Parenting and pornography: What you need to know – Part 1

Raising Teens |

As a parent of a pre-teen or teenager today, chances are you grew up in a time when pornography was limited to magazines like Playboy, soft core movies on late night TV and VHS tapes rented from a special section of the video store. 

Technology has completely transformed the pornography landscape and our kids are now being exposed to porn in greater quantity with broader extremes at a younger age. As parents, we need to prepare for the likelihood that our kids will see porn—and sooner than we’d expect. The average child has seen it by age 11. While we can’t prevent them from seeing it, we can strive to be the person they can come to with questions. We can’t fully understand what that’s like for them, but we can do our best to help them navigate their way through it.

Some quick facts:

    • It’s been widely reported for years that the average age of exposure to pornographic content online is 11 years old.
    • 42% of children aged 10 to 17 who are online had seen pornography, and that 66% of those had seen it accidentally.
    • 44% of tweens admitted they’ve watched something online their parents wouldn’t approve of (only 28%  of parents were aware of this).

What you and your child/teen need to know. 

Your teen needs to know that sex is a special activity that is shared between two people who love and respect each other. Healthy sex is enjoyable for both partners. Sex should never include feelings of guilt, pressure, shame, or obligation on either side. Sex is not a bartering chip. Sexual intimacy grows slowly and gradually over time, as two people become more deeply committed to one another.

In most cases, pornography does not represent this.

Pornography is designed to entertain, excite and push limits. It is not an accurate representation of what happens in a healthy sexual relationship. It should not be held up as an example of what someone should be doing in a loving relationship.

Porn often involves a power dynamic where a male is able to do whatever he wants to a woman, perhaps without consent, and with little to no consideration for her sexual pleasure. It’s usually about what they can get away with doing to her, rather than what would give both of them pleasure.

Some of the actions portrayed in porn can actually be criminal if the female is not consenting—something that most adults understand, but teens may not. And even if the female character says it’s okay, they may not be enjoying themselves. 

Female porn stars have spoken about feeling degraded, depressed and physically injured after making pornography. Many of them relied on drugs and alcohol to get them through filming, and then through the dark feelings that followed. They are paid to put on a show, acting out enjoyment (they are usually faking it); in reality they are often very uncomfortable. This is not how anyone should feel when having sex.

Porn is reductive and deceptively easy.

Pornography reduces sex to an experience that’s mechanical. It avoids real interaction and decreases the potential for rejection. It takes away any consideration of the partner’s pleasure, which means someone who believes porn is a good representation of real life sex, might not learn to be a good lover. Tweens and teens need to know that they will fall in love someday and they will want to be able to be a respectful, thoughtful partner to the person they love. Porn doesn’t prepare you for that.

In our next post, we’ll tackle how to open up an honest, nonjudgemental conversation with older kids and teens about the realities of porn. For more on the topic of sexuality, check out our courses for kids, preteens and teens

Dr. Roberts’ new parenting book Kids, Sex & Screens: Raising Strong, Resilient Children in the Sexualized Digital Age is available December 11th. Learn more here.