My 12 (13,14) year old is looking at porn

Mine isn’t.  Or, at least, I don’t think they are.

But for those who discover that their kids are using porn, remember to breathe.  What this is telling you is that your kid is transitioning into adolescence.  And part of that transition very commonly includes sexual curiosity and sexual arousal.  Those are both healthy things and do not need to be met with panic.

For those of you, like me, who haven’t made this discovery (yet), don’t fool yourselves, seeing porn is a reality for most of our young people.images

So what should we all do? If you haven’t already, get clear on what your values are when it comes to porn.  Do some reading and thinking and talking to your co-parent and/or close friends.

I’ve done some reading, thinking and talking and my overarching goals when I talk to young people about porn is to 1) make it safe to talk about; 2) define porn and it’s intended purpose and audience; 3) distinguish between ‘porn sex’ and ‘real sex’; and 4) allow young people to think about their values around porn and healthy relationships.

More concretely, here’s are the high points:

  • Reassure kids by (re)stating that sex is a good thing, that being curious about it is common and healthy..
  • Pornography (or porn) is text, pictures or videos containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity intended to stimulate sexually.
  • People have been reading about or looking at images of naked people/ people having sex for a long time.  Getting turned on by sexy pictures, videos or writing is good, healthy and normal. So, by the way, is not getting turned on by porn. Masturbation is good, healthy and normal and pairing these two things together can be, you guessed it, good, healthy and normal.
  • There is a lot of porn on the Internet and it’s very easy to find or stumble upon it. That has created challenges where young people are concerned.  The top reasons why young people look at porn is 1) curiosity; 2) to learn; and 3) to get aroused.  Problem is without life experience and comprehensive sex ed young people may consider what they see in porn to be ‘real sex’. There is research that tells us that young porn users are more likely to have unrealistic attitudes about sexual activity and relationships and tend to be more accepting of stereotyped gender roles.
  • Porn is the wrong place to learn about sex. Most porn doesn’t show any communication or negotiation, both of which are required for mutually pleasurable, respectful and safe sexual relationships. Even mainstream media cut out these critical elements of healthy sexuality and may leave people with unrealistic expectations. Let’s teach our kids not take relationship cues from Rom Coms either.
  • The sex people see in porn videos are real sexual acts but they are a performance.  Just like a play in the theatre, porn is not real life.  The people are actors and are performing for a pay cheque.
    • The actors overwhelmingly do not physically represent the population.  Guys are buff and have enormous penises.  Women are slim, big breasted and have tiny labia.  Also, everyone is hairless. And unless an alternative is specifically sought, people are light skinned.
    • People who perform in porn take all sorts of actions to fit within this narrow description.  Altering bodies is commonplace.
    • The sex in porn is scripted, generally not by the actors but by the company wanting to make a profit on the video. The sexual activities that will be engaged in are not a reflection of what most people do when having mutually satisfying sex.  Instead the sex is often focused on male pleasure, sometimes at the expense of the women involved.  Sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein talks about the violence in The Three Stooges.  Larry, Curly and Moe poke each other but it’s simulated.  Often that happens in porn too. People play ‘sex games’ that include playing with power and pain.  Sometimes women are disrespected, even treated violently. Sometimes that’s part of the performance, but sometimes it’s not. Either way, with most porn, it can be hard to tell.
    • A porn shoot is usually well lit and actors are positioned so cameras can get in close to video genitals.  Those positions are far from typical when there is no camera.  Videos are also heavily edited.  You don’t see erections disappear, required applications of lubrication, muscle cramps or sneezing.  In other words, real life sex happens in the course of real life.  Produced sex typically does not.
  • Another concern is when people (especially young men) get too accustomed to using porn to masturbate. Research is starting to tell us that when a younger person usually gets off to porn they can struggle to have pleasurable sexual experiences with others.
    • Our social media (selfies, Instagram, etc.) blurs the line around being ‘in the moment’ versus creating something to be seen and appreciated by others.  Too many people get caught up in how they look while engaged in sexual activity and porn reinforces this further.  In fact, where people watch porn without a broader understanding of sex, they might come to think of themselves as not measuring up – their bodies don’t look or perform right when they are engaged sexually with others.  What a huge and debilitating set up.
  • porn-website_2812611b

    We can tell kids that lots of porn sites have an 18+ warnings for a reason: the content is meant for an older audience!

    Porn, especially explicit videos, isn’t meant for young people because as a person’s sexuality emerges, each of us need to figure out desire on our own terms. Young people need to close their eyes and use their powerful imaginations to explore their desire and tap into their own sexual response. Once they understand it better, which can take anywhere from years to a lifetime, if they choose to further explore that desire with porn, I think it can be utilized in a healthy way.  But overwhelmingly porn cuts young people off from their budding desires, or at least from the fullness of their desires.

All of this ought to be communicated in a brief conversation.  Or several conversations.  As people interested in raising sex smart kids, lecturing doesn’t help. Finally, we can acknowledge that seeing images or videos of sex is compelling and likely meets some of a young person’s curiosity. To raise kids who don’t feel shame around sex, it’s important to message that people figuring out what gives them pleasure is a great thing. We can tell a more complete story about porn, but the fact that our childrens lives might include porn is a reality we can be okay with.

 

 

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