Parenting about Porn

When I was a kid I used to watch the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner show. In this show, characters were tricked into situations which, if real, would have resulted in death. But they didn’t die, they kept coming back for more and I laughed because I knew it wasn’t real. 

I remember my parents discussing a news story about a child who had been seriously injured trying out one of the stunts on the show and the warning the writer gave, that parents need to tell their children that what happens in cartoons often defies the laws of physics, and that, in real life, anyone would be seriously hurt or die if they were try and replicate the antics shown. 

I was allowed to watch most cartoons. Everyone seemed to implicitly agreed that they were harmless fun. But what if my parents decided, early in my life, that I would never be allowed to watch cartoons?  What if they decided that cartoons were too violent, too unrealistic, would warp my perception of reality, or make me want to harm helpless rabbits or road runners. What would have happened then? 

Well, first of all, I was an extremely fearful child, so I would have likely listened to them and never watched them, maybe seeing them, accidentally at another child’s house and then living with the guilt of that secret glimpse. Over time, I may have encountered more cartoons without seeking them out but may have been too scared to tell my parents what I’d seen. It’s possible that I would have been a rarity, among my peers, in not being allowed to watch them and so, may have picked up from them, the idea that it was not real and that we shouldn’t actually try the things portrayed on the screen. Or maybe that would not have been entirely clear to me. If I had been in a community where no one was allowed to watch cartoons, I might still have run into them at stores, or when visiting out of town, but would be even less likely to develop the skills of determining what was real and what was not.  

Let me start this part of this post by assuring you, in case you’re wondering where I’m going with all of this, that, when it comes to pornography, I do not think children should be allowed to watch it, any more that I think children should be allowed to drive cars. I do, however, think that many people’s fearful responses to porn, particularly in their parenting practices, but also in their own lives and relationships, is problematic for many reasons. I think that we need to be better informed about porn, in the same way we seek to understand technology and it’s limitations and impacts. I believe that when we make decisions based on fear and lack of information, we are at risk of doing more harm than good. 

Most of us are aware that porn is impossible to avoid, without removing yourself, almost completely, from society. A stat I came across recently, estimated that kids are first exposed to porn between the ages of 8 and 11 and that a large percentage (I don’t  have the numbers in front of me, but it was something like 90%+) of kids will have encountered porn before the age of 18.

With these numbers in mind, parents are becoming more aware that they are responsible to discuss porn with their children, early on in life and not just hope that their kids will manage to avoid encountering porn, all together. Focusing primarily on protecting children from being exposed to porn, through ‘net nanny’s’ passwords, etc. is fine, but that is only 1/4 of the job. The other 3/4 is preparing them for when they do encounter it, whether they come across it intentionally, or seek it out due to their curious natures and the allure what is often seen as forbidden. 

What Your Children Need to Know about Pornography:

The following points are intended as a suggested starting place for information that you will need in order to be able to be able to prepare your children for their inevitable encounter with pornography, at whatever time of life this happens. It may also help you in your own experiences with porn.

Basic sex education

You will need to be sure that your child has the facts about human sexuality and procreation, and understands the concept of consent, when it comes to their own body and others’. 

Body image & porn

When the ONLY place a young person sees a nude body, besides their own, is in porn, which fetishises young, blemish free, extremely thin, and hairless bodies with unrealistic breast sizes, etc., then expectations about how another person’s actual naked body will appear when they do encounter it, may influence their response to that real life body, in negative way. I believe that if our culture were more comfortable with nudity, in a variety of settings, particularly non-sexualized settings, I believe that we would have less issues with body image. You may not know if your child has encountered porn, accidentally, or on purpose but it is worth talking about portrayals of bodies in porn. It might be worthwhile to find images of non-sexualized naked bodies, for example in artistic photography, National Geographic, or medical texts to have around to show your child if they show interest in what real bodies look like.

To show how bodies can be shown in unrealistic ways, you may also want to check out this video that shows the alterations made in the media to make real people look unrealistic. Time lapse of magazine photo shoot

Communication within sex

Porn portrays sexual arousal as immedicate, automatic and without any troubles. At some point, children, teens and young adults will need to know that the kind of sex that porn often portrays (using a wide variety of positions, quick progression to intercourse with little or no communication or foreplay, and higher levels of aggressiveness)  is not a commonly enjoyed experience in real life. They should know that others will not necessarily enjoy sex in this way and neither might they.

Communicating, at age appropriate times, about how sex actually works, including having and giving consent, communicating likes and dislikes, and that each individual will find themselves attracted to and aroused by different things, at different times, is important.

A great place to learn about consent for teenagers and up, is the The Tea Part Video.

For more on bodies and sexual desire check out  Sex & Pizza Tedtalk.

Values and porn

Invite your child to talk about the different kinds of situations or things they might have observed (or heard from a friend about) in porn and what they think about it. If your child is hesitant to talk about this, you might need to give them some general ideas about what they might see or might have already seen and ask them what they think about this.

It is best to let them lead the discussion, however, if they are reluctant, you may just want to share some of your own thoughts about your values concerning pornography and sexuality and how this may be or may not be different from what they encounter or have encountered in pornography.

Check out my previous posts on porn including Ethical Porn and Porn & You for more about human rights in porn, how porn does and doesn’t affect one’s brain and sex positive, body positive and female empowering porn.

The law and porn

Your child should know that sex or pornography involving children is always illegal and reporting any information about child pornography (seeing it, possessing it, knowing someone else possesses it or is creating it) is mandatory. In Canada reports should be made to Cypertip.

Sex and pornography can be some of the most difficult things we talk to our children about. I believe that this is due to our society’s general discomfort with both topics. We seem to land either in the camp of fear, shame and denial or in the camp of  bravado (masking insecurity), and toxic portrayals of sexuality and bodies. I hope that these articles will help you to sort out your own ideas and face your own fears around these topics and allow you to pass on good information and perspectives to your own children. 

 

For more on parenting see The 3 Parts of Parenting Teens

And Are the Kids Okay? – Children & Mental Health

Also Death Education for Children – Don’t wait for Grief

*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.

 

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