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Here’s How (and When) To Talk To Your Kids About Porn

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When I was growing up in the pre-Internet days, getting a peek at porn could be a lot of work. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and now any child with access to a screen also has access to porn.

And whether it is intentional or not, studies have found that a significant number of kids have seen some type of sexually explicit imagery by the time they are in middle school, and plenty more have encountered it even younger.  

Understandably, parents are concerned. They are concerned about the effects of porn on kids, they are concerned about the moral implications of watching porn, and they are concerned about what a porn habit could indicate about their kids. And while some of these concerns are valid (yes, traditional porn can give kids a skewed vision of sex), and others maybe less so (no, your kid isn’t pervert, even if the porn they seek out makes you shudder), it is definitely an important issue to address.

So here are some tips for diving in.

The Sex Talk(s)

As a health educator, I firmly believe that it is never too early to talk about sexuality with your kids. But a lot of parents just don’t know where to begin. And it shows. In fact, a study out of Harvard found that more than 40% of parents only talked to their children about sex after the kids had become sexually active (which in the United States happens on average at age 17).

One area where parents really stumble is in addressing sex that is of the non-procreative variety. If this is a concern of yours, just remind yourself that far from scarring your kids or propelling them to early sex, talking to them about this basic human experience early and often will actually set them up to make better decisions and to have better experiences down the road.

Also, remember, you don’t have to reinvent the sex talk wheel. There are some solid resources out there that can help you with this piece of the puzzle. (I love Cory Silverberg’sSex is a Funny Word.”)

Now, the Porn Part

If at all possible, try not to have your first parent/child sex talk after you find your kid watching porn. Instead, work on weaving a conversation about porn into your larger conversations about sex.

And those conversations can start pretty young since if a kid is old enough to be left alone with a screen, then they are old enough to know that not everything online is appropriate for children. As they grow up, that knowledge can also extend to an understanding that porn is generally something which falls into this category.

Even a 7 or 8-year-old can learn that the sex and naked bodies that they might see on a screen is made up fantasy designed for grown-ups. It’s sure not reality, and kids sure aren’t the intended audience.

When they are a little older, preteens can also be told that porn actors are often hired because they fit a very specific set of criteria. Male porn actors typically have huge penises. Female porn actors are typically very thin, but have very large breasts and no body hair.

Similarly, middle schoolers should understand that the sex that people have in porn doesn’t usually look like the sex a lot of adults have in real life. For example, actors in porn don’t tend to communicate about what they like in bed, but rather just seem to magically know a partner’s deepest desires.

You can also discuss issues like the fact that most porn is made with a hetero male audience in mind and so it emphasizes male pleasure above all else.

Plus, while you can talk about the fact that while there is porn that claims to represent every single group out there, (yes, there is even a whole Porn Hub page dedicated to “Jewish” girls), most of the time, things like “lesbian” porn don’t actually feature, nor are they intended for the people who’s labels they are using.

It is also worthwhile to point out that while there is some egalitarian porn being made, a lot of the stuff people come across shows women in a pretty degrading manner.

Plus, older tweens and teens can be reminded that while you rarely see people practicing safer sex on screen, in real life protecting oneself from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections is super-important.

Finally, it is important to explain that it is illegal for anyone to look at porn if they are under 18, and, though some states are moving to exempt same-age sexting, underage teens across the country have been charged with crimes for sending sexual images of themselves to other minors.

How to Have the Talk

First off, trust yourself to broach this topic. Next, think about what you want to say and remember that your goal is not to make your kids feel bad, but rather it is to help them better navigate the world.

If you are nervous, tell your kids. You can say something as simple as “I’m not really used to talking about sex with you and I feel a little weird about it.”

If you are talking to a kid after discovering them looking at porn, your might feel mad or embarrassed or uncomfortable. You can acknowledge those feelings, but if at all possible, try not to let these emotions guide the conversation.

Then work towards keeping the ensuing conversation about more than just your discomfort or anger. Doing this will send the message that sex is a nuanced issue and that you don’t think there is anything wrong with your child for being interested in it. Children need to feel that it isn’t their desires that are the problem, but rather that you have concerns about the images they are seeing and how those might affect a developing understanding of sex.

So even though it might be tricky, in our wired world, having the porn conversation with your kids is crucial. With just a little practice, it might not actually be all that hard to do.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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