Challenging Conversations

Porn, When And How To Talk About It

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 22, 2021
challenging conversations on paper

The other day, I talked with a college student who said, “Dating during COVID is disastrous.” He explained that by disastrous, he meant not happening. I have, of course, heard this from many others as well.

Social isolation, sexuality, curiosity, and then added to that, the fact that porn is just a click away.  So how do we talk with our kids?

Wouldn’t it be great to have some easy, foolproof way of knowing exactly when and how to talk about it? You don’t need me to remind you that there are no easy, one-size-fits-all answers. But that said, I know I have appreciated learning ideas along this rocky road, and I am happy to pass some on, hoping there might be a new tidbit in here that can help.

Not surprisingly, reports on porn use have shown an upswing of use during COVID. We do not have current data specifically on youth and porn. We all know that younger and younger kids have access to social media, YouTube, the internet, particularly with COVID.  

I know that it is tempting for parents with younger kids to believe that their kids will not get exposed to porn. You can install blockers, but we have to assume that they won't work 100% of the time. Also, we can’t control all the devices our kids will come in contact with. Exposure to pornography is always possible.

Peggy Orenstein interviewed more than 100 boys between the ages of 16 and 24 for her book, “Boys and Sex.” During these interviews, she found that boys first got exposed to porn around age 9. She writes, “ … often the first exposure was unbidden: older brothers (or older brother's friends) spun around a smartphone screen … to freak them out.” She found that intentional searches for pornography started around sixth to eighth grade.

As Orenstein writes so powerfully, "Porn raises the question about how young people’s erotic imaginations get shaped long before they've even so much as had a good-night kiss: the impact it may have on desire, arousal, behavior, sexual ethics and their understanding of gender, race, and power in sexual expression."

Today I want to focus on how to talk with younger kids about porn. However, I also have ideas for promoting discussion with your teens. Remember, if you can get your teen talking with you even for 5 minutes about sex and porn, that is a win.  

Two questions that can prompt discussions with your teen

Consider posting this question to your teen or some variation of it,

“If you were the parent of an 8-year-old, how would you address with them the fact that naked people doing sexual things are on the internet?”

The other question that can help spark a discussion is to see what they think about the fact that some school districts are starting to add information about porn into their health/sex ed classes. For example, this is happening in Massachusetts.

Use science to bring up the topic with your teen

This excerpt from a New York Times includes stats that provide good entries into a conversation with teens,

“...data from a 2016 Indiana University survey of more than 600 pairs of children and their parents reveals a parental naïveté gap: Half as many parents thought their 14- and 18-year-olds had seen porn as had in fact watched it. And depending on the sex act, parents underestimated what their kids saw by as much as 10 times.”

Ideas  for talking about porn with younger kids

It is hard for us parents to deal with the difficult topic of porn and our young kids. We pay a heavy price for the current form of our tech revolution —  knowing that our kids can come across very disturbing images and videos.  

I remember some time ago when my friend called me very upset. Her 10-year-old daughter had gone to a sleepover with some other girls, and one of the girls was a few years older than her daughter. When her daughter came home, she was unusually quiet and withdrawn and stayed that way for two days.

Finally, her daughter came to her with teary eyes and told her that the older girl showed them videos on her phone of two women taking a shower together and another of a man and a woman. She was very upset.

My friend said to me, "She was only 10, I didn't know I needed to start talking with her about all this already, and I had no idea what to do in this situation."

So while it is not easy, having multiple micro conversations over the years is key.

Here are some communication approaches to help your conversations

  1. Consistently convey the message that curiosity and wanting to understand people, bodies, and sexuality is normal. Let them know that you are available to answer their questions now and as they grow up.
  2. Point out the positives in affectionate relationships as your children are growing up. For example, if you see a teenage couple holding hands and laughing together, consider saying something like, "It is so great seeing people in a fun relationship."
  3. Consider reviewing videos that help raise this topic with kids. If you think it would be appropriate, then watch the video with your child and discuss it. For example, Amaze.org's YouTube videos have a video called “Porn: Fact or Fiction” that is worth checking out for this purpose.
  4. Be prepared with talking points. Consider having some variation of a few of the following talking points in your back pocket when you find an appropriate time to discuss them with your child.
  • When people pay actors to pose for nude photos or have sex on screen, this is called pornography or “porn” for short. It is not meant for kids, and yet, now, with the internet, kids come upon it by mistake, or their peers show it to them quite often.
  • As humans, we have sexual feelings — after all, it is sex that lets us create more humans. Actors get paid to perform sexual acts so other people can watch and explore their sexual feelings, but it is important to remember that porn does not represent real life. Sex is about healthy communication and meaningful relationships, and that is not what the pictures and videos show in pornography.
  • On a phone or computer, someone may show you naked people interacting with one another. Sometimes, these videos and images pop up when you are searching for something else. You might be curious to look more, and that's normal. But the truth is, if this happens, it is better that you shut off the device and come talk with me.
  • If someone ever starts to show you images like the ones I am talking about, it is important that you have some tools to stop the situation. Let’s practice ways you can do this. Maybe you can say something like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right back,” in order to walk away and call me or just go into another room or bathroom.
  • Remember, please come to me if you see the types of things I am talking about. You would never be in trouble! Kids aren't bad when this happens. So know that, first and foremost, I want to help guide you in this complicated world.

It is normal that these videos and images can lead to sexual feelings, even in young people. That is normal. We do not want our kids to feel any shame for having sexual feelings.

Ideas for conversation starters:

  1. When talking with teens, ask the questions I mentioned above.
  2. When talking with younger kids, you can mention how you have heard that some kids who have come across naked people on the internet don’t tell anyone and ask why they think that might be?
  3. Do your kids know that you want them to come to you if they see certain things online?
  4. What are some of the myths that porn creates?

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new  book, Parenting in the Screen Age

Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.

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Challenging Conversations

Porn, When And How To Talk About It

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 22, 2021
challenging conversations on paper

The other day, I talked with a college student who said, “Dating during COVID is disastrous.” He explained that by disastrous, he meant not happening. I have, of course, heard this from many others as well.

Social isolation, sexuality, curiosity, and then added to that, the fact that porn is just a click away.  So how do we talk with our kids?

Wouldn’t it be great to have some easy, foolproof way of knowing exactly when and how to talk about it? You don’t need me to remind you that there are no easy, one-size-fits-all answers. But that said, I know I have appreciated learning ideas along this rocky road, and I am happy to pass some on, hoping there might be a new tidbit in here that can help.

Not surprisingly, reports on porn use have shown an upswing of use during COVID. We do not have current data specifically on youth and porn. We all know that younger and younger kids have access to social media, YouTube, the internet, particularly with COVID.  

I know that it is tempting for parents with younger kids to believe that their kids will not get exposed to porn. You can install blockers, but we have to assume that they won't work 100% of the time. Also, we can’t control all the devices our kids will come in contact with. Exposure to pornography is always possible.

Peggy Orenstein interviewed more than 100 boys between the ages of 16 and 24 for her book, “Boys and Sex.” During these interviews, she found that boys first got exposed to porn around age 9. She writes, “ … often the first exposure was unbidden: older brothers (or older brother's friends) spun around a smartphone screen … to freak them out.” She found that intentional searches for pornography started around sixth to eighth grade.

As Orenstein writes so powerfully, "Porn raises the question about how young people’s erotic imaginations get shaped long before they've even so much as had a good-night kiss: the impact it may have on desire, arousal, behavior, sexual ethics and their understanding of gender, race, and power in sexual expression."

Today I want to focus on how to talk with younger kids about porn. However, I also have ideas for promoting discussion with your teens. Remember, if you can get your teen talking with you even for 5 minutes about sex and porn, that is a win.  

Two questions that can prompt discussions with your teen

Consider posting this question to your teen or some variation of it,

“If you were the parent of an 8-year-old, how would you address with them the fact that naked people doing sexual things are on the internet?”

The other question that can help spark a discussion is to see what they think about the fact that some school districts are starting to add information about porn into their health/sex ed classes. For example, this is happening in Massachusetts.

Use science to bring up the topic with your teen

This excerpt from a New York Times includes stats that provide good entries into a conversation with teens,

“...data from a 2016 Indiana University survey of more than 600 pairs of children and their parents reveals a parental naïveté gap: Half as many parents thought their 14- and 18-year-olds had seen porn as had in fact watched it. And depending on the sex act, parents underestimated what their kids saw by as much as 10 times.”

Ideas  for talking about porn with younger kids

It is hard for us parents to deal with the difficult topic of porn and our young kids. We pay a heavy price for the current form of our tech revolution —  knowing that our kids can come across very disturbing images and videos.  

I remember some time ago when my friend called me very upset. Her 10-year-old daughter had gone to a sleepover with some other girls, and one of the girls was a few years older than her daughter. When her daughter came home, she was unusually quiet and withdrawn and stayed that way for two days.

Finally, her daughter came to her with teary eyes and told her that the older girl showed them videos on her phone of two women taking a shower together and another of a man and a woman. She was very upset.

My friend said to me, "She was only 10, I didn't know I needed to start talking with her about all this already, and I had no idea what to do in this situation."

So while it is not easy, having multiple micro conversations over the years is key.

Here are some communication approaches to help your conversations

  1. Consistently convey the message that curiosity and wanting to understand people, bodies, and sexuality is normal. Let them know that you are available to answer their questions now and as they grow up.
  2. Point out the positives in affectionate relationships as your children are growing up. For example, if you see a teenage couple holding hands and laughing together, consider saying something like, "It is so great seeing people in a fun relationship."
  3. Consider reviewing videos that help raise this topic with kids. If you think it would be appropriate, then watch the video with your child and discuss it. For example, Amaze.org's YouTube videos have a video called “Porn: Fact or Fiction” that is worth checking out for this purpose.
  4. Be prepared with talking points. Consider having some variation of a few of the following talking points in your back pocket when you find an appropriate time to discuss them with your child.
  • When people pay actors to pose for nude photos or have sex on screen, this is called pornography or “porn” for short. It is not meant for kids, and yet, now, with the internet, kids come upon it by mistake, or their peers show it to them quite often.
  • As humans, we have sexual feelings — after all, it is sex that lets us create more humans. Actors get paid to perform sexual acts so other people can watch and explore their sexual feelings, but it is important to remember that porn does not represent real life. Sex is about healthy communication and meaningful relationships, and that is not what the pictures and videos show in pornography.
  • On a phone or computer, someone may show you naked people interacting with one another. Sometimes, these videos and images pop up when you are searching for something else. You might be curious to look more, and that's normal. But the truth is, if this happens, it is better that you shut off the device and come talk with me.
  • If someone ever starts to show you images like the ones I am talking about, it is important that you have some tools to stop the situation. Let’s practice ways you can do this. Maybe you can say something like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right back,” in order to walk away and call me or just go into another room or bathroom.
  • Remember, please come to me if you see the types of things I am talking about. You would never be in trouble! Kids aren't bad when this happens. So know that, first and foremost, I want to help guide you in this complicated world.

It is normal that these videos and images can lead to sexual feelings, even in young people. That is normal. We do not want our kids to feel any shame for having sexual feelings.

Ideas for conversation starters:

  1. When talking with teens, ask the questions I mentioned above.
  2. When talking with younger kids, you can mention how you have heard that some kids who have come across naked people on the internet don’t tell anyone and ask why they think that might be?
  3. Do your kids know that you want them to come to you if they see certain things online?
  4. What are some of the myths that porn creates?

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new  book, Parenting in the Screen Age

Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.

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