The majority of teens today learn about sex through porn, something that can have a lot of harmful repercussions from an unhealthy body image, to a distorted idea of pleasure and consent. Anyone who has ever Googled something and ended up stumbling across something they weren’t looking for knows how easy it can be to access porn. Unfortunately, porn can set up all sorts of unhealthy views and expectations about their own body and others, and also gives distorted perspectives on sex, pleasure and consent. The bottom line is, that while talking to young people about porn can be awkward, it’s super important because if you don’t educate them, the porn industry will.
There are, however, things that parents can do to help prevent this, and The Social‘s very own relationship expert Cynthia Loyst outlined some of them with some helpful tips on how to have that tough talk.
Have age-appropriate chats
Keep in mind, the average age of seeing porn first time is 11 years old. As soon as your child has unattended access online, it’s a good place to start age appropriate conversations. As young as 8 or 9 you could be saying things like: “There are also lots of scary things online, and if you stumble across any of these things, I would love if you come and talk to me about them.”
No matter what your cultural or religious perspective, you can explain your house rules on what content your kids should be engaging in. There are age restrictions on content for a reason and you expect them to respect them. That being said, having a talk is super important—even if it may feel uncomfortable.
Choose the right location for your conversation
If at all possible, try not to have your first parent/child sex talk after you find your kid watching porn. Instead, work on weaving a conversation about porn into your larger conversations about sex. As in real estate, think location, location, location. In the car is a good idea, since no one is facing each other—you could even start when you are close to home so your teen knows they have an imminent exit. Maintain a nonjudgmental stance, and acknowledge that it’s normal to be curious about sexuality.
Share the facts
There are three things that should be addressed when you talk to your kids: reality vs. fantasy, consent, and exploitation. Ensure that your child understands how porn is ‘fantasy’, that is, the way people conduct themselves and how they look in porn is not a reflection of real life. Real sex comes with real emotions and real consequences, and that isn’t reflected in porn.
When it comes to consent, stress how important it is for sex, along with good communication. Sexually responsible individuals obtain consent before engaging in sexual activity, and recognize it’s also essential to keep communicating throughout sexual activity. Real communication has no place in porn, and so porn is not a teaching guide for how to interact sexually and emotionally with others.
Finally, there are lots of bad practices and exploitation in porn. It’s important to lift the curtain and talk about sex trafficking and unsafe work conditions. There are some ethical creators out there but they are harder to find, and requires some amount of maturity and thoughtfulness.
Talk about consent
It’s important to note a difference in how you should approach your child dependent on their gender. While you should mostly speak to them the same way, research shows boys are four times more likely to pressure girls to send nude images than the other way around, and girls often struggle to navigate these confusing situations and end up giving in to that pressure because they feel coerced or don’t want to ruin a potential romantic relationship. That means a big part of the conversation around sexting has to involve getting teen boys to understand that it’s never OK to pressure a girl into sending a nude—especially when they’re both underage.
Don’t forget about sexting
The University of Calgary found that one in four teens is receiving sexts, one in seven is sending them and one in eight is forwarding them without consent. Sexting by youth between the ages of 12 and 17 is linked with risks such as multiple sexual partners, anxiety, depression and substance use.
It’s impossible to know from the studies whether adolescents who sext most often were already at risk of problematic behaviour, nor do we know if anxiety leads kids to sext or if kids are sexting and then they have anxiety. But still, it’s troubling information.
Furthermore, it’s illegal to send sexual photos/videos of anyone who is, or appears to be, under 18. This includes taking and sending sexual photos/videos of yourself if you’re under 18. Make sure your child knows!
Cynthia Loyst is our resident relationship expert and a passionate advocate for healthy sexual information. As a sought-after relationship coach and columnist, she’s known for giving advice and opinions on the joys and complications of love. She has received awards from SSSS (Society For The Scientific Study of Sexuality) and Planned Parenthood in Toronto. She is also SAR (Sexual Attitude Reassessment) certified, a member of SIECCAN (Sex Information and Education Council of Canada) and holds a Sex Education Certificate from The University of Michigan. Cynthia is also the founder of FindYourPleasure.com. For legal disclaimer, click here.