I know, talking about sex with kids is hard enough, let alone talking about porn! You may have tried to have “the talk”, and that was awkward, so now you just hope for the best! You’re not alone. Our ever-growing-media-saturated culture is not easy to keep up with. Even sex educators and sex researchers like myself have a hard time keeping up. Luckily, you get more than one shot. Talking about sex and porn isn’t a one-time only deal. Especially if your children are young or haven’t seen much porn yet. So, make sure to read part 1 of this 3-part series and prepare yourself first. In my years of studying and talking about sexuality and pornography with college students, teachers, social workers, counselors, and academics, I’ve discovered some important talking points to get conversations going. Regardless of how you feel about how right or wrong porn is, it is essential you understand porn and sex are quite different and should be approached differently.
In general, you will want to keep a positive tone, and try to be as conversational as possible. Kids rarely react well to stern lectures about sex. One of your goals is to establish yourself as an approachable parent, and being positive and conversational helps you achieve that. In general, put these talking points into your own words and modify as needed for younger kids. For example, you can say, “pictures of naked people” instead of “porn”. The following are 9 general talking points that can help you start or continue multiple conversations about porn, sex, and our sexual culture:
1. If you’ve rarely discussed sexuality, apologize.
Additional talking points:
2. Sex and nudity are some of the most exciting aspects of life and have been celebrated in nearly every culture for thousands of years.
Additional talking points:
3. Porn is not about sex or nudity.
Additional talking points:
Why: It is important to make a distinction between porn and sex. Describing porn as an industry can help kids understand why it’s not necessarily real and shouldn’t be used as a means of sex education. Getting a child to understand the aspects of the industry that they are supporting is an important value to instill, so they understand their internet use as an extension of their own values and not just meaningless entertainment.
4. Due to the enormous profits to be made, there are many companies out there taking advantage of their performers or encouraging them to engage in extreme sex acts to stay “marketable”(2).
Additional talking points:
Why: It’s important for kids (and adults) to understand the profit that is driving the type of sex they are seeing, especially for kids who haven’t had sex yet. For example, this would be really important point for you to make if your child has seen bukkae (when multiple men ejaculate on the face of 1 woman at the same time) or double penetration (when 2 men put 1 penis in an anus and another in the vagina).
5. Sex is about pleasure!
Additional talking points:
6. Masturbation is completely normal.
Additional talking point:
7. Masturbating to porn is different than masturbating without porn.
Additional talking points:
Why: As a culture, we often think of porn use as synonymous with masturbation. In fact, I’ve had dozens of college students in shock and awe over the revelation that they could reach orgasm on their own without watching porn. This is a very important life skill to have! It’s also important to be able to masturbate the old fashioned way, as there is some growing evidence that masturbating to porn creates a “high” that is more “neuro-chemically” rewarding than other sexual behaviors, making real sex less enjoyable.
8. When you are an adult, you can decide for yourself how much you would like porn to be a part of your private life.
Additional talking points:
Why: This sends the message that porn is for adults. Even if you would like them to never use porn, this sets them up for thinking about how porn would fit into their life when they’re older and letting them know, if they are using porn, it’s on them. Not you. They’ve been informed.
9. Porn is going to be everywhere, if it isn’t already.
Additional talking points:
In general, as you have these conversations, you want to focus more on asking questions and responding calmly without judgment, rather than going through the list as administering a lecture. Perhaps set aside a couple of months and make it a goal to talk about one of these points each week, or break it up into 3-4 sessions and repeat as needed when something comes up that allows you to have a conversation (TV show, friends, movie, advertisement, current event, etc.).
If you know your child has already seen a fair amount of porn ask him/her, “Did you see anything that was confusing to you?”, “Did you see anything that scared you?” Remember to always respond warmly and calmly to encourage more discussions (e.g. “Not many people would be willing to discuss this topic. I’m really proud of how honest you are being right now.”). Talking about porn doesn’t have to be painful or weird, just relax and dive in and then dive in again.
Stay tuned for part 3, where I will show you steps parents should take to change the tech environment in a household. If you don’t want to miss out: Sign up for my mailing list, follow me on Twitter, or like me on Facebook.
(1) Brown J. D., & L'Engle K. L. (2009). X-rated: Sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with US early adolescents' exposure to sexually explicit media. Communication Research, 36, 129-132.
(2) Reist, M. T., & Bray, A. (Eds.). (2011). Big porn inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry. North Melbourne: Spinifex Press.
(3) Bergner, R., & Bridges, A. (2002). The significance of heavy pornography involvement for romantic partners: Research and clinical implications. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 28, 193-206.
(4) Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction-a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 11-16.
(5) Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S. & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours. PLOS ONE, 9(7), e102419.
(6) Braun-Courville D. K., & Rojas M. (2009). Exposure to sexually explicit Web sites and adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 156-162.
(7) Davis, K. C., Norris, J., George, H. W., Martell, J., & Heiman, J. R. (2006). Rape-myth congruent beliefs in women resulting from exposure to violent pornography: Effects of alcohol and sexual arousal. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29, 1208-1223.
(8) Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2009). Adolescents' exposure to sexually explicit internet material and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study. Human Communication Research, 35, 171-194.
(9) Zurbriggen, E. L., Ramsey, L. R., & Jaworski, B. K. (2011). Self-and partner-objectification in romantic relationships: Associations with media consumption and relationship satisfaction. Sex Roles, 64, 449-462.
Photo Source: Dollar Photo Club
I was facilitating a workshop for parents the other night, and there was some confusion over the difference between gender and sexual identity. So, I thought I’d do a quick post on some terminology, and share this helpful video that is really simplistic, yet clear, and suitable for most ages. Understanding the differences in gender, sexual orientation, biological sex, and sexual behavior can be legitimately confusing unless you happen to have had a course on gender or sexuality. For example, many people think of gender in a binary way, but it is more widely accepted as a spectrum (1). There is also the issue of intersectionality, where an individual’s gender identity meets their sexual identity (2), highlighting the importance of considering the nuances of identity and not trying to simply put people in clearly marked boxes. Then, there is the whole issue of sexual behavior. For example, some heterosexually-identified women kiss or engage in other sexual behavior with other women (3), and like the video suggests, some heterosexually-identified priests don’t engage in any sexual behavior. Therefore, sexual behavior does not determine sexual identity. In sum, not everyone agrees on the best terminology to use, but here are some terms that are pretty widely accepted with definitions mostly from GLAAD:
Sex: The biological classification of people as male or female. At birth, infants are typically assigned a sex based on a combination of internal and external genitalia and in some cases, chromosomes.
Gender: The state of being or identifying with male or female characteristics that are typically based on socially and culturally constructed norms. Side note: People are usually excited to find out the gender of their baby through an ultrasound. Technically, you are finding out the sex, not the gender. You really won’t know the gender of your baby until your baby can tell YOU.
Gender role: A social or behavioral norm that an individual practices in order to display their identified gender to others.
Transgender: An individual who feels that his/her birth-assigned sex and his/her own internal sense of gender do not match.
Transsexual: A person who, through experiencing an intense, long-term discomfort resulting from feeling the inappropriateness of their assigned gender at birth and discomfort of their body, adapts their gender role and body (either through dress, hormone therapy, sex-reassignment surgery, etc.) to reflect and be congruent with their true gender identity.
Sexual Orientation: An individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of a particular sex or gender. A transgender person may be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. For example, a woman who transitions from female to male and is attracted to other men would likely identify as a gay man.
Bisexual: An individual who is physically, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to men and women.
Gay: The adjective used to describe people who have enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to people of the same sex. Typically, lesbian (n. or adj.) is often a preferred term for women.
Lesbian: A woman who has an enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women. Some lesbians may prefer to identify as gay (adj.) or as gay women.
Heterosexual: An adjective used to describe an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of the opposite sex. These people are also referred to as straight.
Sexual Minority: An individual who has adopted a sexual identity that is not exclusively heterosexual.
Homosexual: A very old clinical term that is considered derogatory and offensive by many gay and lesbian people. Don’t use this term.
Queer: Used as an umbrella identity term encompassing lesbian, questioning people, gay men, bisexuals, non-labeling people, transgender folks, and anyone else who does not strictly identify as heterosexual. “Queer” originated as a derogatory word. Currently, it is being reclaimed by some people and used as a statement of empowerment. Some people identify as “queer” to distance themselves from the rigid categorization of “straight” and “gay”. Some transgender, lesbian, gay, questioning, non-labeling, and bisexual people, however, reject the use of this term due to its connotations of deviance and its tendency to gloss over and sometimes deny the differences between these groups.
(1) Diamond, L. M., & Butterworth, M. (2008). Questioning gender and sexual identity: Dynamic links over time. Sex Roles, 59, 365-376.
(2) Morgan, E. M. (2013). Contemporary issues in sexual orientation and identity development in emerging adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 1, 52-66.
(3) Yost, M. R., & McCarthy, L. (2012). Girls gone wild?Heterosexual women’s same-sex encounters at college parties. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 7-24.
I've been getting lots of requests for videos aimed at teens that can help explain some of the topics I cover in my workshops. I came across this wonderful series of videos that do just that. They cover several sexual and romantic topics from a scientific perspective. Enjoy!
The Science of Love
The Science of Heartbreak
The Science of 'Plan B' Emergency Contraception
Childbirth vs. Getting Kicked in the Balls
The Science of Pornography Addiction
The Science of Morning Wood
The Science of Orgasms
A documentary called Porn on the Brain aired in the UK, but you can watch it on YouTube for a limited time. I recommend it, but there are some intense images and subject matter, so keep that in mind before watching. Like all documentaries, there is an agenda. However, I think this documentary’s agenda is more than reasonable. To me it seems that they have highlighted what a lot of folks know to be true: Internet pornography is not the same as the pornography from "back in the day" and use of it in adolescence is pervasive. Yet, no one is talking about it.
Topics such as how pornography has changed since the advent of the internet, how internet pornography is addictive, how adolescents are affected by pornography differently than adults (due to lack of a pre-frontal cortex), and how sexuality education can include pornography education are all covered. What’s great, is that it is all put together and narrated by the former editor of Loaded magazine, Martin Daubney, who was never anti-porn, and who used to actually like porn. His perspective is very similar to mine, although arrived at very differently. He describes growing up with pornography, but ultimately realizes that pornography today is vastly different than it was in the 80s and 90s, and therefore we need a vastly different approach to addressing it. What I argue in my lectures, is that it is no longer adequate to only analyze pornography from a limited pro vs. anti moralistic perspective. Pornography needs to be discussed from a neurological, physiological and behavioral perspective. I am a social and developmental scientist, so I typically rely on statistics and peer reviewed research to trust information in order to understand something. Yet, there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made for us to fully understand sexuality and pornography use in adolescence, or even adulthood, through the scientific study of it for two reasons:
1. There are ethical considerations to be made when you conduct research on sensitive topics. In order to conduct a scientific study, one needs to get approval from their IRB, which is a bureau that approves a study as ethical before data collection can begin. Thus, topics such as violent pornography use, masturbation, exposure to incest, exposure to group sex, experienced fantasies, etc. are often off limits in the U.S. because reporting on these topics can potentially be traumatizing to participants. However, some European countries have produced informative studies, most likely due to their more realistic and integrated views of sexuality.
2. If we do get IRB approval to ask participants about their experiences with pornography in the U.S., we are limited in what we know, by what we measure. For example, this is a popular item used in a multiple-item scale to measure pornography use:
“How often do you view pornography?” CIRCLE ONE
1-Never 2-Rarely 3-Sometimes 4-Often 5-Always
Do you think that question paints a real picture of someone’s pornography use? Do you think that questions changes what we know about pornography use? Yeah, me neither. Therefore, because we have a limited understanding of internet pornography use, simply asking people what their experience is contributes to our ability to understand what we need to measure in order to analyze those data statistically. This is why I think the work featured in this documentary as well as studies conducted in Europe, have done what social and developmental scientists in the U.S. haven’t yet. They simply asks adolescents how they experience pornography.
Although the documentary does interview addiction experts and features a groundbreaking study on pornography addiction that used fMRI measurement, there is quite a bit of research on the topic of pornography that this documentary doesn’t reference. They say that there is only speculation on the affects from pornography use so far, but no real evidence. This really isn’t true. I would normally overlook such a thing, but I'm endorsing this documentary, so I want to be clear: Although there is still a lot of work to be done, there has been research on the affects of pornography use for decades and internet pornography more recently. In the documentary, a young man is featured who is preoccupied with sex, who is unsatisfied with the relationships he currently has with women, and whose pornography use is negatively affecting other aspects of his life. This is only one case, yet studies with larger samples have found similar findings.
For example, adolescents who use pornography consistently are less satisfied with their sex life in emerging adulthood (1,2), pornography use in early adolescence is longitudinally associated with an increased sexual preoccupancy a year later (3), and young men who are dependent on pornography have similarly destructive life patterns as substance abusers (4, 5). Further, there is some evidence that pornography addiction is successfully treated with the drug naltrexone (6), which is a drug used to treat substance use dependency. Finally, a study of Greek adolescents found that infrequent and frequent internet pornography use is associated with social maladjustment such as conduct problems and antisocial tendencies (7). Despite the documentary’s flaw of not recognizing at least some of the hundreds of studies that have been conducted, I think the message of this film is clear: We need to draw even more attention to the scientific study and evidence based education of internet pornography use.
Given the research that has been done and the reality this documentary highlights, we need pornography education in addition to sexuality education, and we need it yesterday! It is clear that our cyber-reality is having a profound effect on how we form relationships, interact with people and live our lives. Every person deserves to know how they can live, parent, teach and grow in such a way to insure that they are contributing to the positive development of romantic relationships and sexuality in themselves and the individuals around them. I think this documentary represents a shift in perspective that I have been arguing for the past five years. The old perspective regarding pornography from the 1950s-1990s mostly revolved around these questions: “Should we allow pornography to be produced, sold and consumed by adults?” or “How does pornography use affect someone’s perception of women?” The new perspective should evolve (and maybe has evolved) to include: “What are we going to do about our kids having unlimited access to rape, incest, sexual abuse and sexual humiliation on the internet?" And, “what kind of impact will this brand new cyber-reality have on their brains and consequently, their lives?”
(1) Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2009). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit internet material and sexual satisfaction: A longitudinal study. Human Communication Research, 35(2), 171-194.
(2) Štulhofer, A., Buško, V., & Landripet, I. (2010). Pornography, sexual socialization, and satisfaction among young men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(1), 168-178.
(3) Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2008). Adolescents' exposure to sexually explicit internet material and sexual preoccupancy: A three-wave panel study. Media Psychology, 11(2), 207-234.
(4) Cavaglion, G. (2009). Cyber-porn dependence: Voices of distress in an Italian internet self-help community. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7(2), 295-310.
(5) Cavaglion, G. (2008). Narratives of self-help of cyberporn dependents. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 15(3), 195-216.
(6) Bostwick, J. M., & Bucci, J. A. (2008). Internet sex addiction treated with naltrexone. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 83(2), 226-230.
(7) Tsitsika, A., Critselis, E., Kormas, G., Konstantoulaki, E., Constantopoulos, A., & Kafetzis, D. (2009). Adolescent pornographic internet site use: A multivariate regression analysis of the predictive factors of use and psychosocial implications. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(5), 545-550.
There is currently a proposal for a new documentary titled, The
Mask You Live In, on kickstarter. The aim for the documentary is to address the "boy crisis" by highlighting our societal standards for masculinity that create emotionally detached (and therefore more violent and depressed) boys and men. I wrote about another organization, The Demise of Guys, which also addresses how and why boys are struggling and what we can do about it. I’m excited about The Mask You Live In for two reasons: One, the creator is Jennifer Siebel Newsom, from Miss Representation, which is a wonderful documentary about the portrayal (or lack thereof) of women and girls in the media. Two, Jackson Katz is on board. If you haven’t seen Tough Guise, make a date with yourself and see it. The Mask You Live In seems like it would be a wonderful progression from that work. Please spread the word, so they can get the backing and funding they need to get this much-needed project underway!
About this Blog:
I'm here to help us discuss sexuality, gender, sexual media, and social media by integrating information from academic and mainstream sources. I do this so you can be informed about what is going on in the sex research world and apply the research to your life. I hope this process produces more sexually competent people who raise sexually competent kids.
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