My 14-Year-Old Daughter Watched Porn And It Changed Our Lives In Ways I Never Imagined

As we sat there in the dark, I asked her some pointed questions and she gave some very uncomfortable answers.
TARIK KIZILKAYA via Getty Images

One fateful night in November 2014 my then-14-year-old daughter woke up my husband and me at 2 a.m.

Crying and visibly distraught, she whispered, “Mom, I have to tell you something.”

Those dreaded words are guaranteed to jolt even the deepest sleeper into full-alert mode. Immediately my mom brain raced through the usual suspects: Is she pregnant/on drugs/in serious trouble? Is one of her friends pregnant/on drugs/in serious trouble? Whatever the inspiration for her urgent need to talk to me in the middle of the night was, I knew I had to remain calm to keep her from freaking out any worse than she already was.

I sat up quietly. “OK. What’s up?” I asked her as evenly as possible.

Instead of answering me, she handed me her iPhone. That act alone spoke to the severity of the situation ― normally she barely let me look at her phone, let alone lay my paws on it. I braced myself for the awful bullying text or threats or even naked photos I worried were awaiting my eyes, but instead, I found myself looking down at a webpage with some formal-sounding legalese scrolling across it. Confusion completely swallowed my fear.

“What is this?” I asked.

Looking everywhere but at me, she replied, “I’ve been watching porn and the FBI has tracked me.”

Instantly my mind flipped into freak-out mode: WTF! Porn?! Is the FBI going to be knocking on my door? Is that a siren I hear? Would they call first? Could she go to jail? Would she be tried as an adult? Do I need to get her a lawyer? How much would a lawyer even cost for something like this? Wait ― is porn even illegal? Stop it, Amelia! Your little girl needs you. Breathe.

There is almost nothing that could have shocked me more. As the mother of a girl, I had imagined so many of the difficult conversations and situations I would have with my daughter as she grew to womanhood. Since she was 14, I assumed we had already had all the “big” conversations: periods, sex, online safety, respecting her body, drugs and alcohol, helping friends.

Those chats had, for the most part, all gone well ― so much so that I really thought I had this parenting thing in the bag. I knew it wasn’t enough to speak to your kids about these potentially tricky subjects only once and that parents should work to establish an ongoing dialogue with their kids about them whenever possible.

And much to my kids’ chagrin, I was committed to open and honest communication with them. In fact, my approach has always been that if I hear or read anything pertaining to “growing up” topics or experiences, I will bring them up with my kids ― no matter how awkward or difficult those topics or experiences might be.

But porn? I never even considered that I would have to have this discussion with any of my kids until my son, who is almost 5 years younger than his sister, hit puberty. Unfortunately ― and perhaps naively ― having to discuss adult content with my daughter had never even appeared on my Mom Radar.

As we sat there in the dark, I asked her some pointed questions and she gave some very uncomfortable answers. No, she never chatted with anyone about porn. No, she never contacted anyone, and no one ever contacted her asking her to send nude pictures of herself. No, she never made any porn videos or posted them online. Yes, she watched videos of adults having sex. No, she never watched any videos of children, and no, she is not attracted to children. (“Ewww, gross, Mom!”) Yes, she is attracted to both men and women.

“As the mother of a girl, I had imagined so many of the difficult conversations and situations I would have with my daughter as she grew to womanhood. ... But porn? I never even considered that I would have to have this discussion.”

As we talked, my brain and heart began to settle. My husband and I realized her confessions and experiences were probably not all that different than those we normally hear about regarding teenage boys getting caught in similar situations. Adolescents ― both boys and girls ― are curious about sex. From the beginning of time, kids have been sneaking glimpses at graphic pictures and telling explicit stories.

Yet we usually only hear about boys looking at supposedly “naughty” things, even though girls are just as curious about sex as boys. With boys, viewing porn is almost expected or seen as some kind of rite of passage. With girls, well, I don’t even know what it’s like, because our culture so rarely addresses or talks about why girls might want to look at porn ― or when and why it might be useful for them to do so versus when and why it can be damaging.

As I watched her sitting on a little corner of the bed, cocooned in her shame with her teeth clacking from nerves, I realized that while I could understand her embarrassment, she really did not have anything to feel ashamed about. She was simply curious.

After we talked and she went back to bed, a little quick sleuthing assured me that she was not actually going to be arrested. The pop-up message that appeared on her phone was actually just that ― a spammy ad that wasn’t really generated by the FBI. I do not know who or what put it there, but it actually turned out to be a good thing for my teen. It got her talking to me ― and about so much more than porn.

Even after banishing her fear of the FBI swarming our home, her nerves were not immediately calmed. I reminded her of the words I have said to her countless times since she was born: “Sweetie, I love you no matter what.” When I asked her if she believed me, she gave that teenage “I don’t know” shrug, and so I looked her right in the eye and told her, “I have always loved you no matter what. This is one of the ‘no matter what’ times and it doesn’t change anything about how I feel for you.”

She looked stunned, which in turn shocked me. I try to show my kids and tell them every day that I love them. But at that moment I worried maybe she believed it had all just been lip service. This incident truly felt like our first real test of whether I really meant the words I had been repeatedly telling her all of these years.

Three years later, my daughter is now 17 and a junior in high school. There have been some difficult times to get through, but I’m proud to say that she is a really decent young woman. Her early forays into porn-watching did not turn her into a crazed sex fiend. She did not fornicate her way through her teen years, and she does not equate sex and love.

In fact, she ended up waiting until after her 17th birthday to go on her first date and she’s still happily dating that young man. She had seen friends and classmates dating people just to date, but she wanted her first date to be with someone she felt a connection with and she didn’t move forward until she was ready. It was her own choice ― just as it should have been.

“I would never have believed a late-night conversation about porn with my 14-year-old daughter would end up being a defining moment in our relationship, but it was.”

I would never have believed a late-night conversation about porn with my 14-year-old daughter would end up being a defining moment in our relationship, but it was. After that night, she seemed to realize she truly could tell me anything and I would listen to her. Loving her “no matter what” became more than words to her.

A lot of the walls between us came down and the secretive teenager who hid away in her room started spending more time with the rest of our family. She played board games, went to see movies, had discussions about current events, and told us how she was feeling about things happening in her life. She discussed issues she was having with her friends and asked me things like, “Is that normal? Should I be worried about A or B?”

But the changes weren’t just in my daughter’s life ― the experience woke me up, too. I realized that my 14-year-old was so curious about sex that she had turned to porn for answers. I worried that any free porn she found online probably did not depict healthy, loving and respectful interactions or relationships ― and may not even be delivering her accurate information about what happens during sex, much less issues of consent or agency.

She and I started having a lot of conversations about respect for others and for herself, and she learned that if she respects herself, she will, more often than not, end up surrounding herself with people who respect her as well. That is my working theory anyway.

I like to think I would have taught her about these issues anyway, but would I have understood the importance of having these conversations with her when she was only 14 and not even dating yet? I don’t know. I might have waited or I might not have approached the topics with such urgency and clarity, and she might have faced some unthinkably high cost because of it.

I only have three years of anecdotal evidence based on one teenage girl, but so far she has cut all ties with a former friend who manipulated her, and she has left behind acquaintances who did not respect her boundaries or made her feel less of herself. That’s hard stuff for even adults to manage successfully. My girl reads a lot of articles about anxiety to try to learn more about her own, and when things were really bad two years ago and she felt like hurting herself, she told me. There was no shame in her voice that time. Instead, she was able to articulate her fears about feeling such agonizing pain.

Now that my daughter is busy with her demanding high school classes and is dating, I do not get to see her as often as I once did for movie nights or marathon matches of Rummy 500. But every once in a while, she snuggles up with me on a couch and wants to watch TV with me or show me some goofy meme or cat video. I am so proud of her for taking the time to keep trying to learn who she is and what she wants for herself.

So, even though it sounds strange, porn improved my relationship with my daughter in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I was always so concerned with her learning about “good touch vs. bad touch” or her being molested that it completely slipped by me that she had reached the age where she was curious about sex and that she might be wondering what all the fuss was about. Then a scary pop-up message forced both of us to trust each other more than we had before.

My older son is turning 13 in a couple of weeks, and thanks to everything my husband and I experienced with our daughter, we now have a new ally in the house helping to teach my son about healthy relationships. My daughter actually talks with him about all kinds of stuff, and he listens to her a bit more than us because she’s the cool older sister and we are the boring parental units.

I am certain his teenage years will bring their own form of torture and drama for everyone in our home, but if he wakes us up in the middle of the night, freaking out because the FBI is tracking his porn viewing habits. ... Meh. We got this.

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