Saturday, March 7, 2015

This is Their World, Where Can We Go? Talking to Kids about Pornography

This week I was able to find a way to share something that I am incredibly passionate about with my friends and family on social media - the rampant disease that is pornography use and addiction in our society. 
Original Caption: I got involved for my kids. Protecting them no longer means keeping quiet. We can no longer leave things unsaid. The average age of exposure to pornography is under 11, and getting younger every year. Teaching kids about our natural feelings of sexuality, and how exposure to pornography distorts them, will help quell curiosity and protect their impressionable minds. @fightthenewdrug #pornkillslove #fightthenewdrug#repthemovement #streetteam
Before you click off of this post (because, really, who wants to talk about pornography? Those who are fans of it only seek it out in the darkest corners and loneliest spaces. Those who know its evil feel uncomfortable at the very thought of pornography; the ease with which it is accessible in our modern lives, the damage it does to its viewers, the false and sickening way it portrays sex and sexuality), let me ask you this:
  • Did you know that social scientists have estimated that the average age for initial exposure to pornography is between 8 and 11, and getting younger every year? 
  • Did you know that neurologists have likened the effects of pornography on the brain to that of cocaine in a drug addict? These effects greatly increase in intensity and injury on developing, adolescent minds. 
  • Did you know that child pornography is one of the fastest-growing online businesses, and is a 3 billion dollar industry?  And that more and more teens are sharing homemade pornographic videos with peers, both privately and publicly, in order to seem cool and sexy? 
  • Did you know that pornography use and sex trafficking are inexorably linked, and that behind the "fantasy" that pornography strives to create is slavery, drugs, disease, and rape? 
The topic of sex and pornography was largely glossed over when I was young and the internet was a fairly new phenomenon, but in today's world you CANNOT properly protect and educate your children without discussing pornography and the truth about sexuality*

After I posted my anti-pornography statement this week, I received a few messages from mothers of young children who asked me what I was teaching my children about pornography, and when. As a person who has spent a lot of time in the past five years learning about addiction and the recovery process, as well as a lifelong pervert (honestly, I was SO curious about the opposite sex and sex in general growing up that I'm frankly surprised that I am a fairly normal human being today), I have spent a great deal of energy learning about the damning effects of pornography use, and how to talk to my kids about it so they won't have to sneak Cosmopolitan magazines under their bed in order to get any information about sex (no matter how false it is! Honestly, have you ever flipped through a Cosmo as a normal, sexually active adult? That ish is BANANAS! B-A-N-A-N-A-S). So I thought I would share my answers to those questions publicly for anyone who has doubts about when and how to talk to their children about this modern plague. 

1. The New Pornographers
The first time I sought out a simple and honest  way to answer this question, I wasn't sure how to even begin to approach it. After years of research and thought, however, I have discovered that I cannot explain pornography to my children until we have discussed sexuality. This topic makes many adults cringe (or is it just me? I have honestly had to practice saying "Penis" and "Vagina" in the mirror without looking like I was going to throw up so I could do this thing without setting off my kids' bullcrap detectors), but I promise that practice makes perfect - so start when they are young! This is the way I have explained sexuality to my girls: 
You were born so special. God gave you your body, and your brain, and your talents. And he made you perfectly so that, as you grow up, you will get to become a wife and a mommy just like me! And when you are a mommy, I will be your kids' GRANDMA (I had to include that part - the idea of me as a grandma never ceases to amaze and delight my kids somehow. This is where I have left off so far with my four-year-old in the Pornography department. Right now I am still working with her on good touch/bad touch, body confidence and establishing the power she has over her body. More on that later)

The age to begin delving into the actual subject of pornography will vary - I felt good about beginning this discussion when my oldest was six. Obviously you should use your judgment and start this part when you feel your child is ready (don't wait until YOU are ready for them to be ready, or you may never start! These talks take courage, period).
 God also gave you a very powerful gift - the gift of attraction. This can come as a feeling in your body, or just powerful thoughts. It makes you want to love and kiss and touch and maybe someday marry another person. This attraction can especially come when you look at someone or a picture of someone whom your eyes and brain and body like. And it is such a blessing! Attraction happens to boys and girls and makes it so someday you can get married and have babies and create a family. 
But Satan has a plan to take you away from the life God wants you to have - he wants to use this powerful gift of attraction against you. Have you ever heard of pornography? Pornography is an image or video of people who are meant to confuse your brain and body into feeling attraction. And it is a LIE! It is Satan's way of taking the beautiful gift God has given you, the one that will someday make you a wife and mommy, and using it to hurt you. Sometimes pornography is one person without any clothes on, and sometimes it is many people looking at or touching each other. Looking at pornography will hurt your body and your spirit. It isn't your fault that you are attracted to these images - God made you with a strong attraction to other people and their bodies. I just want you to know that pornography is a lie made to confuse you, and that you have to be careful how you use the powerful gift of attraction/sexuality that you have been given. There is going to come a day when you see pornography, so I want you to know what it is when you see it so we can talk about it. 

I then have gone through a list of ways and places that my child might run into pornography, and what to do when it happens. 

That is it - the bare bones of the pornography discussions that I have had with my kids so far. And, yes, I definitely meant to say DISCUSSIONS, plural. When we drive down the road and see an advertisement for lingerie, we talk about pornography. When someone says or does something lewd on the television, we talk about pornography. I want the word and its meaning to become something real to my children, so that WHEN they encounter it (and if you believe that it is an IF and not a WHEN, then, I'm sorry, but you're kidding yourself), they will not be confused and excited. They will be able to call it what it is, skip the titillation, and instead be able to walk away. AND they will know without a doubt that they can come home and talk to me about it. Because Mom NEVER SHUTS UP about pornography! I never want shame to be a part of the conversation. I don't want them to feel ashamed of their desires, their bodies, or the things they see or mistakes they make. I just want them to be able to call it what it is. 

2. Body Talk
I don't believe there is a magic age for teaching kids about sex (I still haven't discussed the actual  mechanics of sex with my oldest. We have talked about sex, but only in general terms), but body talks should, in my opinion, start young and be frequent. Also, these talks should be brief. It doesn't need to be (read: it SHOULDN'T be) a lengthy or uncomfortable sermon on modesty and private parts! It should become a part of your every day dialogue. i.e. When your daughter puts her arms around her brother in WinCo and he squeals like a pig, you can gently say, "That's his body. Please listen and respect him when he tells you 'No'." Or when that same daughter is pointing at her brother's penis in the bathtub and laughing, you can say, "What's so funny? That's just Finn's penis. You have a vagina and you don't see him laughing at you!"

When my son started reaching down and touching his junk while I changed his diaper, I told him the name for what he was holding. Now he cheerfully walks around my house calling things "PEE-DIS", and I am perfectly okay with that. 
When he is closer to three, as I did with his sisters, I will start to talk to him about how his body is great and amazing and a gift from his Father in Heaven, but that it is private, and all bodies are private. We will discuss how boy and girl private parts are different, how they are similar, and that, while nudity is okay in our home it is absolutely not okay outside of it or on the TV or computer. This is when I will let him know that if he ever sees a naked body outside of our home, he should tell me immediately. 
This age is also when I start checking out this book from the library a few times a year. There are many like it out there, but I like how simple and easy this one is. It lays the foundation for good touch/bad touch basics and teaches children that they are allowed to say no if they don't want to be touched in any given moment. 

Until my children are closer to puberty and seem less comfortable being mostly naked all over my house (that day has to come eventually, right?), I am not worried about them sharing the bathtub or changing time. Hopefully I will get a sense for when to transition through the coming phases (I assume that some of these shifts will be quite subtle, while others will be more obvious, as was the moment when it became clear that my oldest child was too cognizant to bathe with daddy any longer; she looked up at my husband mid-shower and said "Daddy, your private is yucky" with an evil grin on her face) as I continue to have an open dialogue with my kids about sex, sexuality, and pornography. 

Please share your thoughts and techniques with me if you are comfortable doing so - heaven knows I am no expert! I am just a mom who is passionate about having these difficult discussions with my children in order to help them navigate this crazy, messed up world we are passing on to them. I have read books and articles and news stories on this topic, and the more I learn the more I feel that the only way I can help them become sexually healthy adults is to be their confidante and sounding board as they mature. 

Sharing ideas about these topics isn't easy for many of us, especially those of us who had what one friend so lovingly called "the traditional, Puritanical Mormon upbringing" that I have had. But sex and sexuality are natural and healthy and beautiful, and I never want my children to believe otherwise.

And if you are not currently a mother or want to do more to learn about/fight against pornography in our world, check out 

More Fun Links: 

*Note: Because of my LDS faith, I will be discussing the truth about sexuality in religious terms. However, whether you believe in God or not, this post still applies to you and the children in your life! Find your own way to bring it up and don't shut up about it until your kids are old or you are dead.