Talking with Teens about Sex & P*rn

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.28.58 AMRecently some friends and I were discussing finding ways to talk with our teens about the ubiquity of pornography, and the basic reality that they would, at some point, come across it. In my own family (and probably in yours too) we have tackled this question. One of our children Googled a harmless Pokemon thing, and accidentally found a porn site. (NB: beware, there is a whole anime/Pokemon porn sub cult—I literally had no idea. You’ve been warned.)

Our teen told us what happened with the Google search, and we verified this by looking at the browser history. They were already feeling terrible, and we didn’t have any desire to add additional shame on an already sensitive situation, but we also knew we had to have (another) frank talk.

Talking about sex isn’t something we’ve reserved for a one-time Big Talk, but rather is an ongoing discussion. I think this helped our teen come to us when they found themselves viewing something they knew was wrong. Of course we have normal safe searches on all devices, but we’ve also realized “safe search” isn’t an airtight net and relying on external restrictions isn’t going to be nearly as effective helping them have an internal system. No matter how good your blocking software, the porn industry is a step ahead of it. Teaching our kids to navigate healthy boundaries on their own is the best and safest long-term bet. It’s also difficult and scary—particularly as a parent.

We sat down and explained to our teens that porn is designed to capitalize on and exploit normal, healthy sexual feelings and that having a physical response to these images doesn’t mean anything on its own. Human beings are hardwired to find sexual content enjoyable, and there is a natural human drive towards sex. We all have to learn to manage those impulses. Sex is important and can be great, and it should be a part of their lives—in appropriate times and places.

In order to give moral context and veer away from shaming, we talked to them about exploitation of other human beings, about the sex trade, about the objectification of women (and men) in porn, how it can desensitize us to the feelings and personhood of others, and about how real, loving sex lives are not portrayed in porn. Porn is not okay specifically because it alienates and exploits other human beings, and does not foster the emotional connection and intimacy necessary for healthy relationships.

We have avoided shaming them in any way, but we made it clear porn is problematic not just for their well-being, but for those it exploits, and even for the women and men with whom they interact in real life. It changes how we view one another.

Our teen confessed they couldn’t get the images out of their mind, and I believe that was a more powerful lesson for them in giving over their agency than anything we could have done. We talked with them about how pathways in our brain are like worn trails in the woods, and while this one was freshly carved because of what they had seen, it would eventually grow over if they didn’t use it, and they would be able to move on. It would take time and care on all of our parts. Our kids have since come back to that analogy over and over, and I have even overheard them sharing it (about something unrelated to porn).

We told them they absolutely did not need to speak to anyone at church. We explained that as their parents, talking to us was the right thing to do. No other adult, even at church, should ask them about porn or masturbation. If that happened, they were to answer that the question was inappropriate and their parents don’t allow them to discuss sexual questions with other adults behind closed doors.

My husband and I spoke with our bishop before he interviewed our children and specifically requested he not ask them any sexual questions beyond “do you obey the law of chastity.” We explained our concerns over the potential impropriety—even as a bishop—and assured him that in our stewardship as parents, our children understood the law of chastity. We instructed our children that if any adult [fn1] crossed the line and asked them about their bodies, they had our express permission to excuse themselves from the conversation and leave the room.

We talked about consent—both for young men and for young women. We talked with them about open and honest communication regarding boundaries in dating, and that if you are too embarrassed to have these conversations, you are not ready to proceed. We talked openly about how while we expect and hope they will continue to obey the rules regarding chastity, we also hoped that in dating, they could and should learn to become aware of their own desires and those of their partners. We explained that having a solid sense of self and where personal lines are ahead of time is one way to make sure respect is maintained.

I’m sure there are a million ways to approach these subjects, but this is what we did. I’m not an expert. I hope my offering here is helpful to other families if you are facing raising teens in today’s environment. Shaming and “just say no” doesn’t work, and often leads to dysfunction. We chose to try this. Like so much of parenting, it’s on a wing and a prayer. Let us know what you’ve tried—what has worked, and what has not.

[fn1] Obviously the necessary caveats were given for physicians and medical practitioners regarding their safety.

Comments

  1. This was really great. I really wish the porn conversation at church were framed more around the way porn is exploitative and feeds the sex trafficking industry instead of talking about “impure thoughts” and this idea that masturbation is this grave sin.

  2. This is wonderfully put. Thank you.
    “Shaming and “just say no” doesn’t work, and often leads to dysfunction. ” THIS! 100%.
    This needs to become apart of the dialogue when talking about sexuality and porn.

  3. I liked the overall tone and thesis here. After years in a sexless marriage, I feel like the Church partly contributes to our dysfunction, with little to offer towards resolution (or, at least, I don’t trust the Church to be able to help).

    At the risk of coming across as a supporter of the porn industry, the one concern I have with your approach is this. How many of these talking points are known to be “true”?

    I have seen much said about exploitation and trafficking, but those on the other side, while they are bothered that it occurs at all, point out that this is a small minority of porn. I am reminded of a book by Dr. David Ley (“Ethical Porn…” You can get the full title if you go looking for it) that specifically talks about ways to seek out and verify that a porn producer is “clean” — not involved in exploitation or trafficking, that he/she pays performers appropriately, that performers can refuse activities, etc. Is potential exploitation and trafficking going to hold up long term as an argument for “thou shalt abstain 100% from porn use.”
    One of the few universals I see in porn discussions from both sides is that porn is not realistic. I recall one essay online that suggested that “porn is to sex ed like Hollywood car chase movies are to drivers’ ed.” We tolerate and even embrace a great deal of fiction, fantasy, and “not realistic” in our entertainment — except when it comes to sex. Even in the romance and rom com genres, we tolerate a good deal of “unrealistic” relationships — as long as they don’t delve too deep into the sexual. At some point, the lack of realism may not be sufficient to bolster a “thou shalt abstain 100% from porn use”.

    I guess what I really see is that, if these are our talking points in support of “thou shalt not consume porn”, are we prepared to counter some of the counter-arguments that are out there? Ultimately, I often find myself wondering what our ultimate reasons for disliking porn are — other than the “God through prophets said so” reliance on authority. Or, if that is the ultimate argument, perhaps we need to make it one of those talking points, too. I don’t want to support the porn industry, but it seems to me that there is more to these talking points than is given here (recognizing also that there are space limitations). If credibility is important, perhaps we should be familiar with these counter arguments so that we are not surprised when our youth encounter them.

  4. I’m prepared to counter your points. My reasons for wanting to protect my kids from porn have nothing to do with “because the prophet said so” or reliance on authority. Even if –most– of the people involved in porn are there willingly or are not human trafficked, any percentage is too large. And porn doesn’t fall under the umbrella of things that “draw you closer and foster intimacy” ergo–it’s out. At least it’s out for my teenagers. I don’t object to consenting adults making other decisions in their marriage/relationship—that’s none of my damn business. But my children being able to navigate the modern world is my business, and the more tools I give them, the better.

  5. This is so good. Thank you. I was a preachers daughter in a very strict Evangelical church. Sex was never talked about EVER. . My mother never told us girls anything about what happens to our bodies or what is expected after the wedding. At 16 my father allowed a man he barely knew to give me a ride to school. He pulled off onto a back country road and exposed himself and told me in graphic detail what he wanted me to do. I was so naive and clueless. I had never saw male anatomy or ever heard the words he was using. I won’t go into detail. I cried and he pulled back on the road and took me to school. I never told anyone until years later. Many years later in a conversation with my mother about why she never told us anything, she said sex was for men and women just do what they ask. She said I would learn all that when I got married. I raised three daughters and I gave them way more info than they wanted sometimes. Even if I was uncomfortable I was always willing to listen and answer questions. Thank God for parents like you. We can’t protect our children from everything and everyone but we can give them the tools and information they need to help them make good decisions ( hopefully) and a moral compass to follow.

  6. Also, that our children have the right to say no to any situation they aren’t comfortable in or feel unsafe. And they can ALWAYS come to us and tell us when something has happened. No shame involved. I wish there had been someone for me to talk to when I was a young girl.

  7. This is really spot on, Tracy. I have at various times tried to approach this kind of comfortable talk with my kids, but they are both intensely private and won’t tell me a dang thing. I often wonder if it’s because I have created an unsafe space for them, or if it’s just their personalities? I wish I had better verbal and communication skills with my kids because it’s hard to just weave things into conversations when it’s always one-sided and coming from me!

  8. I think Dave’s point wasn’t that porn is okay, but rather that secular arguments against porn are often not as clearly empirically backed up as we sometimes suppose they are, and he’s right. I’ll have to admit that I’m personally dubious about the effectiveness of secular anti-porn arguments. For those born on the higher end of the sociosexuality spectrum, porn use is the most natural thing in the world. While it might be difficult for some people to see that, it’s analogous to a conservative thinking that it’s patently obvious that homosexuality is “gross,” when a gay person with a same-sex partner finds absolutely nothing disconcerting about it. While making arguments about rape and such may hold it off for a while, eventually they’re going to find that there isn’t really a lot of good evidence linking the two, and then it becomes Nancy Reagan and Tipper Gore warning us that marijuana and steroids are going to cause us to beat people up and hold up liquor stores. To ask someone not to do something that is very natural and desirable to them requires something quite concrete than abstract social positions, like a very real God who is telling you not to do so because it violates some eternal principle.

    On the other point, I’m hopeful that sentiments like yours, as well as recent events, will encourage movements towards better training Bishops to in how to handle sexual issues (option of woman or parents in the room, standardized protocol for addressing sexual sins, etc.) to avoid the abuse that will inevitably arise when enough men are talking to young women about sex behind closed doors. However, I wonder if the message might not be getting through perhaps because the same people who are arguing from the protections are the same ones are going that some of these issues shouldn’t be roadblocks the temple and it’s in the first place, (which is a nonstarter), and it’s just getting drowned in the general noise of people wanting the Church to change on this or that issue.

  9. Martin James says:

    This is such a complicated and individual topic. My own reaction to your post is that everything you said is sensible enough on its own, but that collectively it seems hyper-rationalized and hyper-moralized compared to the reality of a sexual experience. When I went back and re-read it to try to see why I was left with that impression, one part of a sentence summed it up. “that having a physical response to these images doesn’t mean anything on its own.”
    I assume you are referring to a moral or potentially “guilt-inducing” meaning, but it just struck me as avoiding the issue of the mystery of arousal. Likely, that is the best that can be done, given your objectives, but my experience is that the radical asymmetry between words and deeds in this area leaves you with little influence as a parent. Using the slightly bowdlerized version of a saying I heard as a teenager from those older and wiser “when arousal goes up, reason flies out the window”.

  10. Good grief.

    Please keep in mind this was directed at kids 12-16 years old, and these are my notes on what I said. Are you assuming I have relayed the entirety of private conversations here? This is meant as notes on what I see as a better way to deal with porn than just shouting “No!” or “Bad!”

  11. Martin James says:

    “In order to give moral comtext and veer away from shaming, we talked to them about exploitation of other human beings, about the sex trade, about the objectification of women (and men) in porn, how it can desensitize us to the feelings and personhood of others, and about how real, loving sex lives are not portrayed in porn.”
    So, how is going to the sex trade, exploitation and objectification veering away from shaming? They may be 12 to 16 now, but when they are 16 to 20, if they seek porn on their own, you have laid the groundwork for them thinking of themselves as evil and faced with either devaluing your instruction or devaluing themselves. That strikes me as hyper-shaming.
    I assumed by posting you wanted feedback, my apologies if you didn’t.

  12. Everything I said in that sentence is true.

    Porn can and does desensitize us to the humanity of others, and the treatment of sex workers is highly problematic and exploitive in many (many) cases. I also told my children that having a physical response to sexual imagery is normal– our bodies are hard-wired for it. No one should feel shame for that.

    I also said that consenting adults can and do make other choices in the bounds of their own relationships. If you think that is me shaming my kids, find another way to offer your “feedback” or suggest what you find constructive.

  13. ” My own reaction to your post is that everything you said is sensible enough on its own, but that collectively it seems hyper-rationalized and hyper-moralized compared to the reality of a sexual experience.”

    What does this even mean? I can’t make sense of it.

    I agree with Tracy that we should not make children feel shame for normal biological reactions. I don’t think that means that we should not “shame” the exploitative nature of the porn industry.

  14. Martin James says:

    I think it is constructive for parents to have a certain humility about what they can accomplish and that a sense of that humility goes a long way for good relationships between parents and children. For example, one cannot have one’s moral cake without someone eating some shame. That’s just the way it is. Like I said at the beginning, what you said is sensible and the best that can be done.

  15. Well done in every respect. Three somewhat related thoughts:
    1. The purity concept by which one is soiled/damaged/ruined by having seen a flash of a naked body is really problematic. The world is full of it, on the one hand. And we need to be not so afraid of our own brains. Repetition and seeking after and habits are real issues. The production of pornography and the exploitation of bodies and sex is a real issue. But we’re built better than to be ruined by any one image or series of images. Recognizing and accepting oneself as a sexual being is part of growing and being.
    2. I’ve heard enough stories of people learning about their own sexuality (gay/straight kinds of sexuality in particular) by how they react to different kinds of pornography that it seems a worthwhile comment or side note. In a “learning about yourself” or “this kind of thing happens” sense. (I would shy away from the “how to” sense, although I’ve heard the argument.)
    3. There’s a natural progression into selling by using (more often than not women’s) bodies. Mainstream advertising is full of it. I would follow into that progression. Not try to draw bright line distinctions but use it more as a continuum of “capitaliz[ing] on and exploit[ing] normal, healthy sexual feelings.”

  16. Martin James says:

    JKC,
    Most LDS males feel guilty if they view porn. Does telling them additional reasons why porn is bad reduce the use of porn among this community? The issue I’m trying to raise is how does one help a young person make sense of sexual arousal? Often young people also have a desire to break norms and taboos, so that moral instruction can be counter productive in that sense.
    By hyper-rationalized, I mean that it devalues passion and physicality relative to rationality. When I ask myself, would this information have changed the porn consumption of the teens in my ward growing up, the answer is “not in the slightest”.

  17. Exploitation is a larger category than sex trafficking. I recently read an article arguing that porn teaches men to see women as violable, for instance, and that opens the door to all kinds of exploitation. My concerns are primarily with the relational consequences of how porn teaches us to see other human beings. Sexual attraction is and should be a normal part of human relationships, but it needs to be in proportion with everything else that goes into relationships. The tidal surge of #metoo stories attests to the kinds of exploitation and abuse that arise when those proportions go wrong. Porn is not solely or even primarily responsible for those problems, but I doubt it’s helping. In a time when the sheer scale and devastating human cost of sexual violence and abuse is finally beginning to become clear, we ought to be very, very careful around porn.

  18. Somehow between the time I saw this original posting and the time I posted a comment, a dozen other comments popped up. On the one hand, this might lead to real discussion! On the other hand, now I feel like I have to say that I’m not commenting on or reacting to anything except the OP itself.

  19. Martin James says:

    JKC,
    Here is another way I could say it. It would seem to me that the most common use of porn is for arousal. If one wants to reduce the use of porn, you need to either reduce the desire for arousal or substitute alternative methods of arousal. The typical LDS goal seems to be to defer arousal until marriage. Given the gap between the age at which the desire for arousal typically begins and the age of marriage, there is a pretty significant gap. All I am trying to point out is that avoiding porn use requires practical strategies for the management of desire over that time and that it is an extremely individual and complicated business to manage this. Porn is a means not an end for almost everyone.

  20. Thanks for this, Tracy. My kids aren’t teenagers yet, but I always appreciate parents of kids older than mine helping me figure out what to do when I get there. Pornography seems to permeate the atmosphere (both in its availability and also the near-ubiquitous discussions of porn at church) significantly more today than when I was a teenager, so I suspect the way I’ll need to address it is significantly different from the way it was addressed to me (if it was addressed to me—I kind of doubt it was).

    I’m mystified by many of the reactions in the comments, which seem to veer between, How dare you tell your kids porn is bad, and, How dare you not address very specific strategies of avoidance?

    Dudes, you’re not being helpful here. Tracy didn’t provide her experience as the Platonic ideal of how to address pornography with one’s children (though I’d argue that it’s pretty close to the perfect approach). She also didn’t set it up as the one-time, sole approach to it. Which makes both reactions both moot and stupid. Are there practical strategies for avoiding pornography? Probably, though maybe not, given that her child found it doing a Pokémon search. And the practical strategies may well enter into further discussions. But not necessarily this one.

    And as to the porn-isn’t-completely-bad-all-the-time folks: WTF? She didn’t say it was. She did say it was bad for her children at this point in their lives. And she taught them about the difference between deliberate and accidental encounters with bad things, she taught them about empathy, and she taught them that she trusts and loves them. If you could do better, well, there’s no point in finishing that thought because you couldn’t do better.

  21. “Does telling them additional reasons why porn is bad reduce the use of porn among this community?” Yes, I think explaining why porn is harmful may help to reduce porn use as compared to just saying that it is bad because I/the church/the prophet said so. The point is to increase understanding, not guilt. I think increasing understanding would help.

    “Often young people also have a desire to break norms and taboos, so that moral instruction can be counter productive in that sense.” I know lot’s of kids that want to rebel against what seem to be arbitrary demands of authority. But unless you’re a sociopath or a sadist, it’s not common, in my experience, to want to actually do harm to others just for the purpose of rebelling.

    “By hyper-rationalized, I mean that it devalues passion and physicality relative to rationality.” I still don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

  22. Paul Ritchey says:

    Tracy: the vigorous discussion (and disagreement), which has taken all of six hours to unfold, is surely to your credit. Thanks for the perspicacious and provocative piece.

    More fuel for the fire: porn’s widespread use (as Tiberius points out) must cause absolute confusion for young latter-day saints, who have probably been taught that 1) porn is evil at worst or harmful at best, and 2) others (including, presumably, the child once grown) should be permitted to make their own decisions regarding it. Little wonder that the Church is increasingly concerned about moral relativism: in this context at least, it seems no reasonable alternative is forthcoming.

  23. What I am reading in some of these comments is that by straight up explaining to kids the real-world facts about porn, I am giving them a whole new way to feel guilt when they watch it.

    What I am trying to do is inoculate them, to some extent, by talking about their reactions when they see it. I think the shame spiral around sex in general is far more damaging than my talking frankly about sex workers, trafficking and dehumanization.

    If we can raise kids with healthy attitudes about others, about sex, about their bodies, and with a real knowledge of how things work and a lack of fear about their own sexuality, it will go a long way towards ameliorating the reasons people turn to porn.

  24. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks for this, Tracy. The Church should put you in charge of sex ed.

    From my vantage point, Mormons unintentionally create all sorts of problems for themselves by demanding chastity until marriage while simultaneously declaring masturbation sinful and making the word porn as scary as a bloody needle on the restroom floor. Is there any room for nuance?
    How does one develop healthy sexuality in a religious community where anyone who isn’t heterosexually married has to pretend to be asexual?

  25. Porn is not, nor should it ever be, considered an aid in developing healthy sexuality.

  26. “If we can raise kids with healthy attitudes about others, about sex, about their bodies, and with a real knowledge of how things work and a lack of fear about their own sexuality, it will go a long way towards ameliorating the reasons people turn to porn.”

    I think this is important and deserves special emphasis, Tracy.

  27. Martin James says:

    Tracy M,
    Well said and I really hope you are right. I also think MikeinWeHo asks a great last question.

  28. Everything wears pathways in your brain, including love and friendship. This isn’t something special about romance and erotica, it’s just how your brain works.

    Also, fact: Mormons have lousy taste in porn. You talk about it like it’s homogenous, it’s all degrading and exploitative and dangerous and fuels sex trafficking, but all you’re doing is telling everyone what kind of porn you’ve watched. Which, yeah, a lot of mainstream stuff is like that and is not a good guide to relationships, sort of like how basically everything put out by Hollywood isn’t.

    I’m personally proud to support an 18+ queer webcomic that’s all about healthy sexual fantasies, featuring cute and relatable characters who are kind and considerate to each other. I can’t link it here because this is a Mormon blog, but stuff like that and this one visual novel I loved really helped me get over how stunted and ashamed I was from my Mormon upbringing, and how scared I was of my own body.

    Plus, when I play games and read things like that I feel all warm and snuggly inside, and am more affectionate to my spouse. Bonus!

  29. What a weird comment thread. “Porn is bad for kids” is not really that controversial, even if you are not LDS. We routinely walk kids through dangers they will someday have to face – guns, power tools, driving, drinking, drugs. Are you worried about shaming your 13 year old about not drinking alcohol? Worried he’ll start binge drinking in secret because it’s not good for him and you said so?

    Sheesh.

    Thanks for the post, I thought it was a reasonable and kind way to handle this situation. I remember feeling that kind of deep kid guilt when I ran across things like that in books or online when I was young. And I really like that you brought the bigger picture of exploitation into the discussion. There is nothing shame-y about teaching your kids how not to hurt people.

  30. Oh, but teaching your kids that by exploring their own body’s feelings they’re necessarily hurting innocents is very shame-y. I speak from experience.

  31. That’s not what Tracy is saying. I guarantee you she is not talking about a webcomic when she talks about the exploitation of sex workers.

  32. Martin James says:

    Tracy M,
    I’m interested in how similar or different your discussion of drugs and alcohol is to this one. There seem to be a lot of similarities in why people use substances but also some key differences, like you don’t save your drug use for marriage. Despite the way it sounds, I don’t disagree with your approach at all, I’m just expressing my own parental anxiety about effectiveness. What is your go-to strategy with substances?

  33. You’re correct, Marian. No one is talking about healthy porn and erotica because any Mormon discussion of porn is premised on the idea that it doesn’t exist. I respectfully submit that this is not a healthy way to view yourself and your own desires, and that it inevitably leads to heartbreak, which is why the Mormon Corridor is awash in for-profit “addiction clinics” and has so many divorces and separations “caused” by porn.

    I was terrified that even if I ever broke my habit, a habit which was fuelled by shame, I would inevitably give in again after I was married. My spouse would catch me browsing PG-rated furry drawings on deviantART, and would leave me in tears, taking the kids and telling the bishop how horrible I am.

    After I decided that it was wrong to have made me feel that way over something so natural, I spent about two weeks looking up “porn” like bikini models 24/7, binging like there was no tomorrow. I then stopped, because it turns out it’s really not that exciting unless you’ve got shame to fuel the addiction.

    Nowadays, I rarely look at any kind of porn unless my PTSD and anxiety are flaring up. And I do so then because it does help me feel better.

  34. Jewelfox, you find yourself on a Mormon blog here and nobody is going to be pro-porn here. If that’s the sort of discussion you’re after, lots of other sites are available.

  35. You’re anti- a very specific type of porn. Your stated reasons for being against it don’t apply to things like webcomics, games with cute characters drawn by female designers, and fanfiction written by older teenagers exploring their sexuality.

    In addition, the reasons Mormons as a people have so much trouble with porn and addiction is because of shame. Shame is a known driver of addictive behaviour. It makes otherwise-harmless things into all-consuming addictions.

    I’m speaking up because I don’t want anyone else to grow up hating themselves the way I did.

  36. Not to mention the post is about porn use *for kids.* Jewelfox may disagree but it is not exactly controversial for people to think there is no healthy porn use for children or adolescents. Most people also think kids shouldn’t consume alcohol, marijuana, graphic violence, etc etc etc.

  37. I agreed with everything in this article except the part about prohibiting the children from speaking with other adults about pornography or masturbation. In fact, bishops interviewing youth for missions are specifically instructed to ask about pornography and to discuss in detail the law of chastity, and masturbation is an important issue with the law of chastity. (See new “Standard Interview Questions for Prospective Missionaries”; on masturbation, the Church usually refers to this with phrases like “arose these feelings in your own body”.) Bishops are also instructed to ensure that youth and parents understand these issues “well in advance” of being interviewed for a mission.

  38. Jewelfox, no, turns out I’m against all kinds of porn.

  39. David, when a young man or woman is ready for a mission, they are legal adults and no longer children. They can then decide for themselves.

    Martin James, to ask me how I deal with substances tells me you either haven’t been here long, or don’t know any of my writing. (Which of course is fine, but it’s not a question I will/can answer in a blog comment.)

  40. Martin James, may I suggest reading “The Burning Point”

  41. Kevin Barney says:

    Well done, Tracy…

  42. There is a lot of wisdom here from Tracy.

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised to conclude, over the past several years, that the new pervasiveness of pornography gives us some opportunities to teach our children that most people didn’t have before. Unless you started teaching your children about sex regularly, frequently, and in considerable detail from a very young age—something that most parents don’t do—you can’t be confident about how much your kids already know about sex. That uncertainty creates an awkwardness for parents that just exacerbates the general discomfort that most parents have to overcome when they bring up the topic.

    Now that pornography is unavoidable to a large extent, parents should assume that their children are being exposed to it. Knowing that porn is going to be part of their lives lets us start the discussion a little further down the road. It lets us be more pragmatic. If we allow this state of affairs to free us from awkwardness, we can more comfortably figure out how to show our children the better way. We need not shy away from discussing, very clearly, how the exploitative experience of pornography contrasts with genuine sexual intimacy. We don’t need to fear that we’re prematurely exposing our children to corrupting influences; we can rest assured that we’re putting those influences in the proper context and extracting their venom.

    The gospel’s redemptive power is as great as it ever was. I wish that we would talk less about how terrifying porn is and more about how powerful love is. Yes, it’s true that sex without love is powerful and perilous. But there’s nothing as powerful as love—and love includes eros as well as agape, philia, and storge. If we teach our children to love and show them how to love, pornography is nothing to fear.

  43. Thank you for this. I appreciate your pragmatic approach and I especially appreciate your sharing it here. As someone who has had experience with a spouse who has struggled with p*rnography addiction I would argue that p*enography is bad for relationships and individuals. Fullstop. All kinds. No matter what. It adds complications and fears and doubts to a relationship that is difficult enough without throwing that in. But this is an argument that is beside the point of this fantastic post. Thanks Tracy. Also, I have had concerns before about kids being interviewed by bishops about these topics but wasn’t sure how to tackle it without sounding/feeling preachy or untrusting. I love this. Thank you.

  44. Eric Russell says:

    Dave near the top makes a fair point about some secular arguments against porn. I agree that those particular arguments aren’t likely to hold up over time – especially the argument about the exploitation and trafficking (even though it’s true and important and should be discussed much more than it is.)

    But that’s not to say that there aren’t other arguments. The field of research on the effects of pornography on children and adolescents is still fairly young, but preliminary findings have found that extensive porn use by children and adolescents has severe adverse effects on sexual development and on the quality of sexuality within later adult relationships, among other effects on relationships themselves. In fact, given the current trajectory of research findings, I believe porn will be made illegal for children within the next twenty years. (That is to say, I think websites that host porn sites will be required to implement age-verification firewalls.)

    It’s also worth noting that many leading marriage counselors have been turning against porn in the last few years. (And non-pastoral marriage counselors, for those who don’t know, are as progressive a group as any.) The Gottmans, for example, who are among the most respected marriage experts in the country, just issued an open letter against porn last year, detailing that they had changed their minds on porn use and were now opposed to it due to the influx of relationship problems they were seeing as a result of porn use. And many others are saying the same thing.

  45. I’ve been at BCC for more than a decade, and this is one of the weirdest comment threads ever. This was a post on how to talk with your KIDS about this subject. I’m trying to figure out how to help my kids through the landmines littering their world that weren’t there when I was a teenager. I asked/hoped for people to share what had worked for them with their teens, and maybe what had not.

    Instead we’ve got…an upended fruit-cart of personal peccadilloes and non-sequiters.

  46. This is a powerful message and we need more parents to proactively initiate these conversations with their children. We need parents to be prepared to respond in a similar manner when the topics of sex and porn come up.

    I currently serve as Stake YM President and we recently had a discussion with the parents in our stake on this topic. A summary of my thoughts from that fireside can be found here: https://ourjourneytobecome.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/destigmatizing-conversations-on-sexuality-for-lds-youth-parents/

    Given the prevalence of sexually explicit materials in the world today I am convinced the key to our success rests in our ability to have safe, open, and candid conversations with our children on this topic.

    Thank you!

  47. Paul Ritchey says:

    Perhaps, Tracy, the wide-ranging (and strange) comments here reveal a deeper chasm in our social understanding of adolescent sexuality in the Church, or of sexuality generally. I think it’s futile to expect any clearly helpful tips on what has worked vel non if we cant’ even agree on what the problem is, or on whether there’s a problem in the first place. From my reading of the comments, we’re nowhere close to agreement.

    Steve: “…nobody is going to be pro-porn here.” Did you read the comments? I count at least three – and that’s not including the other two which devastatingly undermine Tracy’s secular arguments against porn. To be clear, I am anti-porn in all respects, but let’s not pretend that others don’t have another view (no matter how inconceivable to us).

  48. Bro. Jones says:

    Don’t have a teen yet, but something I brought up in an EQ recently is that the “porn landscape” is very different than it was in decades past. As I put it: when we were teens, we were worried about damnation and hellfire for flipping through the Victoria’s Secret catalog. Sure, that’s something to be avoided, but it’s not like we had access to an infinite amount of material like that, and it was certainly harder to get more graphic content.

    Today’s teens face two major systems of porn manufacturing that we never had to deal with: 1) social media (things like Tumblr, Snapchat, and even direct texting, where there are expectations from a peer group about producing and sharing pornographic media) and 2) just the vast array of Internet resources that provide easy access to curated, graphic content–in other words, it’s not about “taking what you get” in the Sears catalog, you now have the power to search for niche content that can include extremely graphic and exploitative material.

    Both of these systems can easily lead to “feedback loops” where consumers quickly get more and more involved. Not everyone is going to be an addict, but like Tracy suggested in her OP, part of our discussion about this must address the many negative aspects of these systems, and how avoiding them isn’t just about personal purity but not contributing to their upkeep and growth.

  49. Tracy, perhaps the weirdness of the comments is a demonstration of the problem that led to your discussion with your kids: landmines that weren’t there before. You start from the ground that there is a firm base of right and wrong and health and decency and suitability and morality in its broadest sense, and assume that readers understand and accept that baseline … and what shows up instead are arguments that have already been compromised by the explosion of landmines. I have no experience of my own in helping kids through that, but I have no trouble recognizing that your voice is one that can be heard above the din and can be trusted.

  50. I value your observations, Ardis—and I suspect you are right about the landmines. Thank you.

  51. Paul, I’m speaking for the blog, not the commenters. C’mon.