How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn

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If you already don’t want to talk to your kids about sex, then it’s probably a safe bet that you really don’t want to talk to them about pornography. But with how easily accessible porn is on the internet and the prevalence of computers, tablets and smartphones in the hands of our kids (or their friends), they will almost certainly stumble upon it at some point — and probably at a much younger age than you’d expect.

Journalist Lisa Ling recently studied porn use among kids and teenagers on her show This is Life with Lisa Ling. She interviewed self-described porn addicts who were first exposed to pornography at very young ages, including 29-year-old Alexander Rhodes, who now runs an online community for those battling porn addiction.

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“Your 12 year-old might be seeing more naked people having sex in five minutes than their grandparents did over their entire lifetimes,” Rhodes tells Ling. “Kids are learning about sex through porn; they’re getting the porn producers’ view of sex, not the natural life experiences that they should ultimately grow up and have.”

In the episode, Rhodes says he was 11 years old when he was first exposed to porn through a pop-up ad on a video game website; and he was addicted by age 12.

Assume they’ll see it

It’s no longer a matter of if they’ll stumble upon that hidden collection of Playboy magazines in the basement. They are very likely to see porn online—either with a fairly innocent Google search, through an ad on a seemingly safe website or thanks to some kid at school. Even if you work hard to keep their online experience safe at home—this guide from Common Sense Media can help with that—coming across porn is an inevitability for most kids.

And if/when they do see it, it will help inform their view about what sex really is—unless they know that what they’re seeing is not typical of a loving, committed relationship. And the content is much more hardcore than when we were growing up, Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, tells the Washington Post.

“There are videos of people engaged in what may or may not be consensual acts that most people don’t prefer—or would require heavy negotiation between partners—and look very violent,” Heitner says. “You don’t want your 10-year-old son or 5-year-old daughter to assume they are everyday acts.”

And while consent takes place among the sex workers in a pornography before the cameras start rolling, kids don’t see those conversations taking place, which can further confuse what consent looks and sounds like.

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When to start the conversation

By the time you talk with your kids about porn, they should already have a basic understanding of what sex is. This is one more layer in your on-going discussions with your child about consent, body acceptance, pleasure and safety. You shouldn’t try to cover all of this in one conversation—that would be overwhelming or even scary—and there’s no need to start a conversation about pornography while the child is still very young and you have a good grasp on what they’re viewing online.

However, you want to tell them about it before they actually see it. And marriage and family therapist Shadeen Francis, who writes sex education curricula for elementary and high school, tells Healthline that by age 11, most kids have been exposed to some type of sexual content online. So when they get their own smartphone, social media accounts or begin to have more freedom online, it’s time to start talking about it.

That way, you can contextualize any images they might see and help minimise any alarm, disgust, or confusion they might feel if they see porn without previously having known any awareness that the material exists in the first place, says Francis.

Define the difference between sex and porn

Much like actors play characters on their favourite TV shows, explain that people who have sex on camera are acting. What they’re seeing isn’t sex between couples who love or care for each other—they are playing a role.

Lisa Damour, a psychologist and author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, tells the Washington Post that another key difference to address is the gender dynamics in porn versus sex:

“Pornography coalesces around themes of violence against women,” she says. Explaining this dynamic can help reinforce the values you do want them to learn about treating people (in intimacy or otherwise) with respect, seeking enthusiastic consent and working toward a healthy sex life (someday).

Ultimately, the goal of conversations like these is to become an ally with your child. You want them to come to you when they see something scary or confusing—without fear of getting in trouble for it. Let them know they can come to you about anything they hear or see, regardless of how they happened upon it.


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