This is what I hope for my children: that they reach adulthood before they stumble across or seek out pornography.
I remember what it was like to be almost-holding-hands with a boy for the very. first. time. I remember the butterflies, the excitement, the anticipation – and Oh My Word, when we actually HELD hands –
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Next – some time later – came the anticipation and the transition to the first kiss. Holy crap, does it get any better than that? I nearly fainted with my first kiss. I will encourage my boys to slowly savor each and every new experience, lingering as long as possible before proceeding further – because once you take that next step, that which came before is never quite as magical. I want them to have all of those intense experiences, heightened emotions, rushing hormones, and intense arousal all FIRST HAND, with a real, live, consenting human being.
I don’t want porn to get there first.
I am raising boys in the age of information. I am not naive. A staggering 90% of children aged 8-16 report having watched pornography online, and whilst I’m concerned, I’m not really surprised. It’s not like fascination in sex is a new thing for this generation. It’s just that when people of my vintage were tweens/teens and curious about sex, society looked after our access to information. We could ask our parents; or our friends; or access carefully selected books in the library. Maybe some encountered magazines stashed under beds; and maybe some found a couple of blue videos. To seek out porn, one had to be determined. Now our children have the same inquisitiveness about sex – and the entire world wide web at their fingertips. Where the onus used to be on society to safeguard our children, now the responsibility is on our CHILDREN to be savvy consumers – to be mature enough to know that just because they can doesn’t mean they should. And how are they to know the difference?
A tween explained to me why she had been accessing online pornography – she said she thought it would help her to be a better girlfriend – that she would know what to do, and how to act. Recent Australian research found that many young men actually believe that what they watch in pornography provides an accurate template for sexual activity (Crabbe & Corlett, 2013). What template are they learning? An analysis of 50 randomly selected films from the top 250 grossing pornography movies released in 2007 found over 3,300 acts of verbal and physical aggression (11.5 acts per scene analysed), of which 94% were perpetrated against women – and in over 95% of those scenes, the women responded with either neutral or pleasure expressions (Wosnitzer & Bridges, 2007). The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has expressed concern that “much pornographic content depicts unsafe sexual acts that are harmful for sexual health, and frequently overlook crucial notions of mutual pleasure, respect and negotiating consent”(Sampson, 2015).
I think we need to prepare more broadly than simply having “The Porn Talk”. I think there’s a lot we can be doing – and are already doing – right from the get-go that will help prepare our children to navigate a porn-filled world.
- COMPUTER-GEEK-TECH SOLUTIONS
Yes, there are Net Nannies, etc, that can be part of our solution. I advocate for parental controls on computers and devices, if not just to stop kids accidentally installing viruses and shopping on e-bay. But their use is limited, and any teenager will have a work-around for every barrier we put in place. We need to equip our children, rather than just try to fence them.
- KEEP DEVICES IN OPEN LIVING AREAS
Like many parents, we have a rule that prohibits the use of devices in bedrooms (and it applies to us too). At a young age, this helps in monitoring the safety of our children from on-line predators or viewing inappropriate material; but it also helps in the setting up of healthy computer habits. The blue light emitted from devices interrupts melatonin and therefore sleep cycles; and it’s useful to model and teach “unplugged” time. By the time they hit tweens, devices outside of bedrooms is part of a family culture, rather than a newly imposed rule.
- BE A CREDIBLE SOURCE OF INFORMATION – ALWAYS
My children can’t have preservatives and colours (Oh My Word No They CANNOT). Sometimes, well-meaning others would attempt to help our children with their restrictions – “Oh, these cupcakes actually aren’t all that nice.” I would take a deep breath, “Actually, they taste really good. That’s why everyone else is eating them. Whilst you would enjoy eating them, this is what else happens for you when you eat Bright Red Icing…” Because one day, my kids will pick up a cupcake; they will bite into it; that sugary, buttery goodness will hit their palate; and they will like it. When that happens, I want them to know that it was exactly as I said it would be. Because when they’re older I’m going to talk to them about porn. I will tell them that porn will most likely arouse them, and they may well enjoy watching. It may also screw up their natural sexual arousal and give them some pretty inaccurate ideas about sex and relationships. By the time we get there, I want my children to have a huge database of things playing out exactly as mum said, so that it is worth trusting mum on this one!
- USE PROPER NAMES
From a protective behaviours perspective, we need to be teaching our children the words penis/vulva/vagina, rather than cutesie nicknames. When we don’t use proper names for body parts, we are already sending the message that there is something awkward about those bits. Something we’re not so comfortable to talk about. If our kids pick up on our embarrassment, they will run a mile from talking these things through with us. They will source their information elsewhere.
- STEEP OUR CHILDREN IN REAL LOVE STORIES AND MODEL A RELATIONSHIP THEY CAN ASPIRE TO
We need to steep our children deeply in a tradition where violence plays no part in a sexual and/or loving relationship; where sex is connected to a narrative of relationship building, respect, and consent. I grew up knowing many rich narratives about the great loves (and losses) of my wider family. I know the story of my great-grandfather swimming the Swan river to court my great-grandmother; the courtship, engagement and marriage of my parents; and those of my aunts and uncles. These, in turn, shaped my expectations of love, sex, and relationships. In life we will break hearts, and we will have our hearts broken, we will have love that is unrequited and that which is reciprocated. Our children need to have real life stories within which to make sense of their own experiences – not the scripts of Hollywood, and certainly not the reductionist view of pornography.
Similarly, we know that children learn not from our words, but from our actions. Raising boys, I’m acutely aware that they are learning how to fulfill their future roles of father, partner, and man by observing Stoick. They are learning lessons about partners and mothers by watching me. Knowing that our children are learning by our examples is one of the many reasons to choose to be intentional about the care we take of our partnerships, and ourselves.
One day my boys may well fall within the 80% of the adult population who use pornography at least once (Traeen & Daneback, 2013). As long as it is against a backdrop of a life full of love and richness, after a time when they’ve been able to learn about their sexuality in healthy and respectful contexts, then that will be okay with me.
Crabbe, M., & Corlett, D. (Directors) (2013). Love and sex in an age of pornography. Australia: Rendered Visible and Looking Glass Pictures.
Træen, B., & Daneback, K. (2013). The use of pornography and sexual behaviour among Norwegian men and women of differing sexual orientation. Sexologies, 22, 41-48.
Sampson, E. (2015). APS highlights concerns about the harmful impacts of pornograpy. In Psych, 38/2, 18-19
Wosnitzer, R. J. & Bridges, A. (2007). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography: A content analysis update. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, San Francisco, CA. Retrieved from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p170523_index.html