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Thursday, Mar 23, 2023

Your child has almost certainly watched porn – here’s how to talk to them about it

Your child has almost certainly watched porn – here’s how to talk to them about it

If you think your children haven’t watched pornography, I’m sorry, but you may have to think again. Earlier this week, the Children’s Commissioner for England released research which shows young people are accessing pornography via mainstream social media apps.
Channel 4 News followed up with a report on the impact pornography is having on sexual expectations in young people and, in particular, the physical and emotional safety of girls and young women.

I understand the instinct to bury one’s head in the sand, particularly for parents. To do so, however, is to ignore the facts – one in ten children has seen pornographic material by the age of nine. This rises to half by thirteen. At sixteen, it’s 81 per cent (and that’s a conservative estimate, some experts believe it’s as high as 97 per cent). The odds are, your child either has seen it or soon will. Ignoring that fact won’t make it untrue and, without the necessary context, it has the power to define their views about sex.

Jo Morgan, a Relationships & Sex Ed expert I work with, tells me that talking about the difference between fantasy and reality is essential. This doesn’t mean you have to go into specifics of sexual acts with your child until you both spontaneously combust from embarrassment. It could be as simple as pointing out that you wouldn’t watch Strictly a couple of times and then expect to be able to dance like the professionals. In the same way, porn acting is a job.

If you’re very brave/progressive, you can work on the basis that any inexperienced and sexually curious person with access to an entire internet will inevitably look for porn and instead direct them to ethnical sites. They prioritise consent, ensure the bodies are diverse and the orgasms are real. If that’s a bridge too far, work on creating a home or school environment where it is okay to say and hear “no”. It can be in relation to anything, just make sure the young people in your life know that it’s okay to have boundaries and that “no” is a full and definitive answer.

After the Channel 4 report, there was much (predictable) outrage from certain corners of the media, calling on the government to do more, as the much-watered-down Online Safety Bill is debated in the House of Lords.

Of course, I’m not suggesting the government shouldn’t intervene. Many of us believe there ought to be tighter sanctions on social media sites to regulate their content, whether that means reigning in the algorithms which push users towards misogynistic and racist content or going after work which encourages eating disorders and self-harm.

Yet the sad truth is that this type of content is profitable. Money talks. Young people are also incredibly tech savvy. It only takes one child to find a way around parental or in-app controls before potentially damaging content makes its way around their entire school. Young people tell me they were often first shown pornography in the playground by a boy (for it is usually boys) wanting to “gross them out” or shock them.

For both these reasons, changes in the law are not going to be enough. In fact, any of us who have a role in the lives of teenagers need to engage with this issue to make a difference. This is true especially of pornography. That means having some very difficult, very awkward conversations. The alternative, though, is worse.
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