As the #MeToo movement brought thousands upon thousands of heartbreaking stories of abuse to light, sexual ethics have become an increasingly popular topic of conversation. More specifically, the discussion of consent has become a necessity, especially in relationships.
According to Peggy Orenstein, journalist and bestselling author of “Girls & Sex” and “Boys & Sex,” discussing consent needs to start with parents and their children and that conversation must also involve talking about porn. Recently, she explained how parents are less likely to approach this conversation with young boys, and this drastically needs to change.
But why have conversations with boys, especially, been so neglected?
Orenstein says that, “[Parents] have done a much better job grooming girls to resist some of these messages or at least critique them than we have with boys.” Additionally, these conversations are especially important for boys because porn is often the first reference point they—and every other teen—have for what sex should look like, and it shapes their idea of what they should do when they have sex.
We’ll get into why that’s troubling a little later on, but first we need to talk about how Orenstein suggests parents should speak to their sons, specifically, about porn.
Orenstein’s six tips for talking about porn and consent with a son (or daughter)
According to parents, sons, and experts, talking about consent, sex, and porn are difficult and uncomfortable for just about everybody. All that to say, it’s not just you who feels awkward talking about those kinds of things.
Still, these things deserve airtime in parents’ conversations with their boys, or girls.
1. Inform yourself about porn.
If parents are going to take on a conversation with their son about a topic like porn, they’ll first need to get an idea of what porn is like today in the ever-changing landscape of online media.
In other words, they should be asking themself, “What is my son stumbling upon when he becomes sexually curious?”
With over 1,300 published articles, our blog is a really excellent resource for reading up on what’s mainstream and prevalent in today’s mainstream porn themes.
2. Persevere with the conversation (no matter how awkward) and be receptive to questions (no matter how personal).
Porn can be violent and show everything but an accurate depiction of what consensual, mutually pleasurable sex is truly like. In fact, 88.2% of porn scenes contain some form of physical aggression against women. Orenstein says that, while they may not voice it, boys tend to desire guidance regarding the imagery they’re seeing.
3. Talk to them about parts of sex that aren’t portrayed in porn, like conversations with your partner and foreplay.
According to Orenstein, the sex acts portrayed in porn are rarely geared towards female pleasure, or pleasure for anyone. Instead, they offer different kinds of fetishes and kinks, some of which can be dangerous to try, especially if they don’t know what they’re doing.
Moreover, in her conversations about porn with boys, many expressed anxiety about sexual stamina. One boy, in particular, had even been labeled “Minute Max.”
Orenstein says that these are just a couple of reasons why parents need to step in when it comes to porn and talk about what’s normal, healthy, and pleasurable.
4. Start the conversation about sexual pleasure earlier than you think.
Because “curiosity about sex is normal,” having a strong foundation of smaller conversations and lessons about sex, pleasure, and consent will make discussing porn easier when interest in sex is shown later on in life.
5. Talk to your kids about how porn misrepresents body types, women, people of color, and same-sex intimacy.
Mainstream porn often normalizes thin, white, cisgender, and able-bodied people—while other body types, people of color, people with disabilities, and people of other marginalized identities are frequently stereotyped and fetishized. When this happens, porn consumers can begin to see people who are marginalized as lesser and can perpetuate a harmful view of others as a result.”
6. Have broader conversations about racism, sexism, and consent—some of the major issues in porn.
“Mainstream media bombards our kids with messages about male sexual entitlement and female sexual availability and male dominance and female submission that are equally damaging to our young people,” says Orenstein.
Porn pushes this narrative strongly in a toxic way that, as we’ve said before, harms boys’ understandings and views regarding race, gender dynamics, consent, and more.
Why having conversations about porn and consent matter: porn normalizes consentless sex
A massive part of the average mainstream porn narrative includes a woman (or women) who will do anything for sex. They always want more, they always want bigger, they always want better, and they are totally down to experience sex in as many different forms as they can no matter how painful, degrading, or extreme.
If this doesn’t sound representative of reality to you, that’s because it isn’t.
Porn is a virtual, fantasy world where sex is all that matters—which is exactly the point: it’s not reality. To put it another way, it promises a lot more than it can provide, twisting consumers’ expectations and understanding of sex in the process.
In some cases, what it provides is the normalization of extreme scenarios that don’t include consent.
Take, for example, the story of daytime talk show host and comedian, Ellen DeGeneres. She was sexually assaulted numerous times by her stepfather growing up, yet porn site search results make light of traumatic abuse like what she experienced by portraying them in scripted form.
“Be Frank,” a video created by Dutch natives Damayanti Dipayana and Camilla Borel-Rinkes, further points to porn normalizing traumatic events that don’t include consent.
The seven-minute film, which features men discussing the #MeToo movement and the role men can play in combating sexual violence, asks men to read different storylines and then guess whether the situation they’ve just read about is from a porn script of a #MeToo story.
The storylines start out relatively cliche and humorous, but quickly become sinister and abusive, eventually culminating in storylines where a sleeping college girl is taken advantage of by a group of men and where a stepdad punishes his step-daughter by raping her.
As clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Cornell University and one of the nation’s leaders in the diagnosis and treatment of men’s sexuality issues, Harry Fisch, MD, puts it: “Porn isn’t just risky business; it’s a killer for your sex life.”
It’s no wonder when porn teaches you consent is optional. And if parents don’t teach their boys, and girls, about consent and healthy sex, porn will.