Son, we need to talk about porn

It’s not a conversation I was looking forward to but, when you are a parent, you can’t shy away from difficult subjects

Image: ING Images.Image: ING Images. 

My eldest child is months away from being a teenager. He's a boy and things are changing. 

He's taller, started suffering from spots and has begun to take showers in the morning rather than a bedtime bath. OK, on that last one, we encouraged him to change his bathroom routine as he was, as my other half delicately put it, "starting to smell manly". 

His interests, what we talk about and the sophistication of his humour have all noticeably grown up. We discuss current events, we laugh at new things, and it's great. 

Of course, hovering around in the background is that thing. 

Sex. 

My wife and I have always been happy to answer our children's questions about where babies comes from, how they are made, how relationships can be opposite sex or same sex, and so on.

We tailor our answers according to the age of the child asking the question - and cross fingers that we are doing the right thing.

But recently, our son asks fewer and fewer questions about relationships and sex. In fact, I was told recently, "Dad, it's all right, I know it all." That brought a wry smile.

However, I am keen to keep the conversation going because I know teenage boys are inquisitive. After all, I was one once!

Times are different to when I was growing up, though. My son gets his information from the internet. And with sex, unfortunately, that means pornography.

Porn is an issue that parents and, particularly fathers in my view, cannot hide from. Like it or not, it’s there on the web for anyone to find.

Yes, we have parental controls and filters on our broadband. Most providers offer these but there are ways round it – and those workarounds soon spread across the playground. And thanks to smart phones, access to the web is easier than ever.

It’s a sad fact but the average age a boy is exposed to online porn is 11. In fact, one survey recently claimed that 10 per cent of visitors to all porn sites are under ten years old. I personally don't believe that - maybe that's my wilful self-delusion - but either way, the chances are my son has already seen online imagery I would rather protect him from. 

There are huge implications for society. In their book Sex, Likes and Social Media: Talking to Our Teens in the Digital Age, authors Allison Harvey and Deana Puccio quote studies that suggest the proliferation of online pornography may damage boys’ ability to form future relationships.

Further, 75 per cent of young women say they feel pornography has led them to look or act in a certain way – see this piece on DAD.info. Perhaps it’s no surprise that according to House of Commons committee report, online pornography has played a significant role in a rise of sexual harassment and sexual violence within schools.

In short, no matter how uncomfortable we feel about pornography, we parents can’t ignore it.

So, I've started talking to my son about porn. It is not a conversation I imagined having all those years ago when he came into the world, all wide-eyed and innocent. Still, it’s where we are.

First, I needed to check with my wife that she was happy for me to do this. Fortunately, she’d already been thinking about how to approach the subject and agreed we need to open the conversation.

So, the boy and I have talked. Just a few words now and then.

I introduce the subject by suggesting that it’s something his friends might be showing him. It’s a non-confrontational way in. Typically, he giggles but, as I explain, that’s fine, too. That’s what we all do when something is a bit embarrassing.

And he listens. His mum has joined in our conversations, too. That’s good – it makes it feel less of a “thing”.

Ultimately, I feel the most important message I can impart is this: the sexual imagery portrayed in pornography is not real life.

That is not how women look. That is not how people make love. Porn is not real.

I explain that, in my opinion, a good sexual relationship is built on friendship, romance, intimacy and, most importantly, respect.

And here’s some good news, apparently we are doing the right thing! According to Allison Harvey and Deana Puccio, when parents do have that conversation, children take notice and remember what they have been told.

So, we will keep on talking for as long as he will listen. I hope it’s a while yet.

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Guest Friday, 24 November 2017