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Parents—If You Don’t Teach Your Kids About Sex, Porn Sites Will

Big porn sites are becoming the educational resources that parents aren't for younger adolescents who have questions about sex.

By September 22, 2022No Comments

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Parents: there are a few facts that are worth remembering.

  1. Humans—even your little humans—are naturally wired to be curious about sex.
  2. Children—yes, even your children and young teens—will look at porn.
  3. As you probably know, porn is not a healthy outlet to learn about sex.

And yet, more porn sites are setting up portals within their digital sex empires that offer answers to questions and resources for sexual health and wellness learning. This is not a healthy substitute for real, honest conversations from a trusted adult about sex and sexuality. Here’s why:

Your child will have questions about sex, just like you had questions about sex while growing up. That’s part of being human and growing up, and it is something that should not be ignored, avoided, or shamed.

Related: How Porn Can Distort Consumers’ Understanding of Healthy Sex

More than that, there is a key opportunity when they ask questions that is probably one of the most effective ways of combatting the harmful effects of pornography—and a way to fight for love—and that is by talking to your child openly, holistically, and honestly about sex.

This includes plainly addressing the questions they might have about sex and pornography.

Conversation Blueprint

The alternative is porn sites teaching sex

The porn industry knows that children and youth who have questions about sex often feel uncomfortable going to their parents for answers.

While porn is often called “adult material,” many of its consumers are well under the legal age.Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Adolescents and pornography: A review of 20 years of research.53(4-5), 509-531. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441Copy  Studies show that most young people are exposed to porn by age 13,British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCopy  and according to a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens, 84.4% of 14 to 18-year-old males and 57% of 14 to 18-year-old females have viewed pornography.Wright, P. J., Paul, B., & Herbenick, D. (2021). Preliminary insights from a U.S. probability sample on adolescents’ pornography exposure, media psychology, and sexual aggression. J.Health Commun., 1-8. doi:10.1080/10810730.2021.1887980Copy 

That means that most young people are getting at least some of their education about sex from porn, whether they mean to or not. In fact, one study shows that approximately 45% of teens who consumed porn did so in part to learn about sex.British Board of Film Classification. (2020). Young people, pornography & age-verification. BBFC. Retrieved from https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-classification/researchCopy 

Related: How to Discuss Porn When You Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Similarly, survey results also show one in four 18 to 24-year-olds (24.5%) listed pornography as the most helpful source to learn how to have sex.Rothman, E. F., Beckmeyer, J. J., Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2021). The Prevalence of Using Pornography for Information About How to Have Sex: Findings from a Nationally Representative Survey of U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 629–646. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01877-7Copy 

Pornography is actively spreading harmful misinformation about sex. In fact, one study suggests that the more someone consumes porn, the more sexually illiterate they tend to become.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Herbenick, D., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography vs. sexual science: The role of pornography use and dependency in U.S. teenagers’ sexual illiteracy., 1-22. doi:10.1080/03637751.2021.1987486Copy 

Porn sites know that adolescents are going to them to get their questions answered, so how do they deal with it? Some major porn sites offer what looks like legitimate, science-backed educational resources can seem like an appealing option for their consumers. One of the largest porn sites has already done this, in fact.

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Especially because many popular porn sites have admitted that porn itself isn’t exactly educational in terms of sexual health and development, and they offer that as the reason why they are embarking on the public service of offering “sex education” tools on their site.

This, of course, is all right beside their hardcore pornographic content. But it’s more complicated than offering “help” to naive, curious consumers.

Related: 3 Common Misconceptions About Porn and Sexual Health

What happens when a site that gets millions of views every day for videos that show unhealthy sexual practices and even abusive, violent content (real or fictionalized, though how can you really know) becomes a trusted authority on questions about sex from kids that might not even be of legal age to visit most of the site?

It’s not only a contradiction, it’s ultimately a trap. As we know about the porn industry, it really is all about the money.

The risks to letting porn teach sex

Not long ago on the popular TV show, “The Doctors,” experts sat down for a discussion on this growing trend of porn sites offering learning resources for health and sexuality.

Dr. Nita Landry, M.D., saw right through this entire charade.

Related: Porn-Inspired Sex is Warping Teens’ First Sexual Encounters

“If we look at the bigger picture this is about money,” the OB/GYN said, adding that while we know parents are often falling short when it comes to teaching their kids about sex, “the porn industry is capitalizing on our failures and they’re saying ‘Hey come over here, your parents don’t understand, but we’ll educate you here, and if you happen to click on one of those links on the site, that’s fine, but look at all these good facts we have,’ and by doing that I think they’re trying to add a legitimate layer to the porn industry, I think they are trying to build a foundation by establishing trust and they’re really trying to draw in more and more teenagers to build stronger relationships with.”

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She saw right through their marketing gimmick.

The fact is, Pornhub, and other porn sites, can’t have it both ways.

While porn sites creating “sex ed centers” like Pornhub’s seem to be a move to try and be a reputable source for sex advice and sexual wellness, let’s face reality: this attempt to market itself as an organization that can be anyone’s one-stop-shop for sex advice goes to show that it will stop at nothing in order to lure new consumers to their site and get them thinking that watching porn is a harmless and even an “educational” pastime.

Fast Facts

Porn is not educational

Porn can’t be a teacher of any credibility of sexual wellness, despite the fact that it’s a poor substitute already.

Fundamentally, when it comes to sex and love, porn is an unhealthy, damaging, and fantastical representation. Why should we allow this industry to teach children about sex?

Related: Teens Watch Porn to Learn About Sex—This Is What Porn Teaches Them

After all, “teaching sex ed” is a popular category of actual porn itself, so the barriers between legitimate sexual wellness content and actual pornography are blurred lines at best.

But that might not change that porn is becoming an educator of all things sex, anyway. As reported in The Telegraph, Australian researchers Maree Crabbe and David Corlett, in citing their study of porn as a replacement for proper information for many young people, said:

“Porn has become a cultural mediator in how young people are understanding and experience sex… Porn is our most prominent sex educator.”

Related: 5 Ways to Respond When You Suspect Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused

In the discussion on “The Doctors” Psychiatrist Domenick Sportelli mentioned that studies show that when “a child in adolescence consumes pornography, there’s a higher instance of earlier, riskier sexual behavior and they get a poor sense of self-image.”

And these porn sites? They know. They know they shouldn’t teach it, but setting themselves up as a “public service” to teach youth about sex, or essentially saying “well someone’s got to” is just plain false. That’s like the tobacco industry funding and promoting campaigns on how to stop smoking.

So what’s the solution?

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Parents can be a safe space

The fact that your child will come across porn, intentionally or otherwise, is a given. But do not panic!

Parents’ responses to those moments are what matter more, because they are what can be influenced more. Simply, as a parent, if you teach your children, the industry doesn’t have that argument to turn against you.

Related: Nearly 1 in 5 Sexually Active Teens Have Asked or Been Asked to Copy Porn, Study Finds

This may sound like common sense but there is more to it than that. This is a multi-billion dollar industry looking to build up the trust of new and curious minds to offer them legitimate answers to their questions in a digital space where they feel, inaccurately, secure and safe from judgement from peers of parents.

This move to become the “safe space” while dangerously framing sexual health information firmly in the midst of the kind of material that contradicts it is a problem. Not to mention, porn sites are notorious for gathering data to know how better to appeal to their new customer, hopefully a lifetime viewer.

In an ideal situation, a child would feel free to tell their parents about what they heard on the playground or found on the computer by accident. Often, they can be too scared to to say anything, and the issue won’t be brought up.

Related: What Does Porn Teach Kids About Sex?

What YOU can do as a parent

Survey results also showed that over half of 11 to 16-year-old boys (53%) and over a third of 11 to 16-year-old girls (39%) reported believing that pornography was a realistic depiction of sex, and 44% of boys who watched porn reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try.Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J. R., Davidson, J., Leyva, R., & Horvath, M. A. H. (2016). 'I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it'. London: NSPCC. Retrieved from https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2016/i-wasn-t-sure-it-was-normal-to-watch-itCopy 

Clearly, it’s more important than ever for parents to talk to their kids about what sex and porn are, and keep the conversations ongoing, open, honest, and loving.

Instilling a total fear of porn in a young child may work for a short while, but it’s not a long-term help to keeping the lines of communication open and loving.

Let’s face it—if kids feel their parents are open to listening to their struggles or questions, they’ll be more likely to approach the subject whenever it comes up instead of hiding their curiosity and searching for answers on their own in the wrong places.

As Dr. Sportelli also said in the episode of “The Doctors”:

“How do we combat that. You know what we do? We talk to our kids, we take the shame out of it, we talk to them before it’s a problem, we say, hey listen, we don’t want you going on these websites. But if you come across something like this, or if you found something in your browser history, you go to your child, you say, hey listen, it looked like you were checking out some sites, why don’t we talk about it, do you have any questions about it, don’t let them feel shamed about it and that solves the whole problem.”

Related: Parents, How Much Porn is Your Child Watching?

The more that parents teach and talk with their kids about sex and porn in a way that is safe, shame-free, honest, sincere and empathetic, the stronger kids will be at resisting porn sites, either for their explicit content or their educational resources.

Sexual health and sexuality and the topic in general, as well as the nature and existence of pornography itself, are conversations parents should seize the opportunity with, and refuse to let their kids feeling like the only place they will ever really learn about it is online under a tab on their favorite porn site.

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Resources for parents

Parenting is difficult enough to navigate as it is, and luckily there are supportive communities and resources available to you.

While filters and monitoring devices are great helps to keep tabs on internet use, there’s no replacement for honest, heart-to-heart conversations between a parent and their child about the harms of porn that leaves shame at the door.

But how do these conversations start, and how do they continue? After doing hundreds of presentations around the country, and receiving thousands of emails from teens all around the world, Fight the New Drug has taken that feedback, combined it with research and produced resources that can help you navigate these conversations.

Related: Parents: What’s Better than Internet Filters? Direct Conversations About Porn

We’ve created this interactive and personalizable resource to walk parents, friends, partners, kids, strangers—really, pretty much anyone—step-by-step through having a conversation about porn with anyone.

Check it out by clicking below:

Conversation Blueprint

Also, here, we’ve got a non-exhaustive list of several resources for parents preparing to discuss porn with their kids. Because this isn’t a complete resource list, feel free to look for more resources that are catered to your specific needs and/or location.

Disclaimer: Some of the organizations discussed in the following list may be religiously-affiliated. Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative awareness and education organization hoping to provide access to resources that are helpful to those who need support. Including links and discussions about these organizations does not constitute an endorsement by Fight the New Drug.

Educate Empower Kids

Protect Young Minds

Culture Reframed—Parents Program

“Good Pictures, Bad Pictures” Children’s Book

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