Porn, Your Kids, And Our Insanity


teenage porn
Most parents rank the ‘sex talk’ about equal to public speaking on the list of things most dreaded in life. Few moments are more unsettling-for the parent and the child. But adding teenage porn use to that discussion brings a new ‘ick’ to the conversation. So much that the majority of parents simply avoid the whole thing.

I have written openly about my prior experiences with pornography from that very first Playboy Magazine at seven through my nearly decade struggle with addiction in my thirties. I have also written about how that history became the motivation to talk with my own kids about sex, and pornography, beginning when they were still very young, for some parents probably too young.

The truth is, I was no less terrified that first time when they were early in elementary school. But I knew then that sex was not a ‘talk’, but instead, it was a ‘conversation’ lasting many years. With no need to rush I felt I could gently ease into it and started by first explaining how some magazines and websites have pictures of naked people (their horrified reaction to that news is a powerful indictment). As the years continued and at the appropriate ages, our talks became more specific.

Another fear motivated me to power through those feelings of uneasiness. Actually, it was a panic that my children and especially my son might find their way down the same dark path their father had tread. I was willing to do just about anything to try and prevent my children from falling into that cesspool. I cannot say that it will always be so, but for the moment those efforts appear to be working.

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I was reminded of all this from a recent New York Times Magazine article that received a great deal of attention. Anything titled, What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn is destined to get clicks. The premise by the author is simply this, porn use by teens is inevitable and the best we can do as parents, or a society, is embrace this reality and teach them, as the author puts it, ‘to see porn more critically.’ In other words, show our teenagers how to look at porn by being smarter shoppers.

Before I get to the main issue, I seriously question the research this author uses to make the case, namely teenage focus groups. We are expected to believe that a group of high school kids, mostly boys, the majority who cannot even drive yet, openly talked about sex and pornography with a stranger, who is a woman. For example, she introduces us to ‘Q,’ a 15-year-old with good grades who likes baseball but could not understand ‘how porn translated into real life’ and how pornography ‘heightened his performance anxiety,’ yet he never had sex. There is also ‘Drew’ who wondered if girls would look at him the way actresses do in porn when they have sex. He then went on to admit in his first sexual experience (he was a junior in high school mind you) he thought he ‘was supposed to exert some physical control over his girlfriend. But the whole thing felt awkward, too rough, and not at all fun.’

I do not know on what planet any teenager, and especially a teenage boy, who would be near this transparent, especially with a strange woman, or if they could even articulate a fraction of what this author miraculously seems to be pulling from them.  If she is this effective, then she is in the wrong business and will corner the self-help market helping parents, or for that matter any adult, better talk to teenagers.I could not help but wonder if these were actually the words of teenage boys, or what I suppose is more likely what the author assumed these boys “implied” as they gurgled their answers.

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But to the larger point. To say that porn use among kids has reached an epidemic is a tragic understatement. Some states are wondering if it has become a public health crisis. The internet changed everything. No longer is it necessary to bashfully walk into a convenience store, look the clerk in the eye, and ask for the latest Hustler hoping they do not ask for an identification. Instead, limitless porn options are now conveniently accessible via phone completely free and completely anonymous. All one needs is a camera and a WI-FI connection to become a porn director and producer. The saturation of 24/7 pornography has created a phenomenon that we are only starting to realize. There is handwringing on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Even the author admits concerns, not about potential moral implications, but she worries what porn is teaching kids about sex.

Yet those who have stood at the fore in leveling ‘puritanical,’ ‘close-minded,’ ‘moralistic’ charges on anyone remotely suggesting caution or boundaries to protect from the pitfalls of porn has now retreated. Or perhaps worse, like this author has concocted ridiculous ‘solutions’ to address the problem now that things, shockingly, have spiraled out of control.  In a time where sexual liberty has become state religion and porn its most basic form of worship, it is not surprising, when faced with indisputable evidence to the negative effects of porn use, that helping our kids become ‘smarter consumers’ is the proposed answer.

‘Porn Literacy,’ as it is called, is the suggested means to create smarter porn shoppers of our children. The curriculum ‘isn’t designed to scare kids into believing porn is addictive, or that it will run their lives and relationships and warp their libidos. Instead, it is grounded in the reality that most adolescents do see porn and take the approach that teaching them to analyze its message is far more effective than simply wishing our children could live in a porn-free world.’

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On one point we can agree. ‘Wishing’ is not a strategy to address the porn epidemic. But acquiescing to reality by turning our kids into savvier buyers is no less absurd. What if we took a similar approach to sex trafficking? Such asinine arguments are the only logical result when ‘consent,’ and particularly sexual consent, has become the only legitimate test of right and wrong. But I believe there is yet a more fundamental reason for refusing even the most practical suggestions of moral sanity. The notion of sexual liberty is so woven into our cultural fabric that pulling on any one thread, even for the sake of our children, by suggesting moral restraint, would be to start unraveling the whole cloth. To claim moral distinctions in one area, that pornography use, and specifically by our children, is categorically wrong, would open the door to claims of other moral absolutes, such as sex reserved for marriage or sex only between a man and woman. When sexual freedom is considered a constitutional right, any step towards infringement of even the most common-sense kind cannot be tolerated.

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In a recent drive with my 14-year-old son, we got on the subject of stupid things that kids do at his school, and porn came up. Side note, as a parent I have realized two things. First, that car rides may be the best opportunities to talk to our kids about anything. Second, when those windows of opportunity open, we need to take full advantage because they are fleeting. He openly admitted that porn is prevalent in his school, especially among 8th-grade boys. The consensus among most of these 13-14-year olds is that porn use is not just routine, it is encouraged- as a modern-day rite of passage. In fact, not regularly looking at pornography is to be the outsider, and as he has experienced, to be made fun of as someone ‘weird.’

How can anyone, with God-given sense, think this is acceptable? Are we really suggesting to just give up and buy into the belief that porn use is inevitable-along the line of boys will be boys-and instead of fighting against it simply ‘manage’ through it? As a father, am I to accept that the best solution is teaching my son, and his friends, to just be better shoppers since he is going to find porn anyway?

As the author and others suggest if they can be educated on the income inequality between male and female porn actors that might suddenly invigorate their moral fibers? Or if we just show them how different camera positions reinforce sexism in the sex business, they will be better able to judge porn’s impact and help them to separate truth from fiction? Or perhaps my favorite suggestion, teaching boys how to become purveyors of ‘feminist porn’ that focuses on ‘female-centered pleasure’ will somehow turn pornography-and by extension them-into a weapon in the fight against gender inequality?  Since as one ‘expert’ suggested, ‘parents should want their teenagers to be generous lovers.’

Dear reader, this is the circling of the drain by a society that no longer holds to any moral center.

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As this article should demonstrate to all of us, dealing with sex generally and pornography specifically, cannot be punted. It cannot be passed off to teachers, counselors, or heaven forbid, ‘experts.’ The moment we relinquish that mantle we put our kids’ minds and hearts into the hands of someone else. As parents, we alone own this daunting and important responsibility. If we fail at that task, through fear or ignorance, we risk our children becoming indoctrinated with these same moral absurdities.

My experience, as a father and addict, shows that the first step in addressing this problem is knowledge. Here is what I know, so much of the appeal with porn is in its shock value. It is being part of something that is taboo and forbidden that draws us, and especially so for our kids. Since the Garden of Eden, we all are attracted to what we are not supposed to have. But the moment pornography is demystified, the moment it is defanged, by talking openly with our children and helping them to understand what pornography is and is not – none of which requires a child to actually look at it-we neuter the beast. The novelty disappears. The inherent appeal of porn-the forbidden-vanishes. So when that kid eventually does come into contact with porn the shock and awe are turned down and all that is left is the reality of what porn is. And when most teenagers see that ugly truth, they are less likely to want any part of it.

Nor should we teach our kids to stay away from porn. In our culture, we have to realize that is impossible, and perhaps is the quickest way to get them hooked. When we tell our kids to stay away we heightened the appeal because we just made it ‘forbidden.’ Yet, as the article has foolishly tried to convince us, writing a ‘how-to’ manual for our kids to look at porn is in no way better. One is proven ineffective, the other is certified insanity.

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