Do we have to talk about it?
Eurgh. Many of us feel by instinct there's something wrong with pornography. What you may not have considered is how it can negatively affect young people's culture and development; their brains and self-image, and later, their expectations of intimate relationships as adults. Let's prepare against it early.
What do you say to them?
In Celebration Day workshops, this isn't a topic that comes up with young girls. But in anonymous question time in our school puberty and well-being program for grade 5 and 6, we usually get something about pornography. What is it? Is it bad for you to watch porn?
With a class, we give short, simple answers: Pornography is photos or videos of people having sex for other people to look at. It's fake, and not like real life. It's made for adults, not young people.
Sometimes I share a story that I heard about a dad who learned his early teenage son had been watching pornography. The father sat down with him, and didn't tell him off, just had a chat.
He advised his son that if he got into watching this stuff, it would twist his view of how two people give each other pleasure. It could jeopardize his chances of having a great relationship with a real person. The young man was so impressed by what his dad told him that he went and spoke to his mates about not using it, too.
Do I have to?
Yes, you do. If your child or teen has access to the internet, it's probable that they'll stumble onto sexually explicit material, view it with a friend, or just google 'naked woman/man' being curious. Or someone in the school yard will tell them about it.
Btw, I always use the whole word, and don't normalise it with the casual 'porn'.
So when do I have to talk about it?
Laying the groundwork will serve you well. The AusVELS curriculum provides resources for teachers at Foundation (prep) Level to talk about names of body parts including vulva, penis, breast and buttocks (bottom). By Level 3 Vic government resources include further detail about our sexual organs and how we create new life. It's advisable to chat about these things at home, too. Click here to request tips on how to do this.
So by grade 4 or 5, if your son or daughter understands how our sexual organs work, and that for adults who feel safe with each other it can be pleasurable, as they respond to touch, sights or thoughts, then they'll be able to understand that some people - not all - like to look at 'sexy' pictures or videos.
You can prepare against whoopsies
In case they ever open a link by mistake, you can say something like, "Businesses make pictures or videos of naked women and men to sell to other people, and sometimes it just pops up on a computer screen. If you see something with naked people kissing or touching other people, it might be a shock. Just leave it and come and get me; it's not meant for children to see."
Here are two rather shocking statistics from Janet McGeever's TEDTalk It's called making love, isn't it? In Australia, an estimated
Both girls and boys need to learn about healthy, respectful sexuality from adults they respect and trust.
What do we as adults need to know about today's pornography?
The truth is, I have been agonising over what and how much to tell you here. Some time ago, I was asked to prepare a short presentation on the effects of pornography on young people, and it opened a Pandora's box for me. Reading and researching about it is a sobering and shocking activity.
in my workshop Fathers Celebrating Daughters, I provide dads with a booklet that includes info from some of the resources I've accessed. Really, though, dealing with pornography and its effects for a parent in today's world merits a workshop in itself. Would you be interested? Brave enough to attend?
Pornography in the 1980s was pictures of semi-naked or naked people, or videos of people having sex. Now, that type is considered 'softcore porn', and we see this style in everyday advertising and TV shows. 'Hardcore porn' is graphic and the majority of it features acts of aggression which are nearly all directed towards females.
What I've learned about pornography and young people
Young people who use pornography to learn about bodies and sex create unrealistic expectations for what male and female bodies should look like. This distorts their own body image in the process. They also form an impression of how people should act when having sex. Video images burn into our memory, and what we are exposed to at a young age influences our sexual tastes and fantasies.
It is also very easy to become addicted, and excessive use directly affects the user's self-esteem, perception of and respect for women and the ability to relate and function in a relationship. Norman Doidge explains in The brain that changes itself how the addict's mind becomes wired to anticipation of the high, without any long-lasting relief, leading to the need for another hit, just like gambling or heroin.
But my child is so young...
I know the idea of your own child engaging in intimacy with a partner may seem so remote, and the likelihood of them wanting to watch pornography so unlikely that you feel it couldn't affect them.
But the reality is that pornification has intensified incredibly in the world around us; our young people are affected by seeing advertising, music videos, celebrities and internet use (about 30% of all internet downloads are pornography). Even if they aren't exposed to any of this, they can't help being in contact with other young people and adults who are.
It's not always easy to see or articulate pornification of our world. Like being a frog in a pot that becomes used to the rising temperature, we forget to react to sexualised images like the big breasts, flowing hair and tiny waists of modern Disney characters, as explained in the Stop Porn Culture presentation It's easy out here for a pimp.
We can do something about this. We can look after and love our own bodies, stay aware of the age-appropriate issues and inform and inspire our daughters and sons to do the same.
Here's to a healthy world replete with fulfilling relationships!
-Janoel Liddy is passionate about girls and women recognizing and acting on their needs to lead a satisfying life. She teaches puberty and wellbeing to girls and boys in schools, facilitates workshops and retreats and works with groups in TAFE, university and community organisations in training and events. She is a mother of two with her partner of over two decades and dances, cooks, reads and writes when she can and must.