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Actually, Talking About Porn With Your Kids Is Easy & Crucial (Romper)



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The first time I saw porn was in my parent’s bathroom. My dad kept Playboy and Hustler in a neat stack next to the toilet, secured by an ashtray that never moved. The ashtray to me symbolized a padlock—it was understood that we were not to touch the ashtray, not to lift it to peek at what lay beneath. But we did. My sister and I pored over the pages, commenting on the people’s body parts and their expressions, giggling at the strange things adults did in their free time. If you've wondered what will happen if you don't talk to your kids about porn, well, this.

Many of us seem unable to talk about sex without blushing, but your kids will find out about it, and about porn. Humans have been making art on sex and fertility for thousands of years, and the digital age has broadened its availability. Thanks to advertising alone, your kid will see countless images mimicking sex and arousal way before they begin puberty. And because of the internet, your kid might see full-blown coitus on the screen, too. So even if you’re not a consumer of porn—although many of us are; one study by two neuroscientists found 13 percent of American web searches in one month related to erotic online content—and even if you abhor it, it’s important that you know how to talk to your kids about it.

As a mother, a long-time adult entertainer, and someone who does watch pornography, I've thought about this a lot, and here's my plan.

First, Talk About Sex

Understanding why millions of Americans watch other chefs make omelettes on the Food Network only makes sense once you know what an omelette is. And it's the same with sex. You need to give your kid a basic understanding of sexuality before you can dive off into the many flavors of sexuality that adults like to throw into the skillet.

Do It Before They Begin Puberty

Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo runs the Institute for Sexual Education & Enlightenment based out of Connecticut, which certifies people to become licensed educators or sex therapists with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. She holds a master of arts in marriage and family therapy and a doctorate of education in human sexuality, and teaching people how to talk about sex is her bread and butter. "Firstly, when you talk to your kids about sex, there are two things you don't want to do: you don't want to say that sex is between a man and a woman, because that's obviously not always the case," she tells Romper. "Second, you don't want to say, ‘when two people are in love...,’ because that's also not always the case."

Your kids will see sexually charged material (how many times?) before they even begin puberty, and you can aid their healthy sexual development by presenting them with information that allows for guilt-free desire and shame-free arousal of their own. When they are older, if you’ve been open and receptive to their questions, and non-judgmental in your conversations, they will feel more comfortable asking you questions, including questions about porn.

Don’t Confuse Sex With Love

When you talk about sex, don’t lie about things because you feel squeamish. Where does the penis go? Well, sometimes it goes in a vagina, sometimes it goes in a mouth, sometimes it goes in a butt or between fingers or toes; there are lots of ways to share touch. While I’m not suggesting that you give your kid a rundown of kinks and fetishes, let them know that adults use their bodies in various ways to feel good. But please, don’t lie. Children will eventually figure out if you lied to them, and then their trust in you will diminish.

Dr. Dischiavo explains further, "If, as a parent, it is your value that your child be in love when they have sex, you need to explain that. You can say that, ‘It’s my experience that sex with love is much better,’ or ‘It’s our family’s belief that sex should only happen with love,’ rather than making it sound like sex only happens when people are in love. If you frame sex as an act of love you are making your kids more vulnerable to sexual manipulation, and to lying to themselves about their partner’s feelings or their own feelings." The danger of linking sex-and-love as synonymous, in that it can leads kids to coerce each other with the argument that sex is how you show someone that you love them. This is a common coercion tactic used by people of all ages.

Be Honest About The Mechanics

I have found that nature documentaries are a great way to introduce kids to the birds and the bees and the penises and the trees. It was a great comfort to me as a kid to learn that human mammals aren’t the only mammals that engage in flirting, wooing and coitus.

My five-year-old daughter doesn’t watch much television, but I found myself sitting next to her while David Attenborough narrated the mating ritual of elephants in the African Serengeti. The male elephant mounted the female elephant, his penis dangling like a firehose. My daughter fixated on this, as most of us would, "What does mate mean?" I saw it as an opportunity to inform her little mind, and seized it.

"Mating is when animals have sex, so that they can have a baby elephant," I told her. My daughter knows what a penis is, because we have a male dog and she’s seen him urinating or licking himself. And so, I went on, "The male elephant is putting his penis inside of the female elephant’s vagina, so that he can put seeds in her. If one of the seeds gets nourished it grows into a baby elephant. This is how your daddy and I made you." I waited. She was processing. I decided to add the finishing touch, "Your daddy put his penis in my vagina, and planted a seed and you grew from that." Pause. She giggled and burst into laughter, "That’s silly!"

This was several months ago, and nothing remarkable has changed in her play or behavior. I didn’t traumatize my five year old by giving her simple, truthful information, because I didn’t attach any shame or stigma to the subject matter. She’s not obsessed with drawing penises, she’s not making her toys hump each other (although, like most kids, that play will come later), and most importantly, she doesn’t feel any shame about her body parts.

The first step to explaining pornography to your kids is to explain sex to them, shame-free, in the first place.

When Your Child Asks, Explain What Porn Is

First, Define It For Yourself

Madison Young makes porn, and has for about 15 years. Today, I call this woman a friend, but I will gladly admit that I watched her kinky lesbian porn when I was in college. Young is a feminist, a parent and a wife, and author of various books and writings that discuss raising children, consent, and sex. She tells Romper, that before you can talk to your kids about what porn is, you actually have to figure out for yourself what it is, and what it means. "There is such heavy shame and stigma associated with sex in our culture, and even greater shame embedded in our viewpoint of pornography, erotic film or the documentation of sex," she says, adding that porn isn't inherently sexist or problematic.

"As a feminist pornographer of over a decade, I view pornography as another artistic medium. When you are able to talk with your child early on about sex and bodies, then the conversation of pornography is a less difficult one."

Even if you don’t believe women get to produce and profit off of their own content (they can and they should), the point remains the same: People have freedom of choice with their own bodies, and expressions of sexuality run the gamut. Not all porn is the same, just like not all music is the same, just like not all clothing or art is the same. The "art versus porn" conversation is decades old, and the answer is ultimately up to the viewer. We think of porn as modern, but it’s not. Civil War soldiers could receive mail-order nudie playing cards for just a few cents, along with stereographs, and erotica.

Really, let people have and express their interests, whatever they may be.

Then, Define It For Them

Now that you’ve built a healthy framework for understanding the natural activities that most humans eventually engage in, we can talk about documenting sex as videos, written erotica, or photos. It is no surprise that porn exists in our modern world, because humans love to document and record all aspects of our humanity. On YouTube alone, every aspect of life is posted for viewing consumption: you can find videos of people eating, people vomiting, people exercising, people fighting, people defecating and urinating, people giving birth, people dying, people being born. Of course people record themselves having sex. And sometimes, people get paid to record these activities. Consent is also a part of this bundle, and we'll get to it a little later.

If Asked, Explain The Money

If your kid has questions about why people have sex for money, you can remind them that America isn’t based on a barter system. Without trying to explain the nuances of capitalism to your child, tell them this: people trade goods and services for money, and sometimes, people have sex in order to get paid. Some people grow food to get paid. Some people clean toilets to get paid. Some people play sports to make a living. Adults engage in lots of different kinds of activities for fun and for money, and porn is one industry of many. Frame this conversation simply and without bias. Most people in the adult industry work without coercion, and if you label them as victims you’re repudiating their own choice. Don’t do that.

When do you tell them this? Well, when they ask, "Why would somebody have sex for money?" You can tell them, "Because people do lots of things for money, because money is how you pay for a place to live and for food to eat." My daughter is five, and while she doesn’t know what capitalism means, she knows that Mommy dances and tells jokes to people in her underwear for money so that Mommy can buy her food and take her on fun trips.

A Note About Exploitation

If you have a knee-jerk reaction to porn that it’s exploitative, set that aside during this conversation with your child. If you feel concern for women and men who work in the porn industry, understand that this is not the place for a conversation about corruption in the larger world. Yes, like every single industry and institution in the world, there is corruption and abuse in the sex industry. As a progressively minded adult who is talking to their child about the adult entertainment industry, keep any bias about porn out of the conversation. I’m here to tell you, as a long-time worker in adult entertainment, that there are plenty of happy and consenting adults who are quite willing to sell sex in order to make a living, and many of them are women. Besides, supporting female autonomy models excellent behavior for your child.

If You Start To Fumble, Follow This Script

As a porn-making parent, Madison Young has a script for this: "Grown ups have grown-up bodies. Those grown-up bodies find different ways to share affection that only work for our bodies and brains once our bodies have grown up. Some of those ways that grown ups share affection with other grown ups can feel really good to grown up bodies. Sometimes that kind of grown-up touch is called sex. Sometimes grown ups like to watch grown-up movies where other grown-ups are experiencing this kind of touch. These are grown-up movies where grown ups are sharing consenting touch that feels good with each other."

Books Help

There are lots of resources available for talking to your kids about sex, Dr. Dischiavo recommends that you read Everything you Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask) by Richardson & Schuster, and Sex Without Shame, Encouraging the Child’s Healthy Sexual Development by Alayne Yates. You can give your child or pre-teen It’s Perfectly Normal by Harris & Emberly and A Kid’s First Book About Sex by Blank and Quackenbush. The last two books can be left in your kid's bedroom for independent perusal. And online, Scarleteen is a great resource for teens and adults.

Your child will make the best decisions about their health and safety and happiness when they have been raised with the most information about the world around them. Even if a conversation around porn makes you cringe, you can still teach your kid to seek out unbiased, sex-positive resources around human pleasure. That way, they can develop their own judgement-free understanding of porn, free of your own.

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