Learn how to talk to your children about porn. Kids today are almost brainwashed into believing that watching porn is not only their ‘right’ as digital natives, but that there’s nothing harmful about it. Sadly, they are mistaken. Young people between the ages of 10 and 25, the period of adolescence, are the most vulnerable to sexual conditioning. This means that the unusually potent stimulation of today’s porn can alter their arousal template, such that some find they need porn to become aroused. Over time, a real person, however attractive, may not turn them on.
Nor do children and young people under 18 have a right to watch porn as some pundits claim. Rather governments and parents have a duty to protect them from harmful products. Porn has not been proven to be a safe product. In fact, there is robust evidence of the reverse. That said, there’s no call to blame or shame a child for watching pornography. They will stumble across it or seek it out driven by natural curiosity about sex. The internet is their go-to source for information.
The question is how much is too much? That’s what they have to learn. If they try to push back at you with smart answers about why it is good for them, and that you are just a tech “dinosaur”, remember you have the real-life experience they don’t yet have.
You might want to consider the following arguments when challenged. These are responses to twelve common statements kids make when the topic of their porn use arises. You know your own child best and what will work for them. Be creative about how and when to make those conversations happen. Good luck!
Is it a good idea to take free sweets from strangers? Pornography is the modern-day, electronic equivalent. It is the consumer product of a multibillion-dollar industry. What is the porn company getting in return for enticing you with free, artificial sexual stimulation? Mainly advertising revenue from selling your private data to hundreds of other companies. If a product is free, your personal information is the product. Watching internet porn can also lead to being groomed online, as well as risking a range of mental and physical health, and relationship problems over time.
“Everyone is watching it.”
I know you want to fit in. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a big issue for most kids. It is part of normal adolescent development to start to move away from the family and be influenced by your friends. Yet as a parent, I want the best for you at this time and your friends might not know the consequences of entertainment choices. An Italian study found: 16% of high school seniors who consumed pornography more than once a week experienced abnormally low sexual desire. That compared to 0% of non-porn users reporting low sexual desire. Just know, not everyone is watching porn, just as not everyone is having sex, despite the boasting. You have to learn to evaluate what creates risks for you even when you can’t see the effects till later.
“It teaches me how to be a man.”
Boys especially think porn use is a mark of developing masculinity, a rite of passage into adulthood. But porn can cause a negative body image with worries about penis size and even lead to eating disorders in young men. (See the recommended books in our parents’ guide for tips on how to promote positive masculinity.)
I can’t stop you seeing porn because it is everywhere on the internet, and you will see it whether by accident or by seeking it out. Your pals will send it to you for a laugh. But everyone’s brain is unique and will be affected differently. It is the endless novelty and ease of escalation to more extreme material and how long you use it for that seem to matter most. Try some of the quizzes here to see if it is affecting you. Let’s keep the lines of communications open. It’s an important life skill to be able to recognise things that may not be in your best interests and master urges to engage in them.
“It teaches me how to be an empowered woman.”
Pornography has always been primarily about the objectification of actors for another person’s arousal. It doesn’t teach users about loving another person, about safety or intimacy. In fact, it encourages unsafe practices such as sexual strangulation and condom-less sex that is contributing to a huge rise in sexually transmitted infections.
There is quite a lot of pornography in social media, on TV and in music videos. Along with porn videos themselves, all indirectly suggest ways of behaving in sexual encounters. Be selective about what messages you absorb. The effects of widespread porn use are already changing sexual tastes. A survey in 2019 by The Sunday Times, showed that twice as many young women under 22 (Gen Z) as young men said they preferred BDSM and rough sex types of porn.
The police report a concerning increase in cases of sexual strangulation. I want you to be safe as you explore relationships and to find someone you can trust who won’t cause you physical or mental harm. Have a read at this blog to learn about how women can be brain damaged in as little as 4 seconds by sexual strangulation and with as little pressure on the neck as it takes to open a can of juice. The porn industry may serve strangulation up as “air play”, or “breath play”, but sexual choking and strangulation are dangerous practices; they are not games. If you pass out, you can’t consent to what is going on (or, more importantly, withdraw your consent). You might end up dead. I don’t want to lose you.
“It’s the best way to learn about sex.”
Really? Porn is industrial strength, two-dimensional sexual stimulation based mainly on videos of real actors having sex. It can come in cartoon form too, such as Japanese manga. Pornography teaches you to become a voyeur, someone who is aroused by watching others have sex. It is much better to learn together with a real partner. Take your time. Gradual steps allow you to learn what works best for both of you.
Both men and women, when asked whom they would prefer between two lovers both equally attractive one of whom uses porn and the other doesn’t, favoured the lover who doesn’t use porn. Apparently, people don’t relish having their sexual performance compared with porn’s sexual athletes. They most likely also recognize that you can have a more genuine connection without porn scenarios running in either partner’s head. Do you want your lover thinking about someone else in their head when they are with you, especially a surgically- or pharmaceutically-enhanced porn performer? If a lover can’t focus fully on you, consider changing lovers unless they are willing to give up porn. If they are, send them here.
Porn teaches nothing about intimacy, developing a two-way relationship or consent. Consent is taken for granted in porn and never occurs as it would be in real life. Do you know how to say “no” to someone you fancy who wants you to do stuff you don’t want to do or are not sure about? It’s really important to learn. This is a key life skill. This is all the more important when you combine porn-influenced sex with alcohol or drugs. It can lead to sexual assault, rape and other violent outcomes.
Porn rarely shows condoms. But as you know, they act as a barrier to infection and also as a contraception. If you tell a person you are wearing one then pull it off without them knowing, in other words ‘stealthing’, that is illegal. It’s rape. You can’t withdraw consent on your side only. You could be charged by the police. Charges could ruin your job prospects in the future. Think carefully about how you behave. Ask yourself how you would want others to act towards you in the same situation.
“It feels so good – it’s intense pleasure.”
You’re right. For most of us orgasm offers the biggest blast of pleasure neurochemicals in the brain from a natural reward. Artificial rewards like drugs and alcohol can produce as much and more. But it is possible to get ‘too much’ pleasure of any kind. Too much stimulation can desensitise the brain leaving you craving for more. Everyday pleasures can seem boring by comparison. Programming or conditioning the brain to want and eventually need pleasure from a supernormal stimulus like hardcore internet porn can result in less satisfaction from real sex with a partner and even less desire for real sex itself. It can also lead to sexual dysfunctions such as erection problems or trouble climaxing with a partner. That is no fun for anyone. Watch this popular video to learn more.
“If I’m too young to have sex, this is a good substitute.”
Not in the long term if it leads to brain changes that stop you wanting sex with a real person or from experiencing pleasure with them when you eventually do. Today’s porn is not a harmless substitute for sex at any age. Maybe erotic magazines and films operated that way to a degree in the past, but streaming hardcore pornography today is different. It can overwhelm and mould your brain while it is still maturing.
Most mental health problems start developing at around age 14. Today, your brain is being shaped by extremely powerful media that others are manipulating for their profit. Potential harm to consumers is not adequately taken into account.
It’s all right to learn how to connect with other people in real life and focus on school work rather than trying to become a sexual athlete before your time. People who quit porn often report that their mental health improves along with their ability to attract potential partners.
“Porn lets me explore my sexuality.”
Perhaps. But pornography also ‘shapes’ some users’ sexual tastes. The more you explore internet pornography, the greater the risk of escalating to more extreme or weird porn genres as your brain desensitises, i.e. become bored with earlier levels of stimulation. Being sexually aroused by new material does not necessarily mean it determines ‘who you are’ sexually. Many people who have quit report that they had developed bizarre fetishes and tastes. These often disappear over time after they stop using it. The brain can change.
Incidentally, porn-free masturbation is a normal aspect of adolescent development. It’s today’s ever-novel porn with its potential for escalation that creates the most serious risks. Porn sites use algorithms to suggest material they hope you will click on going forward.
“Ethical porn is OK.”
What actually is it? So-called “ethical porn” is just another category of pornography. It boasts better pay and conditions for the porn actors. But it features most of the same themes, many of which are aggressive. Also, ethical porn often costs money. How many teens are likely to pay for their porn? In any case, even users who begin with ethical porn may find they crave increasingly edgy material as they become desensitised over time.
“It helps me get on with my homework.”
Not so. Research showed that “an increased use of Internet pornography decreased boys’ academic performance 6 months later.” People underestimate how much porn they are using online just as they do with gaming, social media, gambling or shopping. The risk is that these products are ‘specifically designed’ to keep a user clicking. In fact, the World Health Organisation formally recognizes addictive behaviours and compulsive porn use as disorders, that is, as public health concerns. Learning to exercise self-control will serve you better. Find a healthier treat or opt for porn-free self-pleasuring.
“It soothes my anxiety and depression.”
Online porn use may relieve tension in the short term, but over time it’s associated with increased mental health disorders in many users. Children and young people are the most vulnerable to mental health disorders because of their stage of brain development. Teens need to be especially careful of what they consume, as their brains are strengthening nerve connections related to the activities they engage in. What they consume now can channel their future arousal.
“It helps me sleep.”
Despite any short-term advantages, using your smart phone in bed makes it harder to sleep soundly even if you have a special screen to reduce the light effect. Lack of sound sleep contributes to poor mental health and can interfere with your ability to learn at school and pass exams. It can also impede physical growth and brain development, as well as the ability to recover from illness.
Using porn consumption as a sleep-aid can backfire over time if you become dependent upon it. What else might help you fall asleep? Meditation? Stretching? Learning to draw your sexual energy up your spine and spread it throughout your body?
Can you leave your phone outside your bedroom at night? I want the best for you. Can we work on this together?
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