In past generations, a kid may have come across an old Playboy in their dad’s closet, but that was generally the extent of their exposure to pornography. Thanks to the Internet, that has all changed. A recent survey published in Psychologies magazine found that almost one-third of 14 to 16-year-olds first looked at sexual images online when they were aged 10 or younger, and 81 percent have looked at online pornography on their own home computers.
The results are shocking, but even more shocking could be the images themselves. Not only do kids have 24-7 access to more pornography than they could ever enjoy in their lifetime, but the pornography itself has become more explicit and hardcore. In an attempt to ‘out-sex’ the competition, pornography sites try to be as kinky as possible. While this might drive traffic, it can be downright damaging to a teen’s budding sexual psyche because a teenager who has yet to experience, or perhaps is just testing the sexual waters, can be overloaded with sexual imagery that does not truly represent how real couples have sex.
That’s why it is so important that we talk to our teens about porn-what it is and what it is not—but most parents find that a very uncomfortable idea. The Psychologies survey also found that only 25 percent of parents have talked to their kids about pornography, meaning that most teens are left to figure out these complicated sexual messages on their own. Not only can this be highly confusing and scary, but it can forever change the way a teen thinks about sex, love and relationships.
Here are some important things for parents to consider:
- They are not necessarily searching for it. Even teens who don’t access pornographic material by choice are often inundated with it. Spam emails containing X-rated material are sent to teenagers every day. They can be sitting there doing homework when suddenly there an intrusive porn ad or email pops up. Plus, with sexting on the rise, many teens even see pornographic in social media. The reality is that our teens are constantly exposed to pornography, whether they do so by choice or by circumstance.
- They need guidance. To complicate matters, most teens have no guidance when it comes to sifting through this inundation of sexual messages. While most adults realize that pornography isn’t a realistic interpretation of sexual activity between partners, teens do not have the maturity or the sexual experience to realize that. As a result, they get a very skewed idea of what sex is supposed to look like.
- It puts tremendous pressure on them. They think that they are supposed to look and behave like porn stars, meaning that they are supposed to be wildly into sex and have orgasms at the drop of a hat, and that they are meant to be open to everything from multiple partners to anal sex to BDSM to every other kinky activity that is featured in porn. While these activities are enjoyable for consenting adults, teens might wrongly think they “have” to do these things in order to be sexy and desirable…not realizing that many adults don’t necessarily go for every activity that is featured in porn.
- It affects body image. Additionally, pornography can also negatively impact the body image of boys and girls alike. The girls look at porn and think they are meant to be hairless and tan, and have DD breasts and perfectly flat tummies. They think they have to loudly moan and coo and gyrate in order to please their partners, while boys watch these videos and think they are supposed to have extra-large penises and giant muscles in order to measure up. As a result, both boys and girls walk away confused, and to make matters worse, safer sex measures are generally not covered in pornography. You don’t see porn stars negotiating for condom use or condoms and dental dams being used for oral sex, meaning that teens will only be further challenged when confronting their own sexual choices and safer sex practices.
It is so important for parents to talk to their teens about pornography and the messages (both explicit and implicit) in these videos and pictures. Talk about how pornography is not realistic and that real sex looks much, much different. Talk about how men and women don’t look like they do in porn, just like the average person doesn’t look like Angelina Jolie on the red carpet.
Discuss the importance of safer sex practices, and highlight the fact that the men and women in those films are actors. Talk about the importance of waiting to have sex and how it important it is to have sex that is mutually enjoyable, consensual, and as safe as possible.
While it would be nice to shield our kids from pornographic images, the reality is the material is out there. But as parents, we can offer our teens structure, guidance, and open, honest communication to help them understand these messages and protect their bodies and their minds.