teach your children well

You know how when most people say “I have this kind of embarrassing question, but I’m asking for a friend?” they’re transparently asking for themselves? Well, I have a question for a friend (or rather that my friend asked me that I didn’t have a good answer for, and rapidly found interesting enough to bring to a wider audience), and it’s sort of tangentially not worksafe, but since it involves having a 13-year-old son (which last I checked, I do not), I get to say with assurance that it really is for a friend. So here goes:

Is there any “how to talk to your teenager about pornography” parenting-advice material — books, web pages, what have you — that doesn’t completely suck?

I spent some time combing through the most popular google search results for “talking to kids about porn”, and oh my god the stupid it burns. Just wall-to-wall awful. Here’s a quote from the number one search result:

You need to be worried about your son’s frequent, intense relationship with pornography primarily because of what it teaches him about sex and women. If you allow porn to be the principal sex educator of your son, you risk serious impairment of his healthy psychosexual development. Porn will teach him that girls and women want and enjoy being sexually used, dominated, and humiliated by men. It will encourage your son to try out the harmful fantasies that porn offers, including the fantasy that women secretly want to be taken forcibly or that they want to be raped. Porn will teach your son to objectify women, to treat them as toys who exist solely for his sexual gratification. Pornography is devoid of tenderness, caring, or loving in its images.
How do you compress that much Wrong into a single paragraph? Oh, I know: make sweeping generalizations, avoid historical context at all cost, omit any and all qualifying adjectives, and leap instantly to the reducto ad absurdem case! Feel free, you’ve got a Masters of Education, you’re qualified to do it!

…I mean, god knows, internet pornography has certainly turned me into exactly the sort of psychopathic monster described there.

So in my hypothetical perfect universe, there would be a “talking with your horny adolescent about porn” pamphlet that would contain the following:
  • No implicit anti-sex bias.
    • Acknowledge that porn has existed for a good long time.
    • Acknowledge that men and women have looked at (and created) porn for a very long time.
    • Acknowledge that masturbation is okay. (Seriously, you would be amazed at the amount of material on this subject that either never mentions it or only coyly alludes to it. It’s like they’re talking about porn as experienced and used by some alien species only distantly if at all related to humanity.)
  • An explanation that porn is (mostly) Not Real.
    • Emphasize that it’s a paid performance job.
    • Contextualize porn inside the larger world of fantasy entertainment (real police don’t act like they do on cop shows, so therefore..?)
    • Delve into the un-glamorous mechanics of producing porn: enemas, viagra, vats of lube, editing, lighting, overdubbing, photoshop, etc.
  • Healthy skepticism about the porn industry itself
    • Emphasize that it’s just a job, and it’s often a crappy job.
    • Explain the realities of how porn workers are often paid and treated.
    • Explore the incentives the profit motive creates.
    • Acknowledge that some pretty despicable behavior has and does gone on in the making of a lot of porn.
  • Reality-based commentary
    • Actual interviews with current and former performers, not just ex-officio pronouncements by some random PhD, and ideally a mix of positive and negative commentary.
    • Acknowledge the limits of generalization: “porn” encompasses a lot of territory, and different people will experience it differently both as producers and consumers
  • Actual historical background
    • Greek vases, the Song of Solomon, Sappho, Walt Whitman, 1920s muscle magazines: nothing takes the wind out of a teenager’s sails like realizing that he didn’t invent sex himself…
    • Some acknowledgement that there have always been wildly differing opinions on porn’s morality and effects, and that it’s an ongoing debate.

Does such a thing exist? Could such a thing exist? For that matter, is there some aspect of it that I’m missing?


(Politely, please. People who forget to cite sources or prefix opinions with “I think” will be swiftly and mercilessly disqualified by the judges.)

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I think this is an outline for your book.
Talking to your kid about porn...

yeah well, being German, out of curiosity I tried to browse German sites about the topic, but I was rather clueless how to phrase my search. The sites that matched my expectations tended to recommend to seek professional advice face to face. It is, after all, a delicate topic, and I agree that it is pointless to make general statements that fit the opinions and mindsets of a majority of people. I think it is a private matter between parents and their children, and every parent has the right to decide which point of view they want to communicate to their children. Parents should acknowledge, however, that their children may develop a point of view which is different from their own, as they probably will in many other aspects, too.

When I was a kid, I had access to porn from the moment I could climb a chair and reach into the upper shelves in my daddy's closet. I also had two brothers who were almost a whole generation older than I, and pulling the drawers from a locked cupboard and reaching for the porn (and porn comic strip) collection inside provided lots to satisfy my curiosity. I used my daddy's photographic porn for masturbation until I was disgusted with myself, and then I threw the stuff into the trash can (and then I started over again when there was fresh porn in the closet). Although I deprived my dad of his porn that way (shame on me for it), no one ever talked to me about what I was doing there. Everyone was too inhibited to discuss it.

I believe my dad certainly didn't think pornography was bad. Why else would he be looking at it? And I am sure my mum knew what I was doing, too. She also didn't tell me pornography was bad, for a good reason. She let her husband have his pornography, which kept him from resorting to whores or other women, although she wasn't sleeping with him much any more. In my opinion, pornography keeps men from becoming rapists.

One thing I am not quite sure about is if it is good to explain to the kids about the dark sides of the porn industry. If I was a vegetarian, I would not take my kid on a sightseeing tour through a slaughterhouse to discourage eating meat. So explaning that making porn is often a dirty job would strike me as too harsh. I would think that saying real life sex is most probably different from porn is enough.

So, my opinion is if you can't find a way how to talk about it with your kid, you won't do wrong if you don't talk about it at all and let your kids make their own experiences. No matter what you tell them (and what you don't), they have to find out for themselves.

I found one book in my daddy's closet which I would recommend if your kid likes to read: "Seven Erotic Minutes" by J.J. Jadway. (It's from 1970, and only available as a used book.) It is the story of a young woman emigrating from the US to France and finding her way to sexual liberation. It is told from the woman's point of view, it is pretty arousing, but in an almost feministic way.