iStock_000019144724XSmallTeenagers encountering and viewing pornography is not a new phenomenon. When I was 13, my friend found a pornographic movie in her parents’ closet. We watched it with a mixture of fascination and alarm, carefully rewound the videotape to where it had been when it was discovered, and spent the rest of the afternoon giggling  about how gross it had been.

A year later, another friend discovered her father’s stash of pornographic magazines, which we read with the same mixture of curiosity and dismay. Most people I know had similar experiences in their adolescence. However, pornography has gone from being something hidden away by some parents, to something available to anyone with an internet connection.

The open and easy access to pornography that the internet has brought us is unprecedented in our society. Parents are often unsure how- or if- to bring it up. I wanted to give some tips on talking to your teen about internet pornography.

  1. Yes, you should talk about it. Teens- and even children- are looking at pornography on the internet. And yes, that means your teen will most likely, at some point, look at pornography on the internet. If you don’t want them looking at pornography, tell them, and tell them why. But accept that it may still happen at some point.
  2. Internet filters are not a substitute for a discussion. Some parents install filters that block pornographic images from being viewed on a home computer. While they may be valuable tools, it’s important to realize that internet filters are not foolproof. Also, while you can control internet access in your home, your teen’s peers may have access to pornographic images on their computers or phones.
  3. Have the conversation at the right time. Your teen may not be particularly enthusiastic about the thought of discussing pornography with you. You might try having the conversation in the car, or some other situation where you don’t have to make eye contact. Do it at an emotionally uncharged moment. If you happen to stumble upon your teen looking at pornography, leave immediately, and wait a few hours before you discuss it with them (if they haven’t expired from embarrassment by then.)
  4. Normalize an interest in images of sex. Even if you don’t want your teen looking at pornography, it’s normal for them be curious about it. My friend and I weren’t being unnatural or deviant when we watched that porn movie; we were incredibly curious about everything to do with sex. Avoid labeling your teen as “bad” or “perverted” for desires stemming from a compeletely normal mixture of curiosity and hormones.
  5. Talk about the difference between pornography and reality. Teens may take pornography as a realistic depiction of sex between adults. This can cause a myriad of problems. Talk about how most pornographic movies- even those that claim to be “amateur videos” or the like- use actors and possibly hours of takes for a clip that lasts a few minutes. Real sex can be wonderful, but also awkward, shy, fumbling, humorous, or many other things that rarely show up on camera. Remind your teen that feelings of love, affection, and friendship are what carry people happily through the awkward times. Stress that real people communicate about sex, before, during, and after, helping their partner understand what pleases them. The consequences of sex- physical and emotional- are rarely, if ever, addressed in pornography, but they are inevitable in real life.

More things to discuss next week! I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks to Nadine Bolliger, a reader and coworker, for suggesting this very timely topic.