How To (and Why You Should) Talk to Your Kids About Porn

Do you, as a parent, talk openly with your children about sexuality?  If so, you are in the minority.  if you are not, trust me, your kids are getting their information about masculinity, femininity, sexual intimacy, desire, pleasure, sexual violence, and consent from somewhere.  And it is more likely than not that much of this "education" is coming from porn.

The Facts:

Research reveals that about half (~50%) of high school students say that they have had sexual intercourse.  26 states do not mandate sex education and only 13 require that the material presented in sex ed be medically and scientifically accurate.  While some states are starting to offer more comprehensive sexual education (which has been shown to help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use), the push for abstinence-only education continues to remain strong.  Texas, the state with the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the country (~40-50% above the national average), is a state where the majority of schools teach abstinence-based sex education or no sex education at all.  

The reality is that your kids will probably have sex in their teens (and maybe even before then) and likely do not have accurate information about how to make positive and empowering sexual choices, how to communicate their personal needs, wants, and desires to a sexual partner, how to feel confident and secure in their bodies, and how to say "no" with confidence.  We cannot simply rely on our schools to teach our children about sex.  And we know that most parents are also not talking to their kids about it.  Therefore many kids resort to porn as their primary source of information about sex — more than their friends, siblings, or parents.

Statistics show that teenagers are looking at porn at increased rates.  On average, boys are 13 and girls are 14 when they first see pornography although many stumble across porn much younger than that (trust me, many 8 and 9 year olds have Googled something innocent only to be besieged with sexual images).  Because of the lack of education and secrecy re: sex, many adolescents use porn as a how-to guide.  Of the roughly half of teens who have seen pornography, 53% of boys and 39% of girls said it was “realistic.”  And in a recent national survey (conducted by Indiana University), only 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls believed that women in online porn were not actually experiencing pleasure.  One high school senior boy stated, “I’ve never seen a girl in porn who doesn’t look like she’s having a good time.”  This is deeply problematic as porn often portrays male dominance, male pleasure, and sexual violence. In a 2010 study (Daley), 88% of porn scenes showed verbal or physical aggression, including spanking, slapping and gagging.  Another study (Paul et al.) revealed that women are on the receiving end of the aggression more than 90% of the time.  

What should I do?

You should talk to your kids about porn.  You should talk to your kids about sex.  You should talk to your kids about intimacy, desire, and pleasure in an age-appropriate and non-shaming way.  Despite your own upbringing, your own reservations, and your own sexual hang-ups (because let's be honest, most of us have some), your kids deserve a chance at having a healthy sexual life.  Trying to ban or block porn won't help.  Shaming or embarrassing children leads to long-term wounds that impact one's sexual self esteem and ability to engage in a healthy romantic relationship in the future.  Ignoring the fact that children are interested in sex doesn't make it go away.

How do I talk to my kids about porn?

This depends on your child’s developmental age but in a nutshell it involves talking about sex and pleasure with your kids in a non-shaming way from an early age, letting them know that you are happy to answer any questions they may have about their bodies, intimacy, and sex, providing information on the importance of digital privacy, discussing consent, and educating them about how porn is not “real sex.”

 If you are interested in learning more about how to talk to your kids about porn, you will find age-specific guides here:

http://thepornconversation.org