A recent article, "Sex Before Kissing: 15-Year-Old Girls Dealing With Porn Addicted Boys," describes how pornography is affecting young boys' brains, turning them into misogynistic aggressors who might objectify and assault girls in the course of what they consider to be "normal" sexual practices.
"We need to have a talk," I announced to my middle school daughters after reading the article which reported an 8th grade girl responding to the question, "How do you know a guy likes you?" with: "He still wants to talk to you after you [give him oral sex]."
Eighth grade? My oldest daughter is in 8th grade!
My girls heard the intensity in my tone and gave each other their patented Uh-Oh-We-Must-Be-In-Trouble look.
"Don't worry, you're not in trouble," I reassured them. "This is just a 'teaching moment'" (I've patented those).
They groaned in two-part harmony. Eyes rolled back in their heads. Then slogged, rather than walked, into my bedroom.
I closed the door behind me in order to spare their father the discomfort of the topic I was about to broach and to make it more difficult for my girls to flee.
"I want to talk to you about pornography."
The air bristled with discomfort. I'd rather eat fat-free foods and abstain from yummy carbs than talk to my kids about porn.
First of all, I was raised by the generation that believed if you don't say something it won't happen. You didn't talk to kids about "sex" back in the day because you didn't want to put the idea into their heads!
While that was faulty reasoning to begin with, today's virtual glut of porn on any device makes it irresponsible not to speak up.
"Have you ever seen porn?" I began. My daughters are around the same age I was when my friend Anastasia showed me her mother's (a divorcée it should be noted) collection of pornographic magazines.
They said they hadn't seen it and had no interest in seeing it. Still, according to several sources, they will not be immune to its effects as it's highly likely boys they date in high school and college will be steady consumers.
A recent Washington Post article reported:
"In a study of U.S. college men, researchers found that 83 percent reported seeing mainstream pornography, and that those who did were more likely to say they would commit rape or sexual assault (if they knew they wouldn't be caught) than men who hadn't seen porn in the past 12 months."
I felt it best I read the Sex Before Kissing article to them aloud so it wouldn't be a conversation about sexual morality from a freaked out mom, rather a confab about sexual and emotional safety from a non-parent source.
"Have any of your male friends asked you to send them nude photographs of yourself?" I asked (apparently this is quite common as early as middle school!)
Their answer was a resounding 'no.' Neither of them had male friends that have that on their radar. Maybe these boys haven't watched porn. Or maybe they've accessed it, but aren't acting-out on it. Yet.
These are the bullet points I offered my daughters:
- Pornography doesn't represent "real sex."
Once I finished my speechifying, which normally annoys them, I was surprised they wanted to discuss the topic further.
They informed me that in their middle school sexual innuendos were on the rise, but as a source of humor, not a source of harassment or bullying.
When it comes to 'actual' sexual activity, they were certain some kids might be dabbling, but they imagined the number to be quite low. Also, they'd never heard of girls being sexually bullied on or offline on their campus.
This was all very reassuring for the time being.
But I've become aware pornography isn't going away. It's a problem and we parents have to be willing to discuss it, not just with our daughters, but with our sons as well.
To quote the conclusion of Sex Before Kissing:
"Porn is full of ideals and beliefs that are completely opposite of what real relationships, real sex, and real love are like. Healthy relationships are built on equality, honesty, respect, and love. But in porn, it's the reverse; interactions are based on domination, disrespect, abuse, violence, and detachment. Our generation is the first to deal with the issue of pornography to this intensity and scale (...) if we don't take a stand, the problem is only going to get worse and worse."
Have you talked to your kids about pornography? Parents of boys, have you noticed this to be a problem? And if so, how have you dealt with it?
If you liked this article, you might enjoy Shannon's piece about avoiding sex in high school. Or sign-up for her newsletter here.