Time To Talk to Your Kids About Porn

I was interviewed today by the Canadian Broadcasting Company about my concept of porn literacy, especially for young people. Here’s what I said:

~ Parents really need to talk with their kids about porn.
It’s everywhere, and kids are going to encounter it—intentionally, or accidentally, or through their friends. It isn’t ideal that kids consume porn, but if they do, they need adult guidance.

~ What parents should tell kids about porn:

* Porn is not a documentary. It’s more like a highlight reel, involving lots of editing, deliberate selection of shots, and lots of off-camera preparation. The goal of a highlight reel isn’t to educate you, it’s to thrill you with a series of disconnected moments.

* Porn doesn’t portray sex the way it really is. It leaves out a lot of what most people like about sex—such as emotions, laughing, talking, and feeling close. Because movies about that stuff wouldn’t be sexually arousing (which is the goal of porn), porn makers don’t show it very much. Instead, they mostly show bodies rubbing against bodies, which is sex without most of its real-world context.

* Porn is like a video game—it isn’t designed to be real, it’s designed to entertain. No one designing a video game says, “people can’t fly or shoot bullets out of their fingers, so we can’t put that into the game we’re creating.” So just like you watch a video game and you know it isn’t real, if you watch porn you need to keep the same thing in mind—it isn’t real.

* Porn features unusual bodies doing unusual things. Your body doesn’t, and probably never will, look like the bodies in porn. That’s really OK. And your body may never do some or most of the things you see in porn. That’s OK, too.

~ Clearly, you don’t want the first conversation you have with your kid about sex to be about porn.
Therefore, talk to your kid about sex NOW. Then you’ll both have some experience discussing sex together (even if it’s really awkward) when you do talk about porn. Topics you two should talk about, depending on your kid’s age, include gender; bodies; that almost everyone touches themselves for pleasure; how people become pregnant; how to decide if you want to kiss or have sex with someone; how alcohol and drugs affect sexual decision-making; and the crucial importance of contraception. Of course, your mileage may vary; the important thing is to figure out what’s relevant to your kid, and to talk about it.

~ How should parents start the first conversation about porn:
I’m not comfortable discussing this. I guess you aren’t, either. Still, we need to talk about porn—it’s my responsibility. Porn is made for adults, and therefore I don’t want you to watch it, but if you do, I want you to understand 3 key things:

* It’s not real—it’s a bunch of professional actors and actresses who follow a written script and play characters, just like in other movies.

* It’s made for adults who have some life experience with sex, or at least with emotions and a few relationships. That means it uses certain kinds of codes that adults understand and kids don’t. Like a woman having sex with the pizza delivery guy represents that she’s horny, not that most woman are going to do that.

* It doesn’t show a lot of what makes sex worth doing—the connection with another person that makes the whole physical thing way more meaningful and enjoyable. And it doesn’t show that sex can be relaxed rather than frantic.

~ Most porn is poor sex education—and the antidote is better sex education.
That means parental conversations &/or books. And, by the way, school sex education.

~ Parents can calm down.
Kids have been accessing sexual images, ideas, and experiences in ways their parents dislike since the beginning of time. Most parents did so when they were kids. And most of them—like most kids—turned out fine.

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