You Need to Talk to Your Kids About Online Porn. Really, You do.

teens on computersRecently, I wrote about how I got to teach my daughter a lesson about real life and the online worldwhen she got into a bit of virtual trouble. This week, I'm writing about acting pre-emptively. Because, well, as the Avenue Q song says:
The internet is for porn
The internet is for porn,
Why you think the net was born?
Porn porn porn

Despite the fact that Forbes Magazine recently reported that only 4% of internet traffic worldwide is to pornographic sites,  (a heartening statistic), the internet kind of is for porn. And the amount of porn is besides the point.  It's the accessibility I'm worried about.

Just as my daughter stumbled into a seemingly innocent virtual world, and was blindsided when a virtual guy made a crude pass at her, so could my twelve year old son innocently (or not so innocently - that stage is coming soon enough) stumble upon internet porn.  (That same Forbes article mentioned that 10-15% of all internet searches are for porn - more if you calculate men's searches only.)

Today's Porn: It's not Your Father's Playboy

I'm not thrilled by it -- but I'm OK with boys looking at dirty pictures. Generations of boys grew into perfectly fine men whilst hiding a few Playboys under their mattresses.  The problem is, internet porn makes those days look downright innocent.  Internet porn is not beautifully shot, suggestive photos of airbrushed girls.  It can be raw, violent, subversive, fetishistic -- and available all day, every day, at the click of a button.

What I'll call "extreme" porn - videos that are exploitative of women, or implicitly endorse violence towards women, denigrate or fetishize them - disgust me, but don't worry me in the context of my son.  Maybe I'm naive, but I think that if he stumbled upon these kinds of videos, he would be freaked out and click away as quickly as possible.

What worries me is the more garden variety porn he'll see -- and in his pre-pubescent lack of experience, take for garden variety sex.

Fantasy v Reality

I have nothing against porn.  Though the industry is sleazy, and some women are de-facto forced into it, I do believe that many make a choice, and make a living.  Fine for them.  My problem is that young boys seeing a never-ending loop of porn videos, seeing women eager to jump any man who delivers a pizza, will expect the girls they know to do the same.

I'm worried my tween daughter will think that's how she's "supposed to" behave, too.

I've written about why I would never get a Brazilian Bikini Wax - and it's partly because I refuse to let porn-style grooming dictate how my private parts should look. But mostly, it's because  I don't want my daughter thinking she needs to groom herself like a porn star to be attractive to men.  And I don't want my son expecting the girls he dates to look (or act) like porn stars either.

So what's a mother to do?

Talk to him.

Seems obvious, but just as lots of parents don't have the sex talk, or the drugs and alcohol talk, they don't have the internet safety talk.  Today, that means we need to talk to our kids not just about privacy, or their digital footprint, but about - you guessed it - internet porn.

Here's what I told my son:

You know how in the movies, cops are like action figures, and they jump off of buildings, and have wild chases, and drive awesome cars?  And you know how in real life, that's really not what it's like to be a cop most of the time?

Well, you might find some stuff on the internet - sexy pictures or movies of women and men having sex.  And those pictures are kind of like that.  That's not really what girls -- or sex - is like most of the time. It's the movies. Not reality.  The girls you meet probably won't act or look like that.

Just thought you should know.

Did he look at me like I have two heads?  Yup.  Did he practically die of embarrassment when I used the word sex? Yup again. Did he stick his fingers in his ears and scream "la la la!" as loudly as possible?  Just about. (What he really did was say "I don't really get why you're telling me this.)

But he heard me. And pretty soon, my daughter will too, when I have the girl version of this talk with her.

I want both my kids to grow up to enjoy sex (Intellectually, anyway.  Emotionally, it just about killed me to write that), but I also want my son to have rational expectations of what that sex will be like, about what girls will look like and do, and about what's acceptable for him to ask for and expect.

I want my daughter not to feel pressured to live up to some plastic-surgeon/cartoonist idea of what women's bodies should look like.  I want her not to feel like she's disappointing someone, or not doing "enough" if she's not acting like a porn star.

Look, I didn't want to have this talk with my kid. I don't like admitting that despite my best efforts, my kids will, inevitably, come across something downright icky on the internet,  But do I want my kids to be prepared for what they might see and have the tools to deal with it .

Nancy Friedman is the co-founder and Queen Bee of KidzVuz.com, and writes on her own blog From Hip to Housewife.com.

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