When and how to talk with your kids about porn

You knew it would happen eventually.  Your sweet innocent child has been exposed to porn, and is now asking you about it.  Or maybe they’re not – is that worse?  How can you possibly open the conversation?  What will you say?

 

It’s a dilemma that all parents today face.  Studies from ten years ago say that minors are exposed to pornography at the average age of 11 years old; newer studies suggest it’s more like age 8.  They’re being exposed.  You need to talk to them about it.

 

How are they being exposed?  It’s not from magazines!   That was our generation, and that era is over.  I’m sorry to say, it’s in the porn industry’s marketing plan to reach your kids as young as possible (rather like it was for the cigarette industry), and they do it by linking to children’s videos and games online.

 

One mom I was talking with forwarded me a link, saying that inappropriate ads were popping up in the sidebar of her son’s search for a kid’s movie.  I clicked on the link, but I didn’t see what she described, so I asked for a screenshot.  She was confused as to why I wouldn’t see the same ad, but I wasn’t.  She was thinking like print, but this is the internet, with specialized tracking and targeted advertising.  They know darn well that I don’t have a prepubescent kid on my computer, and that she does.

 

So when do you need to have your first porn talk?  Early.  As soon as your child has access to an internet-enabled device, and that includes the passcode-protected Smart Phone in your pocket.  If you have one of those, it’s time to talk about porn.

 

It can be helpful to ask your child if they’ve ever seen anything that they wish they hadn’t.  Anything that haunts them, makes them feel uncomfortable.  Because that’s what porn will be like, and you can’t go back and “unsee” it.  When your child tells you about seeing a broken arm or roadkill or a squashed bug, you can say, “yeah, I can see how that would be really upsetting.  I think seeing porn would be like that for you.”  Help them see your rule as protection, not as something limiting their freedom.

 

If you haven’t yet told them about sex and how babies are made, you can do both at once.  Plan the conversation (more on that here).  Set aside some private time when you can share the big secret with your little one, and don’t use anything but a book you’ve carefully chosen, or you might find yourself in Julia Sweeney’s sticky situation.  If you don’t plan the conversation, questions can pop up at any moment, and you’re likely to be unprepared, as Glennon Doyle Melton hilariously recapped in her blog.

 

The problem with porn is that kids don’t know that what they’re seeing isn’t normal adult sexual behavior.  It’s important to tell them that porn is fantasy.  Just like a car chase in The Fast and the Furious isn’t a good example of how to drive, porn is not a model of how to have sex.  Your kids have been in cars – they know what that’s really like – but they don’t have any perspective on sex.  If you don’t communicate your values to them, there’s a danger they’ll try out what they saw online.  That rabbit hole goes deep, as described in this article from the UK.

 

With your prepubescent child, just letting them know that porn exists and they should close their eyes and push it away may be enough.  Then they need to come tell you, so that you know how it happened.

 

With older children, who are curious about sex, you’ll need to go deeper.  They see porn as a tutorial, the sex-ed they’re not getting at school.  If you haven’t seen it yet, check out my interview with Dr. Megan Maas from the 2017 Talking To Kids About Sex Interview Series.  She has a lot to share about what’s going on with young adults and porn, and how we as parents can be helpful.

 

Find your courage and have this difficult conversation!  Tell me how it went in the comments below.

 

In support of you,

 

Anya

8 Comments. Leave new

I have tried, but I just can’t talk about it with them. After seeing one of your videos, I did have the courage to tell them that I knew there were a lot of things online that they had access to and that I just wanted to tell them that sex is NOT like porn. Sex is a loving act between two people. But that is all I could say. I have three teenagers. They are online all the time. I just can’t bring myself to talk about it!

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Hi Tracy, You’re not the only one! This is a VERY difficult topic, and I’m sure your parents didn’t have this conversation with you. If reading articles and watching videos to educate yourself isn’t enough, let’s talk on the phone together. I can help you with your blocks and we can practice how to open the conversation and what to say.

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Healthy sexuality
August 10, 2017 11:46 pm

Hi Anya
I’ve been reading your blogs for a few months now, and while they’ve been informative and interesting (and supportive for someone like me who has children myself) I found this article about porn concerning because in that you condemn all pornography in one go, without seeing the whole picture. I agree with you that this conversation will need to take place with kids as early as possible, and that some porn is really bad and not for kids’ eyes (and not even for sensible adults). But in itself porn is not bad, but rather it’s the exact contents in it. There is ethical porn produced nowadays, where gender equality is respected and it’s appealing to women too. An increasing amount of academic research shows that kids use porn as an educational tool (and when you ask kids they tell you it’s a good thing) and young viewers don’t necessarily see porn as do evil or see themselves of victims of it (although some of this of course also happens). When you say porn is not normal sexual adult behaviour, I think you should reconsider your view… Just look at the worldwide statistics, the online hit analytics, and open your eyes to see how many normal adults, highly educated or not, from all different socio-economic backgrounds, with normal mental health, actually watch porn! Many people choose to be exposed and watch porn and are not harmed by it. That’s the reality. It’s normal. So let’s not put everything automatically in the same evil basket. Let’s have an open minded healthy and continuous conversation about porn in its entire richness.

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Yes, I am aware of all of this. However, my opinion is that those who are watching porn and saying they are not harmed by it are incorrect. It’s very hard to self-analyze, and there are certainly many examples of people who once enthusiastically supported porn later saying that they have come to recognize the damage it has done to them. Yes, porn is hugely common, and so are cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin, and there are some people who consume those drugs with apparently no problems. Porn is just like those drugs in that it short circuits our evolutionary programing, making a high available which wouldn’t otherwise be possible, which is then addicting. While it’s true that there is ethical porn out there, that’s not what kids are watching! Because it is ethical, it is kept away from kids. What kids have access to and are turning to for sex-ed is very harmful. And the vast majority of porn out there is NOT ethical – you have to be looking for the ethical porn to find it, and you have to be ready to pay for it too.

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Here’s a question: what does “normal” mean? If it means “conforming to a standard” of healthiness, then watching the readily available porn is not normal. If it means what’s “average” or “typical” or “common”, then the sad reality today is that obesity, sexual abuse, porn, and substance abuse are all normal.

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Healthy sexuality
August 10, 2017 11:50 pm

Adding to my previous message, please look at this example:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1PcxXJ_LNg

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This is a great video! Thank you for posting it. They and I agree on most things, and they present just how unhealthy typical porn is, and how their ethical porn is not available to kids. The only part I disagree with is how they presented an ideal conversation would go. I’d coach you to handle it quite differently, still without shaming, still being your child’s ally, but not surprising them or saying porn is ok (because the porn they’re seeing is NOT ok) or going into lecture mode.

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Although I agree that adult films have a place for adult consumers and is not patently damaging, I respectfully disagree with Healthy sexuality’s comments. Kids age 8-11 don’t have the abstract reasoning abilities to understand and analyze what kind of porn is ethical, what is not, and what may damage them now and down the line. In the main, they do not reach that level of cognitive development until adolescence (at the earliest, and the ability to understand how something now can affect your future doesn’t cement in kinds until late teens/early 20’s). By the time they can understand the effects of their decisions, as Anya is suggesting, some of the damage may have already been done. At the end of the day, I really just want my young kid learning about relationships and sex from his dad and me (and the resources we have vetted and provide). We really have no direct way to fully understand how porn is affecting young kids and I really have to question what the payoff is to exposing them, even to ethical material, so early?
Also, just as you can find research that says adolescents found porn informative/educational/etc., you can find just as much research documenting the negative effect exposure has to body image, expectations about relationships, etc. The research in this area is incredibly inconclusive and again, done with adolescents, not with young kids.

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