Expert to parents: Don't be clueless about porn

Tom was 11 when he saw online porn for the first time. He didn’t go looking for it.

By age 12, he was addicted.

Tom (not his real name) told his story to journalist Alanah Eriksen of NZ Herald last month. 

"I was looking around on the internet and easily stumbled across pornography. I felt strange and, honestly, just guilty the first time I saw some, but I kept bingeing over the next few months.

"Just after my 12th birthday, I masturbated to porn for the first time and it sparked an addiction."

Porn was everywhere at his school, he says. 

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"I would see pornography at lunchtime, on other people's laptops. I would see videos that were spread around school of underage sex, like of 12-year-olds. It was just this hyper-sexualised society and culture at the school."

His mum, a former teacher, had no idea. 

"Tom asked me whether masturbation was okay... I said 'Yeah, yeah it's normal, everybody does it. There's nothing wrong with it'.

"I didn't know at the time he was searching for a way to end his addiction. I thought it was just a normal conversation we were having. I had no idea he was looking at porn."

"Tom asked me whether masturbation was okay... I said 'Yeah, yeah it's normal, everybody does it. There's nothing wrong with it'.

Teen sexuality researcher Peggy Orenstein wouldn’t be surprised by Tom’s story.

The author of Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent and Navigating the New Masculinity, Orenstein has found parents “tend to underestimate their children’s consumption of explicit content  perhaps because the only thing ickier than thinking about your mom or dad watching porn is thinking about your daughter or son doing it.”

Among 18- to 24-year-olds, porn is cited as providing the “most helpful information about how to have sex,” a major US study has found. 

And the practice is near-universal. “When talking to boys, in particular, I’ve never asked whether they’ve watched porn — that would shoot my credibility to hell,” Orenstein notes.

She asks instead when they saw it first. The most common answer: the onset of puberty. That’s well before most will have their first kiss. Australian research shows first exposure to online porn typically occurs around age 11 but often as young as 8. 

The lessons kids are learning

So what are kids learning from online porn? That sex is healthy, and bodies are beautiful? Hardly.

“The free content most readily available to minors tends to show sex as something men do to rather than with women. It often portrays female pleasure as a performance for male satisfaction, shows wildly unrealistic bodies, is indifferent to consent (sometimes in its actual production) and flirts with incest,” Orenstein’s research has found.

She cites a 2020 analysis of more than 4,000 heterosexual scenes on Pornhub and Xvideos that found 45 percent and 35 percent, respectively, featured aggression, aimed almost exclusively at women, and disproportionately at black women.

Teens who watch a lot of online porn are more likely to imitate what they’ve learned is sexy - choking their partner, or coercing her to agree to anal intercourse. Or not even waiting for consent at all.

Kids told Orenstein that they understand the difference between fantasy and real life. They say they know porn is “entertainment” - that its images and plotlines are not realistic. 

Then again, they also say they’re not affected by peer pressure and advertising.

In reality, teens who watch a lot of online porn are more likely to imitate what they’ve learned is sexy - choking their partner, or coercing her to agree to anal intercourse. Or not even waiting for consent at all.

Challenging the narrative

The evidence shows that quality, school-based programs in “porn literacy” - admittedly an unfortunate term - can reduce risk, challenge myths and misinformation, address anxiety and encourage kids to question the values that underlie the narratives they see online.

Some parents object that addressing the issues raised by online porn - whether at home or in school-based programs - will somehow destroy kids’ innocence. 

Says Orenstein, “one has to ask who is ultimate protected - and who is harmed - when we censor open discussion of healthy sexuality, bodily autonomy, pornography, sexual harassment and assault.”

As for Tom, he managed to escape from the quicksand of porn addiction by himself. Just as he’d stumbled upon porn in the first place, he stumbled across a video about the neuroscience of masturbation and pornography.

The result, he says, "changed my whole perspective".

He’s now been “sober from porn" for over a year.

 

Block explicit content - and support a healthy and safe digital journey for your family - on every device, everywhere, with Family Zone.

Create a home where digital children thrive - and digital parents too! - and start your free trial today.

 

 

 

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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, online pornography, explicit content, porn addiction

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