How to talk to your kids about: Pornography

Eventually most of us find out about pornography. When you did you were probably in your teens, the stuff you saw wasn’t particularly graphic, and you first saw it because your friend Keith was charging people a dollar to look at his Playboy magazine. The world our kids are growing up in is vastly different. They are being exposed to porn younger, most porn is significantly more graphic, and they don’t have to pay Keith to see anything.

Technology is always changing and the world that young people are growing up in is changing as well. So this probably won’t be a one-time conversation but will be something you and your child learn to navigate together.

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Why do we need to talk about porn?

Internet pornography is highly accessible, free and normalises numerous unhealthy ideas about sex and relationships. As we work out how to raise happy, confident young people in the digital era we have to address the potential impact pornography can have on our kids. Particularly on their ideas about sex, love, consent and healthy relationships.

No parent looks forward to talking with their children about porn. Hardly any parents are excited about talking to their child about sex. (We can help with that)! In so many ways it feels like a shattering of their innocence. However, your child will stumble into an unfiltered world at some stage and the hope is that when they do, they carry with them some of your perspectives. But they can only do that if you have shared your perspectives with them.

So what do you think about porn?

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that being interested in sex is normal, and so looking at porn is normal. You might find yourself thinking, “Well, that Keith guy is a bank manager now and he loved porn.” The people that come to these kinds of conclusions may not have considered how drastically the porn industry has changed in recent years, or how significant the impact of pornography is on the developing brain. We can’t tell you what to think about porn. But here are some things that are worth thinking about.

Porn sex isn’t real sex

The porn stars are acting like they enjoy it even if they don’t. Sex scenes can last up to an hour – according to research that is 58.5 minutes longer than average, on a good day. On a more serious note, the use of violence in porn is increasingly becoming the norm. So if porn is where young people are learning about sex, they could end up thinking that all of these things are normal.

Porn doesn’t value people

Porn doesn’t value a person’s intellect, personality, character, talents, passions, values or NCEA results. The only thing that porn truly places value on is how sexually desirable a person’s body is. This leads many young people to the conclusion that your value is directly linked to how sexually consumable you are. What a damaging myth to believe.

Porn teaches boys selfish sex

Most porn teaches boys that sex is something they do to someone, not with someone. And that sex is all about their own pleasure and that they don’t have to care about how the other person feels physically or emotionally.

Porn teaches girls that how they feel doesn’t matter

Most porn teaches girls that sex is something that gets done to them, not with them. And that their enjoyment physically and emotionally is not as important as their partner’s pleasure.

Porn teaches dangerous ideas about consent

Healthy consensual sex happens when both people are in clear communication with each other – not just immediately beforehand but also during sex. That hardly ever happens in porn. In fact some porn eroticises non-consensual sex acts. A healthy way to understand consent is that if it is not a clear ‘yes’ then it is a ‘no’. Porn doesn’t give young people realistic expectations of what loving, healthy, consensual sex in the context of a committed relationship truly looks like.

How to talk about porn

Starting this conversation will probably feel a little bit unnatural. You could try starting this chat straight after school with a casual, “Hey, how was school today? Speaking of porn…” I’m sure you will find the right moment but here are six tips on how to talk to your kid about porn when you are ready to have this chat.

Start with sex

It’s healthy for your child to be interested in sex. It is part of growing up, so let your kids know that they can ask you any questions about sex and you will do your best to answer them. Many young people have ended up looking at porn to find out what sex is simply because they have felt too embarrassed to talk to their parents. If you are going to be able to talk about porn you need to talk about sex first. You can find advice on how to do that here.

Ask your kids if they are comfortable talking to you about sex. Ask them if you have ever embarrassed them when you’ve talked about it. Here’s the important part – really listen. It’s never too late to start this conversation with them. Even if your child is in their late teens, your voice still matters to them.

Tell a story to break the ice

A non-confrontational way to bring up the reality of porn is to tell a story about yourself. It might be something like, “I was trying to find out more about Blue’s Clues, but autocorrect on my phone changed it to ‘boobs clues’ and I ended up seeing some naked people on my phone. Has anything like that ever happened to you?” Sharing a story about porn being so accessible because of unwanted pop-up ads or explicit movie scenes is an easy way to start talking about it.

Young people actually respond really well to their parents when they realise their parents are not perfect and might not have it all together. Having said that, if looking at porn is a real issue for you, maybe talk to someone else about that before you talk to your kid (maybe someone like a counsellor). Why? Your kids can smell it a mile off when you are coming at a conversation with a, ‘do what I say, not what I do’ approach and they are hardly ever receptive to that type of conversation.

However, if you can share an experience that you have had either online or in the real world about coming into contact with pornography, you will actually make it easier for your young person to tell you if they ever come into contact with porn.

Ask about their friends

We aren’t suggesting you gossip about who has a crippling porn addiction (cough, Keith, cough). What we are suggesting is that you don’t ask them directly if they’ve watched porn to start this talk. Ask if they know of any friends that have watched porn. Then get their names and call their parents to dob them in. Okay, maybe don’t do that either.

Asking them about their friends’ attitudes towards porn will help you enter their world and give you a great opportunity to really listen to them. If you ask them too directly about it, they might get defensive because they may feel like they are in trouble. This tactic allows them to share attitudes about porn without needing to own those opinions themselves. Prepare yourself. You may hear some attitudes you don’t feel comfortable with. But you need to understand their world if you are going to shape their opinions about the world of pornography.

Tell them what you think about porn

Don’t tell them that you have been thinking about porn, tell them what you think about porn. If you still don’t really know what to say about it, then maybe you could say this, “I think that sex is great, but I don’t think that porn is great because of what it teaches you about sex.” This should launch you into a conversation about the ideas and attitudes that porn normalises. Young people need good information mixed with adult wisdom in order to make good decisions.

Agree on some restrictions

Even when you have clearly drawn a boundary, young people will still push against it. So make sure your child clearly knows where the boundary is. Many young people have no idea what they should and shouldn’t be looking at online because their parents have never discussed the restrictions.

Create an agreement on when and where they can use their devices. Your kids actually like impressing you and really don’t like disappointing you. One of the easiest ways to protect your child is to tackle this technological issue technologically. Consider filtering software or filtered internet in your home. Check out Digi-parentingSafe Surfer, Our Pact for more ideas on how to technologically manage the boundaries.

Young people are more likely to obey rules that they understand the reasons for. Make sure your kids know that the boundaries aren’t there to ruin their life. They are there so they can have the best life possible.

Talk about what good sex is

Now this is probably not the conversation you have been looking forward to – “Hey, sex is good. So good. Like way better than a happy meal.” But sell them what your dream is for their life and what they should aim for. Porn teaches what sex without love looks like. Hopefully your dream is that they would find love and sex in a healthy, long-term relationship. That’s what all of us want. That’s where the best sex is. Porn is only a cheap imitation of the total package. Always come back to your dream for them and the value that you place on sex and relationships.

Book a session with a Family Coach

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