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Posts Tagged ‘porn’

The Trouble With Teens and Porn

August 28, 2013

Teens are viewing porn. Not all teens are viewing porn, but many teens are viewing porn.

The two most common questions I am asked about teens watching porn is, “Why do they do it?” and “How will it affect them?”

My answer to the first question is, “Because it’s porn.” It’s forbidden for teens (and with good reason), and chances are they want to see it. They also watch porn because it’s about sex, and the restricting and censoring of school-based sexuality education throughout the United States is hugely to blame for why curious young people go to porn to learn about sex.

Porn is easily accessible. It is clear, direct and graphic—as opposed to the cryptic answers they receive from the uncomfortable adults in their lives. It is arousing, and when you consider the hormonal changes adolescents and teens experience, their interest and curiosity are completely normal, just misdirected.

Comprehensive sexuality education programs provide age-and developmentally-appropriate content that research shows to have a significant impact on behaviors, decision-making and relationships. But far too many schools teach abstinence only until marriage or nothing at all. And although parents can and should be the primary sexuality educators of their children, it is unfair to expect parents to know everything about human sexuality or what is and isn’t age-appropriate. This is why it is so important for parents, schools, faith communities and sexuality education experts to work in partnership to provide young people with such important, sometimes life-saving, information.

So, if porn contains the easily accessible, straightforward information young people say they want, why are we against them viewing it?

Because it’s not designed for them. We wouldn’t use algebra to teach a second grader addition, because it’s not age appropriate. The same is true for porn. It is designed for and to be consumed by adults because adults understand that what they are seeing is a fantasy. To many younger people, what they see is what they get, so porn represents the way sexual relationships ARE, not the way some might be. Some of my former college students told me porn taught them a lot about behaviors, but nothing about safer sex, relationships, communication, consent and the myriad other topics that should be addressed in a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.

The purpose of porn is not to educate; the purpose of porn is to entertain and make money. The messages young people receive from porn are, at best, misleading—at worst, biased and inaccurate. Here are some of these messages:

  1. Only people of a certain race, ethnicity, age, body type, etc. have-or should have-sex. The visual representation of sexual behaviors in porn speaks volumes and reinforces age-old sexist, racist, ageist, ableist and other stereotypes.
  2. Bigger is better-whether penises, breasts, buttocks (on women) or muscles (on men). The number one question adolescents ask is, “Am I normal?” Porn reinforces the idea that young people are not “okay” unless their bodies look like what they see represented. This can have a significant effect on viewers’ self-esteem and body image.
  3. Girls and women exist to “service” men. Even same-sex porn between women is created for men. I worked with a group of seventh-grade boys, where we were discussing gender stereotypes. I asked them to describe boys and received unsurprising responses: “strong, athletic, funny.” When I asked about girls, the first response I received was, “Girls are here to give lap dances to guys.” There is absolutely no reason why a seventh-grade boy should know what a lap dance is, let alone have the accompanying value that a girl’s worth is in performing one.
  4. Hook up; don’t look for relationships. Porn does not tend to depict love relationships. It depicts one-time hook-ups, usually without showing or even discussing condoms or other latex barriers. Adults are alarmed by teen hook-up culture, but it’s not exclusive to teens, and it’s certainly reinforced by what is in porn.

So, what is the impact of the many messages communicated by porn? Basically, we don’t know for sure. Certainly, as I shared above, it can affect attitudes and beliefs about gender, relationships, and sexuality in general. But porn’s impact on young people’s behaviors varies depending on a variety of factors: culture (Swedish teens were able to distinguish between reality and fantasy, but Swedish culture is far more progressive around sexuality); the content of the porn (a couple engaged in a sex act versus the depiction of violence); the frequency with which porn is viewed (greater frequency resulted in earlier sexual initiation for some); the adolescent’s history with aggression (some juvenile sex offenders who consumed porn were more likely to display aggression than those who did not); and more.

As researchers continue to explore correlations and causations, young people have questions. They need to know how their bodies work, how to navigate their normal sexual feelings, how to be in relationships and how to avoid the possible negative consequences of shared sexual behaviors. They won’t learn that from porn. They won’t learn it from abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

We cannot continue to let pornography “educate” young people, and we need to stop tolerating the faux moralistic arguments against comprehensive sexuality education. New Jersey has one of the strongest sexuality education mandates in the U.S., yet school after school, district after district, waste taxpayer money on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Young people need and have the right to be taught information and skills that are medically accurate and age- and developmentally-appropriate from adults who are trained to do so. They need their parents to take the initiative to talk with them about sexuality, within the context of their family’s values, rather than waiting passively for their children to ask questions—because some children may never ask. Educated youth grow up to be well-adjusted adults. And one thing we can all agree on is that we want our children to be happy, healthy and well-adjusted.

This article was originally published on APP.com.

My Child Viewed Porn: Now What?

February 17, 2012

pornThere are few more dramatic, clutch-the-pearls parenting moments than discovering that your child was viewing pornography. It doesn’t matter what your child’s gender is or how shy or outgoing your child is. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve put parental restrictions on your Internet access. Porn is easily accessible today in a variety of formats, and it is very likely that this will happen in your family at some point.

Why might your child have checked out porn? The most common reasons are…

Curiosity - Cultural references to porn are all around us. They are made by teens and adults, on the radio, by recording artists, in sitcoms and in movies. So sometimes kids check out porn because they want to know what it is and what the big deal is about.

Hormones - It’s hard for us to admit, but our children are sexual beings. Once they enter puberty, they are RAGING sexual beings. It’s exactly what’s supposed to be happening, biologically and developmentally. So sometimes, kids go online to check out porn because it turns them on. Sorry. Truth.

Confusion - Adolescents are concrete thinkers who need specific examples. If you describe what a condom is, your adolescent will understand something. If you show your adolescent a condom, allow her or him to actually touch it, your concrete adolescent will understand far more. For some young people, hearing “oral sex is when someone puts their mouth on another person’s genitals for pleasure” isn’t enough. How does that actually happen? Why do people do it? Adolescents go online, see someone performing oral sex and say, “Oh, I get it.”

Parents often ask, “What impact does viewing porn have on children?” There are different viewpoints and a range of research relating to this. Generally speaking, porn does not harm young people. It can, however, misinform and confuse them. Porn is made for adults, not adolescents. It is designed to be a fantasy-and adolescents don’t always get that, because, again, they’re concrete thinkers. What they see is what they get.

So, what do you do if your child has been checking out porn?

Decide who’s going to bring it up. If you are partnered or married, strategize together first for consistency. Then one of you should speak with your child so she or he does not feel ganged up on. Believe me, your child is going to feel embarrassed and defensive, so you need to approach this gently.

Be ready to explain how you know she or he was accessing porn. When it comes to technology, parents are all over the place about whether it’s OK to check their children’s e-mails, texts, etc. If you are a parent who does spot checks, I suggest you let your child know that in advance. Otherwise, while you’re trying to talk with your child about why it’s not OK for her or him to look at porn, she or he will be focused on how and why you violated her or his privacy.

Be ready to have several short conversations. Again, your child is likely to be mortified that you discovered she or he was watching porn. That means you have a limited window in which to talk about it. This also means that you may need to come back to it several times to reinforce what you said the first time, since all they will be able to hear is their own voice in their head saying, “Please let this be over….”

Set boundaries. Remember you are the parent, and as the parent, you are responsible for setting and maintaining rules in your home. After you’ve spoken about why adolescents shouldn’t be viewing porn, you need to clearly explain your expectations moving forward and that, like with any other rules, there will be consequences for breaking them. Effective consequences should happen right after the offense and be related to the offense (e.g., no non-homework computer access for a period of time).

Watch for these warning signs that indicate a problem needing professional help:

Subject matter. If you were to discover that the only images your child was viewing were particularly violent or degrading, you’d need to talk about what she or he saw and to explain clearly that that is not the way people should behave in a sexual relationship. How that conversation goes will determine whether you might want to bring your child to see a therapist to explore the source of their curiosity.

Frequency of viewing. A parent asked me, “If my son says he can’t stop watching porn, is that a problem?” Absolutely. If viewing porn feels like a compulsion, professional intervention is necessary to direct your child away from a behavior that is not healthy to one that is.

Changes in language or behavior. Any dramatic changes in your child’s language or behavior should be noted. (For example, if your previously outgoing child becomes quieter, more secretive, or you hear him or her using more sexualized language with friends or with you). These changes may not necessarily indicate that your child has been viewing porn, but they can. When in doubt, check it out.

Above all, stay calm. Talk with other parents about how they’ve handled this situation with their children. Speak with professionals who have expertise working with children. You are not alone in figuring out how to address this!

My Child Viewed Porn: Now What? was originally published by MOMeoMagazine.com.