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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?


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.


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.