Here’s the deal. If you are a conference and you are going to subject attendees to soft core porn I will personally hunt down Gloria Allred and shake that fucking Chanel suit off of her and remind her of the mission. Women went there to work, not to be humiliated. 

Men, I’m calling on you too. My expectation is that there will not be a vagina in your powerpoint unless you are an OBGYN or you are speaking at a pornography conference. My expectation is that if a woman is targeted in the audience and told that she has “drawn a cock” that the entire room will stand up and say, “no”. My expectation is that when Hoss is invited to speak at another conference, and surely he will be, that sponsors will walk away and that attendees will stay home. My expectation is that your corporate event will have everyone feeling respected. Always.

My expectation is that we all act like a bunch of girls.
Because girls are spectacular.

* Hat tips to The Queen of Spain and Sarah Evans for shining a light on the topic

** My husband gave me permission to write about this topic.