Teen Boys and Porn: Reader Question

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A reader recently reached out with a question about teen boys and porn:

I have a teenage boy - 15 - and want to have better discussions with him about porn, if he is watching it (I assume he is) what is good out there, what is not good or potentially harmful, if at all. I have been researching online, but haven't found anything super helpful and want to help other parents of teens navigate the porn of this generation. I am pro-porn - gosh that sounds weird! I think it is OK, but I also don't know all that is out there and believe some of it could be desensitizing, and hurtful to our kiddos in some ways. Would love to hear your thoughts and if you have any resources, would love to know about them...

First of all, I LOVE READER QUESTIONS! This is a really common one for modern parents because the internet has completely changed the game in terms of both the range of porn available and the access to it. Gone are the days when a person had to go across town to buy a centerfold magazine. Today, an incredibly wide range of porn is freely available online and parents are rightly concerned.

Porn is tricky to talk about. It isn't something that teenagers want to discuss with their parents because it feels too personal, which speaks to the great tradition of secrecy, shame, and stigma around the production and consumption of pornography. This is further complicated by the Internet's democratic communication platform, which adds a significant cushion of perceived anonymity to both the production and consumption of porn. As a parent, it isn't a good idea to ask your son questions like, "Do you watch porn?", "Where do you find your porn?" or "How much porn are you watching?" Instead, I would split the conversation into two different parts, the first being part of a larger conversation about responsible internet usage, and the other being about porn, itself.

Part One: It is absolutely imperative that teens learn how to be responsible and safe online. Thankfully, there are a lot of good resources for this. GCF Learn Free has a lot of information about safe and responsible online behavior. Parents and kids can go through various modules together, all freely available on their site. It's also a really good idea to check with your local police department for resources, as they often offer tips, programs, and information focused on internet safety skills. Here in Chicago, you can find that information on this page. Whatever resources you use, make sure your teen learns the following:

  1. How to keep their location and personal information private while browsing
  2. How big data collection works (nothing is really anonymous or deleted: the internet is written in ink, not pencil)
  3. The internet is built on predictive algorithms, which are biased toward feeding you what they think you will like, not what is accurate or true
  4. Digital consent is the same as physical consent, e.g. the sending/receiving of a nude photo is a singular transaction because consent is not transferable to others

Part Two: There are some really important things about porn for parents to remember and for teens to learn. The first is that porn is entertainment, not real sex, but our brains have trouble distinguishing between the two. This is for two reasons. First, our brains respond to real experience and perceived experiences in the same way. For example, there is very little difference between our brain's response to going to Disney world for the first time and remembering that trip ten years later. This transference extends to porn. Our brains respond to porn in the same way that they respond to physical sex, particularly when there is an orgasm involved. Secondly, our brains constantly rewire themselves in response to what we are exposed to (like porn), then we unconsciously apply those responses across other aspects of our lives (like relationships). This means that porn can affect our real life expectations of sex and relationships without us being aware of it happening.

This all means that we have to take responsibility for ourselves as consumers. Internet clicks seem inconsequential, but they are not: corporations make money and collect data off our traffic. If we click on porn that is degrading, violent, or exploitative, we are participating in that degradation, violence, and exploitation. Therefore, each click represents an opportunity to shape the world and the way we respond to it.

For more information, check out this really wonderful article and consider buying your teen this exceptional book.

Thanks for reading! I love reader questions, and you can always reach me at sexpositiveparent@gmail.com, or find me on Facebook/Twitter. If you liked this post, subscribe by email and check out this post about free sex ed for politicians.

Filed under: Parenting, sex, teens, Uncategorized

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