Parenting

Porn's Not Going Anywhere, So Let's Embrace Porn Literacy

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I can’t say I know many people in my circle who admit to watching – or having watched – pornography. And if they do cop to it, they are quick to pull a Bill Clinton: “… I experimented … a time or two, and I didn’t like it … and never tried it again.” Who knows the exact reasons why people lie; they just do. But whether casual viewers or devoted acolytes, people are consuming porn, and lots of it.

Though many might cite these numbers as indicative of a malignant “porndemic,” Milton Diamond, director of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, argues that the evidence that porn has negative effects is just not there. Rather, “findings suggest that suppressing the desire to view pornography … might actually strengthen the urge for it and exacerbate sexual problems” and that people exposed to porn may actually be less likely to commit sex crimes, because pornography offers them “a safe, private outlet for deviant sexual desires.

The anti-porn faction is not convinced. According to psychologist Philip Zimbardo, porn is the cause of men’s widespread fear of intimacy and is responsible for rewiring boys’ brains to seek sexual novelty and excitement. Others see porn as inherently misogynist and argue that it “trivializes rape, sexual aggression, and other forms of abuse” and condones violence against women.”

Recently, pop star Billie Eilish joined the conversation. “I think it really destroyed my brain,” she told Howard Stern in a recent interview, “and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn.”

I have to say that, until I was an adult, I only thought of porn as something I didn’t want to get caught looking at. The first time I remember seeing lady nipples was on a scrap of a comic book illustration in the crawl space under the family room; the first time I saw full-on crotch shots was in 3rd grade when we found Mary Lewis’s dad’s Beaver Hunt stash; and the first time I saw a shaky-camera porn (with actual and gobsmacking penetration) was on a rented VCR with my 6th grade friends.

Of course, my 1980s cadre didn’t have access like these kids do today. But, the point is, my prepubescent posse scrounged around for porn any way we could—even if it meant breaking into our parents’ lock-and-key porn library or flashlighting around in damp, rat-nesty cellars. It didn’t matter that it was difficult to find, because we were going to find it even if it killed us.

And nothing’s changed. Kids sniffed out porn back then, kids sniff out porn today, and future kids will keep the sniffing tradition strong. Whether we’re comfortable with it or not, the undeniable truth is this: porn is here to stay.

To combat this reality, some activists believe it’s essential to teach our kids porn literacy – which, like sex education, isn’t about taking a pro or con stance. Rather, it’s about recognizing that pornography is ubiquitous and attainable with the click of a button. Porn literacy’s sole mission, according to New York Times contributor Peggy Orenstein, is “to reduce risk, help identify and question the incessant messages that bombard teens, encourage them to hone their values and give them more agency over their experience.”

The public education system is most likely not jumping on the porn literacy bandwagon too soon (some districts still resist including general sex ed in their curriculums), and there are only a handful of programs that address it. And so, the onus/responsibility/privilege of creating a dialogue is ours as parents.

Marty Klein, Ph.D., certified sex therapist and author, doesn’t mince words: “If adults are unwilling to talk with kids about porn (beyond ‘it’s crap, stay away from it’), don’t blame porn. If as a result kids think that porn is real, don’t blame porn. And if adults are unwilling to provide kids with decent sex education, don’t blame porn for being the default sex education for millions of kids.”

Groups like Defend Young Minds recognize that “it is only a matter of ‘when’ your child will see porn, not ‘if’.” Their publications, like “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures,” teach children to “turn, run, and tell!” when they see (or are shown) pornography. For the 3 to 6-year-old target audience, this practical strategy makes a lot of sense.

What else makes a lot of sense is continuing to educate our kids as they grow and are bombarded by more and more porn. And so, without a doubt, investing in — or acquiescing to — porn literacy is key.

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