Hard Talks – Your Son And Porn

Your Son and Porn It’s kept me awake more nights than one, and for a good reason. Research suggests the average age boys are introduced to porn is eleven, as in tuck-me-into-bed-daddy eleven. ‘Average’ also points to the shocking reality that many are coming across porn at even younger ages. My fears are further heightened due to my documented struggles. I’ve been where the porn path leads; it’s not a beautiful place.

There’s no manual on how best to discuss this with our sons. And depending on where you look there is a contradiction if such conversations are even necessary. Many absurdly claim that porn is a healthy way for boys to discover and grow in their sexuality. Furthermore, those same ‘experts’ believe that to criticize or condemn pornography only promotes future sexual repression in adulthood. That to throw a negative spin on porn only results in harmful guilt and shame. Given our overall cultural addiction to sex, and the effects persistent porn use is having on young men, a bit of repression, guilt, and shame would be welcomed.

The sad fact is our children, and especially our sons, will be targeted by sexual images in one form or another for the rest of their lives, it’s only a matter of when it starts. So, unless parents in general and fathers, in particular, prepare them early for the ensuing onslaught, our boys can suffer irreparable harm from the flood.

To ignore the topic is madness.

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I started thinking about how best to go about this, and not without ample dread, as he approached middle school. I knew his mother’s elementary graduation gift would be a cell phone, and I had read the research that a phone typically is the flash paper igniting all sorts of harmful behaviors, most notably pornography use. I also knew, from being a kid myself, that timing about this uncomfortable topic would be critical. Begin the conversation too early, and I lose him out of awkwardness and ignorance, wait too late, and I lose him out of awkwardness and irritation.

In all my looking I have not found a single resource that truly aids parents in getting this right. But like so many other things much depends on the kid, the parent, and the family environment. That leaves it up to us to gauge the situation as best we can and not delay when the timing feels right. Gut and luck have a good deal to do with it.  But even considering the variables, my experience with a twelve-year-old son has shown me there are things parents can do to make this hard conversation somewhat easier, for you and him.

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Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

It’s not one and done. Conversations about sex and porn must be ongoing. Having one talk then hoping for the best gets us nowhere except to peek his curiosity and lead him to actively search out what the hubbub is about.

It’s a job for dads. Not to shortchange mothers, but as I will explain later, this is a conversation to be led by fathers. Porn addiction is predominately a male phenomenon, and a dad can bring gravity and clarity to the topic because of their shared masculinity. A father can relate where mothers are biologically incapable. Besides most boys can’t even say ‘sex’ and ‘mom’ in the same sentence.

Begin younger than you think. Many ‘professionals’ will say I started too young. Best I can remember, I had that first talk with him and his sister when he was eight or nine, and she would have been ten. It was just the basics of what pornography is – ‘naked pictures or videos of people.’ Unsurprisingly, lots of questions followed.  I used his sister’s ‘cupcake class’ as a jumping off point. The conversation developed as I probed about what she had learned.

Leverage your authority. While there may not be a ‘right’ age, I do know this; the job is made much easier when the ickiness gets squashed early. We can do that by leveraging our natural authoritarian roles while we have the time. Here’s what I mean. At eight or nine we can use the sheer force of being ‘dad ‘to get them to more carefully listen and without as much of the awkwardness, on either’s part. Try to have that talk for the first time at thirteen or fourteen and that awkwardness will shut down his attention and all he’ll want to do is look for the nearest exit.

Share your story. I’m not there yet, but I know it’s coming. Perhaps the best way we can educate our sons about the dangers of porn is using our individual stories. A time is coming when I’ll share with him my addiction struggles, where that led, and the results that followed. This is not something I’m looking forward to, but in my mind, I can’t think of a better defense strategy. That’s why dads owning this job is so natural. A dad’s personal story about porn use – because most dads have one – will carry greater credibility than warnings from a mother, who likely has never had the same challenges. It’s far more impactful than just saying ‘don’t look at it.’

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But here’s the sad reality, it could still turn out to be for nothing. I may well go through all of the discomfort, embarrassment, and still have no positive impact. My son could well end up like countless other boys whose outlook on sex and women has been distorted through years of pornography use.

But I’m encouraged by some initial signs. I’m convinced that because I started these conversations with him at an early age, my son has no shame or embarrassment in asking me questions about anything having to do with sex or porn. If he doesn’t understand a word and its context, he’ll ask. He will quickly share what he’s heard from his friends, what he is confused about, and will speak with me immediately should something inappropriate come across his screen. I’m hopeful, but not naïve. I know that could change at any moment.

All I can do for now is support him when he comes to me and speak truth to him as long as he’ll listen. Reinforce the dangers of porn, keep a close watch on who he spends time with, and be observant of his actions and behaviors. Lastly, I must pray. Pray for his wellbeing; pray for his purity, and pray that all the hard conversations will somehow keep him from walking dangerous paths.

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