The pervasive availability of online pornography might just be the scariest of all the relevant sexual health topics we need to be discussing with youth. When discussing porn with our youth comes up in my sessions with parents they often look both terrified and relieved to finally be talking about it.
It is critical to talk to our kids about porn. As Saleema mentioned in this fall’s newsletter, research shows that about 70% of teens have recently consumed porn online. Not surprisingly the rate of consumption is higher for boys than girls. Given these statistics we have to assume that this is an issue that impacts all of us. It isn’t just someone else’s kid! It’s always better to talk about something, no matter how poorly you think it went, than to let it be the elephant in the room. And its always better to start discussing sexual health issues sooner rather than later though it’s never too late!
Here are some things I’ve seen work well when talking to youth about porn:
- begin by acknowledging and validating your child’s natural curiosity about sexuality and bodies
- discuss why you feel online porn isn’t a great way to learn about sexuality. Talk about what your family thinks a healthy sexual relationship should look like. Does online porn represent average healthy sexual relationships and your family’s particular values around sexuality? When this topic comes up with grade 6 and 7s, which it often does, I always joke that like Hollywood action movies porn is always bigger, badder and louder than real life! Related, conversations about the importance of not comparing ourselves to the images we see in the media are important. Encourage conversations and activities honing our youths’, not to mention our own, internally based, inherent self worth. Talk about society’s rules about porn consumption (not until your 18) and your own family rules about it. I remind youth that we adults don’t make up these rules just to be jerks. We do it because we have concerns and want to support youth to ensure that they have great experiences in life and are safe.
- lastly, provide alternative ways to learn about sexuality. Whenever you say ‘this isn’t a great way to learn’ you have to also provide paths that are more productive. Books, accredited sexual health websites (see our resource links), and most importantly open, honest conversation are invaluable here!
Just remember that no conversation with youth about sexual health, or any other topic for that matter, will ever go perfectly! Its simply the commitment to talk about these things, even when they’re challenging, that will make all the difference in your relationship with your child.
Brandy Oct 2012