Navigating the Pornography Discussion

Date: June 2nd, 2017
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Guest Blog by Michal Greenberg-Cohen, MA, Sexual Health Educator 

In my work as a sexual health educator, a question that has been on my mind lately is, how can we support positive adolescent development and health promotion when discussing pornography?

Last year, while on the subway, in front of me sat a boy, probably 14 years old. He was watching something on his smartphone. After a few minutes, I realized he was watching porn. I wanted to talk to him and tell him that it’s important that he knows that what he is watching is adult entertainment and not sexual education, but I couldn’t. He was so close to me, yet so far.

Pornography is accessible on more platforms than ever before. Putting myself into the position of parent (or guardian), we have to recognize that our children have access to it. If not from the home computer, then from their cell phones. If not in our house, then at a friend’s or at school. Let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s not about if it will happen, but when it will happen. This is why we should prepare them in advance for what they are going to see. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, between the age of 13 and 14, 68% of teens have smartphones, increasing their chances to get exposed to explicit media. The best time for parents to have this talk with their children is before their children get exposed.

Regardless, it is never too late to start a conversation about pornography.

Before parents consider how to have a discussion about pornography with our children, we should first, ask ourselves a few questions:

  • What are my values regarding pornography?
  • What is my own narrative around pornography? How does it influence my own relationships?
  • How should I explain relationships to my children?
  • How should I explain pleasure? How should I explain consent?
  • How should I explain abuse?
  • How should I explain sex?
  • How should I discuss birth control methods and condoms?
  • What are my values regarding pornography?

We should have answers to these questions before the discussion with our children as our own responses will reflect the facts, values, and expectations about porn we would like to share with our children .

Before you start the conversation, here are some tips to assist parents navigating the discussion successfully:

  • Ask and listen. Be open and have the conversation without judgment or blame, especially if they admit to, or you have seen them, watching pornography.
  • It’s ok if you don’t feel comfortable. Be honest and share with your child that the subject is difficult, but necessary, to talk about.
  • Share facts about pornography. Porn is made up, like movies and TV, and it is not representative of actual sexual intercourse, even if it is promoted as “amateur” or “real life” pornography. Share about consent and prevention methods like condoms in a way that is age appropriate.
  • Share your values and expectations. Adolescents say that their parents impact their decisions about sexual behavior. What you think and say matters!

What are your go-to resources for helping parents feel more comfortable talking with our children about sexuality? Here is an example of one, but we’d love to hear from you about what you find helpful.

For parents, what do you want to say to your child about pornography? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Michal Greenberg-Cohen, MA, is a sexual health educator and an advocate for positive pornography education. As a sexual health educator, Michal facilitates workshops for parents in the New York area both in English and Hebrew.  

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