Talk to Your Kids About Porn!

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We need to talk to our kids about how to watch porn. I have had this conversation a lot since I put out my book last year. I think it is critical that we talk to kids about what porn is, the messages in porn, and porn logic.

I suspected that with the great proliferation of the availability of porn and “erotic romances” that kids and young adults were turning to these resources for information. A new study, profiled this week in the New York Times verified these suspicions. Researchers found that about 60 percent of youth turn to pornography for information about sex. They are not looking for information about the mechanics of sex, they are looking for information about the emotional side of sex.

Anyone familiar with how we talk to kids about sex and what sex education is in the United States (and many other countries for that matter) should not be surprised at this at all. We provide kids with basic (but generally poor) information about the mechanics. If you kid is in a school that requires non-abstinence based sex ed (delightfully now abstinence only is not funded by the Feds!) most curricula include diagrams of the anatomy, warnings that sex leads to STIs and pregnancy, and instructions on how to put a condom on a banana. And that is about it.

Tab A in Slot B Sex Ed

For adults with sexual experience, we know sex is a lot more involved than “Tab A in Slot B.” Sex, good and  bad, one-night stands and lifelong partnerships, and everything in between, involves human relations, emotions, and has lasting psychological impacts. It involves learning how to approach people about wanting to have sex. It should involve talking about consent. It should involve talking about needs, wants, and fantasies.

The thing is, when kids learn about sex. all it seems to be is, “Tab A in Slot B.” In California and New York, teens in high school have to be taught about the idea of “affirmative consent” – the idea that you have to agree to various sexual acts if you don’t want to engage in rape. That is a little better. However, that leaves 48 states in the US with no required discussions about consent.

Beyond what is taught in schools, parents have a hard time talking to their kids about sex. Its awkward. Its embarrassing. People on both sides of the conversation don’t really want to be having it. So, many parents – understandably – don’t go into great detail about the emotional impacts of sex.

This is where porn comes in for a lot of people. Lacking information about how to negotiate this type of interpersonal interaction, people go looking. Porn, being so readily available, provides an opportunity to learn.

School of XXX

So, what do you learn from porn? [I will stick to mainstream porn here – niche porn is usually not discovered until one is a bit older.]

First, everybody in porn wants to have sex, and wants sex to start within two minutes of arriving at someone’s place. Person A enters a room. There is a little chatting (if you don’t click the fast forward button, you see this). Within two minutes, people are boning away. Or, a guy drives up to some girl at a gas station or a club or a bar, says “Hey Baby! Want some D?” and the chick gets into a car with a stranger, gets all hot and wet, and leaves without being assaulted.

This, of course, is not real. This is fantasy. The thing is, this is now the model for many, many people. And we can see the repercussions. When I was in the dark world of online dating, many men would approach me on line and within two or three message exchanges, ask, “Do you want to hook up?” or more blantantly, “Hey hottie! Wanna fuk!” [Spelling and grammar seem to also be lost these days.]

Initially I thought this churlish behavior was just keyboard bravado. But, most of the men who took this approach were under 30. In light of the numbers of people turning to porn for information about how to engage in sexual relationships, this ham-fisted approach to sex makes sense. They are simply modeling what they have been taught. And as women, we are taught by porn that we should be receptive to this type of behavior.

Porn often models two or more people having sex without much communication. The dialogue, if there is any, tends to be more directional than interaction-based. “Take this dick!” “Suck me!” “Put it in my ass!” are common refrains. Questions like, “So, do you like it when I go down on you?” “How are you feeling?” “Is this okay?” “What do you want?” are almost never uttered. Even the question, “You like that?” is often issued more as a command than as an actual question requiring feedback.

This would be okay in porn if people watching recognized porn as fantasy and not a model for behavior. However, many people seeking out porn are looking for information on behavior and relationship issues, not just fantasy.