- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Porn And Parenting

Asks a parenting columnist for The New York Times: [1]

How do you point a teenager towards the “right” porn?

The point being that teenage boys these days are bound to watch pornography, so a responsible parent encourages his or her son to watch healthy porn, versus the vilest stuff. Where would we be without parenting columnists in The New York Times? In her follow-up post [2], she endorses this advice from a reader:

Three teenage boys — and I have survived! Interestingly enough, my Catholic raised husband shies away from down & dirty sex talk with the boys so it falls to me. Frank, frequent, and honest is the way to go. We have one openly gay son (our “sex rules” are the same whether gay or straight: show respect for yourself and your partner, and also for how we raised you), one who is off to college (I am thinking of buying him a carton of condoms …) and one almost 16 yo with steady girlfriend & I KNOW they are active. He was shocked to learn (from me) that you can get someone pregnant without actually “going in.”

All 3 were “busted” looking at porn on their computers and all 3 got the same message from me: nothing wrong with the human body, definitely nothing wrong with sex, watching too much can potentially de-sensitize you to what is real, and when you finally find that true love, you will not need to watch porn anymore to rock your world! … Last but not least Mom’s Rules of the Road: if she tells you she is on the pill, or if he says he has “tested negative” — wear a condom anyway. Your young life is too exciting to be interrupted by an unintended pregnancy or horrifying STD.

Same planet, different worlds, me and this morally insane person.

Nevertheless, it is true that parents today face an unprecedented task in protecting our kids from pornography, thanks to the Internet. In my teenage boy years, we had to work hard to find dirty magazines, which were actually mild compared to what’s out there today with a few clicks of the mouse. We’re lucky that our oldest son, the one who will become a teenager next month (!), is actually pretty strict on himself. He’s the kid who will say, “Dad, this movie (or book) is not appropriate for me,” and walk out or set the book down. But we have a second son, and we can tell already that his temperament is a lot different. Can I have some advice from some of you who believe, as I do, that no amount of pornography is “right”?

I worry about my children, growing up in a world in which porn has become mainstreamed. I especially worry about my daughter, having to find a husband among males, many of whom have been watching this stuff since they were teenagers.

Advertisement
73 Comments (Open | Close)

73 Comments To "Porn And Parenting"

#1 Comment By Coleman On August 14, 2012 @ 12:20 am

Agree with many points that have been made so far, especially Darel’s 4 points. For myself, I wasn’t able to break my porn habit until I was around twenty (after starting when I was 16 or so). I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it without the ability to simply say, “This is a sin against God,” and prayer for His help to resist. You could’ve given me all the psychological research in the world about how it would make me objectify women, etc., and I would’ve found ways to wiggle around or say, “No, I don’t see that happening.” It wasn’t until after I’d been free of it for over a year that I was able to see those effects it had had on me. Of course, those reasons (seeing people as objects) are why it’s a sin against God, but before getting to the point where that realization was helpful, just thinking “God says not to do this” gave me more strength than anything. And even then I tried and failed many many times before being freed of the addiction. Not sure what the best way to help as a parent is, though, other than as a Christian trying to instill the general value of repentance – if my parents had been pushing repentance of that in particular I might have pushed back against them.

#2 Comment By NoahG. On August 14, 2012 @ 12:57 am

I’m a bit late but I just wanted to say: Wow! such great insights in a few of these comments… I’ve honestly been given a small amount of hope for our future after reading this.

We old-fashioned folk can surely weather this storm. 🙂

#3 Comment By brians On August 14, 2012 @ 1:17 am

Give your boys a healthy fear of eternal damnation. Porn destroys your soul. A little fire & brimstone can be good for you high-churchy types.

Porn also destroys your sex life. “Son, you wanna grow up & have great sex with your wife? Don’t look @ porn.

#4 Comment By Surly On August 14, 2012 @ 1:25 am

I’m sure my kids saw porn at some point during their adolescence, but thankfully it never came to my attention.

Here’s how we did it: Family computer in a room where we could keep an eye on them, no TVs or other electronics in their rooms until they were 16 or so, and the rule was that you could read anything you pick up, but we did not allow a lot of TV or movies, and we never had any type of gaming consoles or gameboys or anything in the house.

Still-it was a LOT easier to control things before about 2005. I would do the same things today, but the best thing is just to make your values and expectations clear, hold kids accountable if they fail to meet your standards (and by this I mean with homework or chores or how they treat other people–believe me it all is related), laugh with them a lot, let them watch Monty Python, and hope for the best. Oh, and going to church and sending them to a school that reflects those values is important too, but the best defense against getting involved with things like violent videogames and online porn is to make sure your kids have lots of positive things to fill their days, good role models and examples, and a good solid understanding of why casual sex and porn and things like that are wrong. Not because sex itself is wrong, but because it devalues and the dignity of all humans who are made in God’s image.

#5 Comment By Oisín On August 14, 2012 @ 4:45 am

“Protecting Your Kids From Inappropriate On-Line Material”:

[3]

I love point 11: “Replace your children with responsible adults.”

#6 Comment By Another Matt On August 14, 2012 @ 9:16 am

I don’t think this is going to be a very popular opinion, but I think porn (broadly construed – this could just be romance/sex novels or kama sutra) has two important potential functions:

1) Men with low testosterone can use it to, as it were, help themselves “self medicate,” without the fertility difficulties presented by the creams and gels.

2) Plenty of couples watch/read porn together to find out about positions, techniques, scenarios, etc. they would not have thought of on their own.

One more thing — if you want to insulate your kids from porn, do not let them join the military.

#7 Comment By Tim On August 14, 2012 @ 9:23 am

I’m addicted to porn. I fight it consistently, but I always lose. It has nearly destroyed any possibility of a healthy sexual relationship with my wife. For example, I cannot have sex without fantasizing about “pornish” scenarios. I’ve done many other unspeakable things. Prayer has not released me from its grip which further discourages me. In short, my experience is that porn is poison.

#8 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 14, 2012 @ 10:06 am

Re: And I don’t think you can really call the SI swimsuit issue anything but soft-core porn. My teenage friends certainly did, and I highly doubt any of their fathers were using it to help decide what to buy mom for the next family vacation at the beach.

Well, yeah, clearly. I don’t think that kind of relatively mild stuff for sexual stimulation counts as *porn* per se, though depending on how strict you are, it might still be considered immoral. I think there’s still a pretty clear distinction between that sort of stuff, and actual porn.

This is kind of the distinction I’m drawing:

“I’m guessing that this whole conversation hinges on the definition of the word “porn”. If we use “porn” to refer to “hardcore sexual acts videoed by live performers”, then yeah, I’m more inclined to agree with you, Rod. If “porn” more broadly encompasses “eroticism in media”, then there could be more wiggle room.”

#9 Comment By JT On August 14, 2012 @ 11:29 am

As with most things, your kids will learn more from your actions vs. your words. How do you protect yourself from the temptation of porn? My two teenage sons know that I have internet filters on my laptop and on my iPhone that alert several of my male friends if I visit a porn site. My sons also know that I meet once a week with a small group of men — some married in their 40s, some single in their 20s – and we try and keep each other accountable in all areas of life that relate to character, self-discipline and being the men we want to be. Porn is a struggle for several of these men and it has caused pain and hurt in their lives. I let my sons know that this will likely be a temptation for their entire lives and have honest conversations about porn’s attraction, why people choose to view porn, and why it is unhealthy.

#10 Comment By Judith On August 14, 2012 @ 11:40 am

I know how backward this is going to sound. But I had no idea how much porn was available online until I got an internet connection at home and outside the office, just a few months ago. Then, one day, I spent hours investigating BDSM websites and blogs, and was stunned, not just at the content, but at the endlessness of it.

I have no difficulty understanding the state of mind that Tim at 9:23 AM admits to. I think porn produces a chemical change in the brain.

Yes it is obvious, and therefore easy to say, that it is degrading to women. But don’t men feel degraded by this?

In my experience, both personally, and in observing other women, women are quickly affected physically by everything. But men are affected too, it just sometimes takes a few decades before the after affects settle in, and then sometimes it’s too late to undo the consequences.

It may be more helpful with male children to focus one’s teaching on how self respect is developed, rather than focussing on respect for the opposite gender which must seem alien to them anyway. And for that, focussing on all the seemingly inconsequential life habits, rather than on porn itself may be productive: how you speak, how you dress, how you control your emotions your time and your schedule etc…

#11 Comment By Rod Dreher On August 14, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

I haven’t had the chance to dive into this thread, but I appreciate many of the comments here. One thing that I recognize as a common view, but one that I absolutely reject, is the idea that there is a “normal” level of porn that we should accept. As a Christian, at least, that is absolutely wrong.

Judith wrote: Yes it is obvious, and therefore easy to say, that it is degrading to women. But don’t men feel degraded by this?

Yes, I do, and that’s partly why I don’t experience any temptation to it. I only looked at it occasionally as a teenager, mostly, I think, because it was so inaccessible. The first, and only, pornographic film I saw was as a sophomore in college, in an apartment I was renting with a bunch of guys. One of them put on a porn video, and everybody was sitting around laughing at it. It felt really wrong, and degrading to me. I was at the beginning of my long process of Christian conversion, so I can’t be sure to what extent that response was natural, and to what extent it was learned (e.g., “I should feel bad about watching this.”) All I remember is that it felt disgusting, and I walked away.

Many years later, in 2002, I was researching a magazine piece I was writing, and had to look at some softcore sites for about 15 minutes. It was bizarre; I felt as if I were being drugged. That’s how my brain and my body responded. It took a significant amount of self-control to make myself stop — and this was pretty mild stuff, these images. It was a real cautionary moment for me, and a reminder of how powerful this stuff can be.

I think perhaps the best way to help children grow up with a healthy and effective ability to resist this stuff is to teach them how to say no to things that they may desire, but that their reason tells them are bad for them. That is the antithesis of what this culture tells them about anything.

#12 Comment By Church Lady On August 14, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

My view, and my experience, is that acting like a helicopter-parent-from-hell is the worst, most abusive parenting style out there, short of actually abusing one’s kids.

I NEVER limited the computer usage of my kids, who were both avid geeks from an early age. I just brought them up to be smart and sensible, and actively showed them respect and trust. This made them into trusting and respectful people. I know, what a miracle. They knew about porn, just weren’t much interested in it. I didn’t try to prohibit it, or make it into something special, and so it never became especially interesting to them.

I bet if I’d done the opposite, as many here seem to advocate, the results would have been the opposite.

And setting up this whole dynamic of sex vs religion, just messes up both in the minds of kids. Praying to God for protection against porn? I’d rather pray to God for protection against these kinds of neurotic parents. They will mess kids up worse than porn will. And I’ve seen the proof in many, many cases.

#13 Comment By lancelot lamar On August 14, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

Tim,

I was where you are for a long time in my life. I lost my career and almost my family because of it. Please don’t despair.

Self condemnation and shame do not and will not work, and are part of the addiction. The desire itself–the heart of the desire for porn, the longing, craving, need–has to be accepted as the mainspring of who you are, and lifted up to God. His love and Spirit are the answer to it, the real fulfillment of the heart’s need.

In connecting that desperate need to God, the porn will start to fall away. But don’t focus on the falling away. That can’t be your goal, to overcome the porn. As long as you are fighting it, it will beat you every time. Focus only on your need, accepting it honestly, and on lifting it up to God. God is your only goal.

Self condemnation and shame–which are a nasty form of pride in thinking our self-hatred can overcome our neediness–have to be laid aside first. Porn is just showing us how desperate and hungry our hearts are, which is the true condition of everyone’s heart. Blessed are the poor in spirit, says Jesus, for to them belong the kingdom of God. The desperate need revealed by porn is something to be embraced; it is the gateway to God’s kingdom for us.

Some may have their desperate need focused on other things, more or less respectable–alcohol, drugs, money, food, success, power–and porn is part of that line of idols. But it’s not the desire that’s the problem, we were created to desire; it’s what the desire holds on to.

True repentance is not religious striving or religious self-condemnation, which focus on the self. True repentance is looking beyond ourselves to God, letting go of ourselves, and letting His Spirit and love meet our deepest longings. It’s a beautiful and blessed thing when it happens. And porn, which seems so huge to you now as it did to me, will become small, because, compared to God’s love, it is.

#14 Comment By Elijah On August 14, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

Interesting responses. I liked Darel’s Four Rules. They are not a substitute for teaching respect and the value of human life. As others have pointed out, all porn is dehumanizing and is eventually corrosive (emotionally, for sure).

There are plenty of testimonies on line from men and women whose lives were wrecked by pornography. Talk to your kids about that aspect of it. Remind them that all sins (with the possible exception of envy) feel good at the time we do them – or else we wouldn’t – but they can have far-reaching effects.

I know many wonderful young men – and women, too – who fall into the slippery slope porn trap. They start with shows that objectify sex but make it look romantic (One Tree Hill was a great example), move on to pseudo hip ca-ca like “Californication” and end up watching porn. When confronted, they had no idea how they ended up there. Several were Christians, one a Muslim, which only goes to prove the human genius for rationalization.

Encourage your older son’s instincts – and thank God that He gave him such good ones! – and let your ‘little’ one hear some of the conversations for now.

#15 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On August 14, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

Re: One thing that I recognize as a common view, but one that I absolutely reject, is the idea that there is a “normal” level of porn that we should accept. As a Christian, at least, that is absolutely wrong.

To be clear, I’m not saying that there is a normal level of actual porn (as in, like, sexually explicit imagery) that we should accept. I think there’s a place for erotic media in the world, and I think it’s probably inevitable that some people are going to abuse them (which I think is probably a sin, but not an especially serious one). I think explicit sexual imagery, i.e. actual pornography, is something different, and much bigger problem.

#16 Comment By Judith On August 14, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

Thank you Lancelot. Although porn is not an ongoing problem for me, quite a few other time wasters are. So I’ve substituted one word from your own, so I can apply it directly:

“‘sin’ is just showing us how desperate and hungry our hearts are, which is the true condition of everyone’s heart”

#17 Comment By Tim On August 14, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

@ lancelot lamar

Thank you for the comforting and helpful words.

[Note from Rod: If you guys want me to put you in touch via e-mail, I can — assuming the e-mail addresses you have on file with this site are valid. — RD]

#18 Comment By Monterey On August 14, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

It really IS a concern about our daughters finding men to marry who don’t have some kind of porn problem. From an article in Christianity Today:

“Seventy percent of American men ages 18–34 view Internet pornography once a month. This shocking fact is one of many that CT consulting editor John W. Kennedy found during his research for this month’s cover story, “Help for the Sexually Desperate” (page 28).

Don’t assume that porn isn’t a problem in the church. One evangelical leader was skeptical of survey findings that said 50 percent of Christian men have looked at porn recently. So he surveyed his own congregation. He found that 60 percent had done so within the past year, and 25 percent within the past 30 days. Other surveys reveal that one in three visitors to adult websites are women.”

#19 Comment By Monterey On August 14, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

[4]

#20 Comment By lancelot lamar On August 14, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

Rod, that would be fine if Tim is interested. I will email you a better address to reach me.

#21 Comment By Douglas Bilodeau On August 14, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

I think actual direct coercion of women in the US is rare (maybe not rare elsewhere). But there is a more subtle dynamic of entrapment. There is a (in my opinion) stunning slap-in-the-face, reality-check, barely-got-out-alive testimonial here (warning – the audio is earnest but unflinchingly graphic, not for young ears):

[5]

and a thoughtful one here from a once very-highly paid, soft-core-only model:

[6]

Also, though I haven’t read it, there is a recent book by Jennie Ketcham (better known under a ‘nom de porn’) on leaving the ‘industry’ and getting her life back, titled “I Am Jennie”.

But this is not just a question of porn. On the consumer side of the question, if there were no commercial porn at all, conventional entertainment, advertising and even everyday person-to-person encounters could serve the same function for many impressionable minds. I have a vague recollection of reading long ago an anthology of Erasmus in which he advised young scholars to avert their eyes and run for safety if they happened to cross paths with a woman on the city streets at night. That strategy isn’t going to help in today’s culture (if it ever did).

On the supply side, I think a similar ‘slow quicksand’ dynamic is at work in many shady businesses, or shady sides of legitimate businesses, of very different sorts. Nearly any activity (maybe even stamp collecting?) can tempt us down a “this isn’t so bad”, “everybody does it”, “it’s too late to change now” path to a very dark place.

#22 Comment By C Herman On August 14, 2012 @ 10:05 pm

I didn’t see any hard core porn until I was 26. I can only imagine what a different effect there would have been, both upon my sexual activity (I am 35 and still a virgin) and my perception of sexuality, if I had been exposed to the hard core stuff as a teenager.

But I don’t think the issue is one of “steering”. The individual who watches porn will tend to either get deeper into the various perversions portrayed, looking for a bigger “high”, or their curiosity will get satisfied, and they will hopefully move on to a real relationship, or they will keep going back to whatever things they like as a substitution in the absence of the availability of the real thing. Some studies have said that most people are only drawn to the type of sex they would seek in real life anyway. I can attest to this – threesomes, and lesbian couplings, and much worse – are not appealing to me. And in fact after one has seen so much, there is not really much new to see, because it’s all pretty formulaic, and the only reason to watch anything is because you may see someone extraordinarily beautiful and/or sexy. And yet, it’s a tragedy, because sex was not meant to be a spectator sport, and there’s no way that the real love that passes between a couple can replicated as entertainment, and on those rare occasions where you see something that approaches that, it feels inappropriately voyeuristic. Sex can be a performance, but making love ought to be private.

The most important thing I think of is to make sure that the teenager intuitively understands the objective truth of sexual morality, that he knows what he is looking for in a mate, that he is secure in his maleness apart from needing sexual affirmation from a woman, and that same-age relationships with girls are watched carefully, but also with complete seriousness about adolescent feelings, which may be immature but also very real.

#23 Comment By Mike On August 14, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

This thread has been a pleasant surprise, both in its clarity and honesty. We don’t really talk much about porn in our society, and it was intriguing to read the stories of people who have been damaged by it.