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How to Talk to Kids About Pornography

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How to Talk to Kids About Pornography
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Most parents, understandably, cringe at the thought of having to talk with their children about pornography.  Whatever you think of it, one thing we can all agree on is that pornography is made for adults.  If there were some magical way to keep it away from children that would simply be best.

But that sort of magic doesn't exist. and if statistics are to be believed, children that have access to popular media and the Internet are likely to encounter some pornography before they reach an age where they’ll be able to critically understand what they are seeing.

Which is why raising sexually healthy children needs to include at some point at least a passing reference to pornography.

But how?

What follows is not THE WAY to talk about pornography, it’s one way. Hopefully it will inspire you to think about a way that feels genuine for you. If you haven’t already, you might want to start with these general tips for talking with kids about sex.

Define pornography. Just saying “it’s bad” or “it’s private” doesn’t help your child understand what pornography is, and it probably gets in the way of them figuring out how they feel about it. So start with a definition. Better yet, start with a few definitions. Use language your child is familiar with. Here’s one example of how you could offer some definitions for a child who has come across porn online and is asking what it is:

“Most people call that pornography. Pornography is one of those words people argue about a lot, and not every one agrees on what it means. Some people say that any pictures or movies of adults being sexual/intimate with each other is pornography. Other people think it's only some kind of pictures. Some people think it's a bad thing. Some people think it's a good thing. But most people agree that it's something meant for adults to look at.”

Where you go from there will depend on how well your child is comprehending, and how much they care. Often kids are happy with a one sentence answer, but if they want to know more, they'll ask.

Address values and beliefs. However the topic of pornography comes up, you will probably display your own values without even thinking. For example saying “don’t look at that!” or “I don’t want to see that, it’s disgusting” or “that’s not for you”. All of these are value statements. It’s good to convey these, but you do a disservice to your children if you don’t also explain that others hold different values (to take a different example, in talking about politics you wouldn’t only tell your children about conservative politics and not explain liberal politics also). Here’s one way of talking about different people’s values and beliefs about pornography:

“Some people think pornography is very bad because it hurts people and tells lies about sex. Other people think that it’s perfectly okay and even good for you. There’s so many different things that get called pornography that it can really depend. It's complicated which is one of the reasons why it's really something you'll understand more when you get older.”

By the way, if you’re talking this way to a pre-teen, at this point they are often so bored that they move on to another topic. The lesson being that if you actually answer a question directly in many cases it demystifies it and makes it less interesting to a child that’s too young to really be interested in it anyway.

Give them a context. If you wanted to explain to your child about how the Eiffel Tower was made or where marshmallows come from you’d probably stat by explaining something about building construction or food preparation. Talking about sex, in this case pornography, is no different. The age and understanding level of your child should determine how broad a context you offer. Also what you say will depend on whether your kid is asking about a movie, a magazine, or a book. Below are a few examples of how you can offer you child some context for children of different ages:

"What you saw is just one kind or pornography, but there are lots of different kinds. There’s art in museums that some people think of as pornography, there are books that people consider pornography too."

”The kind of thing you saw there wasn’t made for you to watch, it was made for adults. It’s kind of like how you aren’t that interested in reading one of my books, but you like the books that you have, or remember how bored you were watching that movie that I liked? But you love watching your movies?”

“Pornography is one of those things that adults argue about a lot. Some people think you should never show other people having sex because it’s too private. Some people think that it’s entertainment for adults, just like the books you read and TV you watch is entertainment for kids.”

“One thing that’s important to know about pornography is that it’s usually fake. It doesn’t give you a good idea of what adults do when they’re being sexual or intimate together. It’s kind of like a cartoon or Hollywood movie, like a fantasy.”

“People treat pornography differently because it’s about sex, but in some ways it’s not that different than any other (movie, book, magazine). Some of it is good, some of it isn’t. Some of it is made by people who care a lot about what they are doing and think of themselves as artists, and some of it is made by people who just want to make a lot of money.”

Again, all of the above are merely examples of different ways you might choose to talk with your child. You need to educate your children in a way that fits with your values and beliefs. But you also need to know that simply saying "it's wrong" or "don't look" isn't going to work, and it isn't going to help your child navigate a world that, like it or not, includes a lot of sexually explicit imagery, some of which we call porn and some of which we don't.

Remember, there is no right way to do this, nor is pornography one of the most important parts of sexuality for them to know about. What is most important is that your child feels like they can come to you with questions about anything to do with sex. If they think they're going to get in trouble because they've seen something they weren't supposed to see, they may never ask, and you'll never get the chance to express your values (which presumably you hope they will share).

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