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Help, I’ve just discovered my teen has watched porn. What should I do?

17 Comments
By Megan Lim
Image: leolintang/iStock

Unlike in previous generations, you’re unlikely to discover your adolescent’s first exposure to adult sexual content from finding a scrunched-up Playboy magazine under their mattress.

With easy access to the internet and the use of tablets and mobile phones, it’s more likely to be from free, mainstream online porn. And it can be a very shocking introduction to sex.

But it’s common and has become normalised among young people. The median age for boys to first view pornography is 13, while for girls it’s 16.

OK, so your child or adolescent has watched a porn video. First, stay calm.

Start a discussion about what porn is – and isn’t

How much detail you go into and what’s appropriate for them to know will depend on their age and level of maturity.

Many parents let their adolescents know porn is not real – it’s a fantasy. But it’s not enough to just say, “that’s not real”. They also need to know what reality is.

Explain that porn is not what sex is like – and what’s wrong with depictions of sex in porn: everyone who’s involved should be enjoying it, not just the man.

In porn, you don’t see all the normal things that happen around sex, like discussions on how to ask about consent, or even the bloopers of sex, such as when people change positions, negotiate, and move around.

Porn is not designed to show sex the way it would be experienced as pleasurable, or show what positive relationships are meant to look like. People don’t tend to ask, “do you want to do that?” And if they do, you won’t see what happens if someone says “no”. The performers aren’t doing it in a way that feels good, but instead focus on what is deemed to “look good”.

Porn doesn’t present sex in a real way, and it can change young people’s ideas and expectations about what sex is.

How are adolescents accessing porn?

Adolescents are used to discovering things on their own using the internet and are naturally curious about sex. Their exposure to porn can come from something as simple as googling a term they’ve never heard of before, or their friends sending them a link.

They’re most likely to come across mainstream porn. With lots of flesh, quick movements and closeups, it can be very graphic and can come across as violent to someone seeing it for the first time.

This becomes how adolescents, who don’t have personal experiences of sex, or have the information they need, learn about sex. Just as they go to YouTube to learn how to cook a meal or fix the tap, they are used to watching and following.

And for something private and stigmatised like sex, there are limited good alternatives for them to learn how it really works.

When should we have ‘the talk’?

An open conversation about safety, sex, consent and relationships and gender roles is important throughout their whole life. Introduce the topic of sex gradually, depending on your child’s age. It doesn’t have to be a big sit down, to have a big talk.

It’s best to bring it up in relevant situations, particularly on seeking ongoing consent, because that applies to all aspects of life. Everyone has the right to make decisions about their own body, and it’s up to them if they want to be touched, hugged, kissed or have sex. It’s also important to reinforce that women and girls have feelings and needs, and they’re not just there to look pretty.

If they’re asking questions, then they’re old enough to talk about it. Ideally, you won’t wait for them to ask. You should be having conversations about consent, positive relationships, and sex from an early age. But it’s important to talk about it earlier rather than later, even if you don’t think they’ve watched porn.

Instead of saying “have you heard about porn?”, let them know from a young age they can trust you if they see something online that they don’t like or confuses them. Assure them you can’t believe everything you see online and you’re a safe person to go to with any questions.

Let them know it’s not their fault if they see something they don’t like, make sure they are OK and ask how it made them feel. Remind them to simply close the browser or turn off the screen if they see something that upsets them or makes them feel yuck.

Can I prevent my child accessing porn?

Your children will probably see porn at some point, but the older they are when they first see it, the better.

Data shows watching porn is associated with poor mental health, riskier sexual behaviors, and attitudes supporting violence against women.

Unlike with adolescents where conversations are paramount, restrictions can prevent and protect young children from seeing porn. These include parental controls on devices, apps or browsers, or establishing rules about when, where and with whom they can access their phones, computers or tablets. Yes, older teenagers can probably get past them, but younger kids can’t.

Be open and honest with your kids about using internet restrictions – don’t spy on them. Let them know why you’re doing it, explaining there are bad things online you need to protect them from – it’s about building trust.

If you find your child showing unusual behavior or acting out towards other children, or your teen shows signs of addiction (where their viewing activities interfere with their day-to-day lives), seek professional help.

Megan Lim is Deputy Program Director (Behaviors and Health Risks) at Burnet Institute and leads the Young People's Health research group.

The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

© The Conversation

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

17 Comments
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The first time I saw Porn, I was about 10 or 11 I guess, and it was a fairly random event with friends whereby we stumbled across this stash of extreme porn in a garbage bag in the bush. Kind of Stand by Me type stuff, mid 80's style. Everything about it was weird and disturbing, including the location.

It was full gimp gear, animals etc etc - truly horrifying and depraved stuff and I remember it looked ugly and vulgar to my young eyes. Without really understanding what I was looking at, it made me think very differently about adults and their world. Probably a true loss of innocence moment.

I truly hope my own kids have a much softer landing than that, which probably isn't very far away tbh.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Listen son, you can tug yourself off all you want to porn or sex in the movies as long as you remember real sex is just a couple of uncomfortable minutes of sweating and squelching followed by days of emotional blackmail, regret and the bouts of syphilis."

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

“Data shows watching porn is associated with poor mental health, riskier sexual behaviors, and attitudes supporting violence against women.” As a rape victim the act of rape is violent, demoralizing and leads to PTSD. It is important to teach how viewing porn can be a way angry individuals release hidden anger. The mind has a way of thinking porn is nonviolent, yet violent sexual assault against male or females are directed at unexpected victims. In a culture where sexual freedom is normal, porn increases the chance of children becoming sex slaves without a guardians’ knowledge.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Have that talk! Now you know….., here’s the good and the bad now. Protect yourself as they say in the boxing ring at all times!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I should’ve kept my stash of porn hidden more better

3 ( +3 / -0 )

attention parents: odds are , your kids already know more about sex in all its forms than you had ever dreamed about at that age. The best that you can do is ask them for advice; chances are they may more mature about it and you have little to worry about.

I'm not sure about all that, I have teenagers and from what I have seen and know, a lot don't know Jack and that is truly frightening, so No, I wouldn't ask a lot of these kids for directions

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Help, I’ve just discovered my teen has watched porn. What should I do?

Change the topic. Ask them how they feel about endless war and government’s controlling what they wanna see and do.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

Help, I’ve just discovered my teen has watched porn. What should I do?

Congratulate them for reaching puberty?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

attention parents: odds are , your kids already know more about sex in all its forms than you had ever dreamed about at that age. The best that you can do is ask them for advice; chances are they may more mature about it and you have little to worry about.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Erotic art has been key to sexual adolescent discovery, the release of built-up sexual tension, exercising the first hidden pleasures, the very nature of attraction.

Since cavemen, and women found the means to graffiti their dwellings.

I once caught sight of a group of boys in Lawson browsing through the naught rack periodicals, I walked past and quipped you are all dribbling, in an hour you will go blind.  

Nothing to make such a song and dance about.

If you find your child showing unusual behavior or acting out towards other children, or your teen shows signs of addiction (where their viewing activities interfere with their day-to-day lives), seek professional help.

Really?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Get over it.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

So, did these panicking parents learn about sex only from official government literature?

As always, teenagers will cope with this much better than their parents will. Just as happened for every generation's moral panics: Pop music, long hair, pirate radio, raves, video nasties and all the rest.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Remember Whack-A-Mole? That table game of fairgrounds, circuses, and pizza restaurants everywhere? That has contestants standing there, holding onto a soft mallet, and trying to hit all those plastic moles that surface in all of those holes on the tabletop?

That’s kind of what this article reminds me of.

Only this time, the authors didn't go into the latest and greatest that faces kids today.

Namely, the huge explosion of AI girlfriend builders (boyfriend as well). Many of which openly (and proudly) speak of being Not Safe For Work, yet relies on subscribers to self-confess whether they are an adult . . . or not.

Lots going on, even as we speak. Looks to be highly competitive (and lucrative, no doubt), featuring highly customizable appearances, interests, and interactions. Vavavoom!

Some services - first initially, then periodically thereafter - even beg creators not to share their Very Special Creations that may be considered inappropriate for minors.

Some of these services and apps seem pretty expensive. But once you have dad and mom’s credit card, after signing up and swearing to them that it’s just AI that’s going to help with 'homework,' well, nooo problemooo . . . sky’s the limit!

Be honest here: how many parents do you know who actually understand, even generally, how AI functionality works?

And what do you do, on one of those rare occasions, you catch your kid doing 'homework' with his/her very special creation, that is doing some things on the screen that are anatomically vivid? Imagine your son studying qualitative and quantitative methods, under diverse conditions, for calculating volatile organic compounds? All-the-while a screen 'girlfriend' is asking him if it was good for him, too?

All within the mystery of reasonable parenting in today’s world. Good luck in Whack-A-Mole World.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Make sure they are spending enough time away from screens so they can develop real life relationships.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

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