Parents need to talk to their sons about porn in the wake of #MeToo, parenting expert says

source
Westend61/Getty Images
  • The importance of talking to children at a young age about sex and consent more clear than ever, according to experts.
  • While a broad conversation on sex and consent has focused on training young girls to combat negative messages about sexuality and gender, experts say it’s important to also develop specific strategies on how to have the conversation with young boys.
  • Peggy Orenstein, journalist and author of “Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity,” told Insider one of the biggest influences on the sexual development of young people is porn.
  • She suggests giving kids a version of “the talk” centered on porn and told Insider six pieces of advice on how parents should approach the conversation.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Today, it’s clearer than ever that parents should be talking to their children, not just about sex, but about consent, as Harvey Weinstein‘s trial plays out in the wake of #MeToo.

According to Peggy Orenstein, a journalist and author of “Girls & Sex” and the newly-released “Boys & Sex,” that conversation has to involve porn.

Erotica has existed for most of recorded history, but with the internet it took on a new life. Porn really kicked off in 2007 when most paywalls preventing easy access to sexual content were eliminated. It means porn is often the first reference point children and teens have for what sex should look like, shaping their idea of what they should do when they have sex.

And while most children see some form of porn before they turn 18, Orenstein says this is a particularly important conversation for young boys.

“We have done a much better job grooming girls to resist some of these messages or at least critique them than we have with boys,” Orenstein told Insider.

Speaking to a number of parents, sons, and experts, Orenstein has found parents generally find it difficult to speak to boys about consent and sex. And though many tried to touch on the most important issues when they give their sons “The Talk,” few parents discussed porn – a topic, she says, could open up bigger, more important conversations about relationships.

Orenstein told Insider six tips she has for parents on how to approach the conversation about porn with their sons.


First, inform yourself about porn.

source
iStock

The landscape of online media is constantly evolving – porn is no exception.

It’s important for parents to familiarize themselves with porn, its benefits, and its problems before talking to their sons. Looking at easily-accessible sights like Pornhub and Redtube will be key if parents want to get a grasp on what their children could possibly stumble upon when they get sexually curious.

Even mainstream social media sights like Twitter feature pornographic content with little censorship, acting as a hub for adult entertainers to grow their fan base and share content.

Also understanding the growing world of independent erotic content creators will help. These days, IsMyGirl and OnlyFans – partly pay-walled sites – are two of the top porn platforms.


Persevere with the conversation (no matter how awkward) and be receptive to questions (no matter how personal).

source
kupicoo/Getty Images

Orenstein told Insider that one of the case studies that stuck with her while conducting interviews for the book was of a teenage boy named Mason.

While he was watching porn one day, his father walked into the room and caught him. He started scolding him, saying watching porn wasn’t good for him. Mason, who had already seen his dad’s porn search history on the computer, asking him about it. Mason’s dad left without a word.

“I feel like he sort of failed me,” Mason told Orenstein.

Orenstein said this was a missed opportunity to have an open conversation between Mason and his dad.

Talking about porn with your son may feel awkward but the conversation is not optional. While they may not voice it, boys oftentimes want the guidance about the confusing images they see in porn – which can be violent and not reflect accurate depictions of what sex is really like.

Orenstein says that no matter how awkward a parent may feel it in the moment, it is crucial to talk to your kids about porn, because they may regret that you didn’t in the future.


Talk to them about parts of sex that aren’t portrayed in porn, like conversations with your partner and foreplay.

source
Westend61/Getty Images

Another problem with representation in porn is that the sex acts portrayed are rarely geared towards female pleasure, or pleasure for anyone, according to Orenstein.

Rather, they reflect a specific niche of fetishes and kinks – many of which can be healthy and safe to explore – that don’t necessarily represent what sex will look like during their early sexually active years.

Mainstream porn can also give boys the wrong idea about what will please their partners. Many of the boys Orenstein spoke with expressed anxiety about sexual stamina.

“That was going to be the measure of satisfaction, how long he lasted,” Orenstein said. “Guys had this sort of terror of being called – there was one guy that at some point had been labeled ‘Minute Max.'”

This is where parents can step in to provide some context, Orenstein said. Tell your sons sex in porn doesn’t necessarily reflect reality and have multiple conversations about what pleasure means, and that they should listen to their partner’s actual needs rather than what they see on a screen.


Start the conversation about sexual pleasure earlier than you think.

source
kali9/Getty Images

Orenstein told Insider that it isn’t a matter of if a young boy watches porn, it’s a matter of when. So avoiding the conversation about porn is not an option.

But rather than having a singular “the talk” style conversation when your son reaches puberty, Orenstein advises parents to begin normalizing sex and asking for consent as early as possible. This includes conversations about masturbating and self-pleasure once your child reaches sexual maturity.

“Curiosity about sex is normal and masturbation is excellent, it is an important thing to do,” Orenstein told Insider. “So having this conversation without shaming kids about sex or masturbation is super important.”

Having a strong foundation of smaller conversations and lessons about sex and consent throughout your child’s life will make it easier for them to understand more complicated topics like porn when they begin to show interest in it.


Talk to your kids about how porn misrepresents body types, women, people of color, and same-sex intimacy.

source
iStock

Mainstream porn generally featured thin, white, cisgender, and able-bodied actors.

People of marginalized backgrounds that do feature are fetishized.

“The racism in porn is endemic, and nobody ever discusses that,” Orenstein told Insider.

These images can trickle down and deeply impact that way young boys watching these clips view body types, people of color, people with disabilities, and people of other marginalized identities – fetishizing them, or seeing them as lesser.

Orenstein does not recommend curating your son’s porn stash, but says that it’s imperative for parents to discuss the problems in porn with their sons and get them to think critically about it.

“Think about how people of color are represented or not represented in that image,” Orenstein said. “That’s talking about the taboo within the taboo.”


Have broader conversations about racism, sexism, and consent — some of the major issues in porn.

source
Shutterstock

Porn has deep representation problems, but trying to remove it entirely from your child’s life is not an effective strategy for helping them navigate the world around them.

“Even if you could block your way out of it with parental controls – which isn’t gonna happen – you still have the mainstream media to contend with,” Orenstein told Insider.

According to Orenstein, many of the racist, sexist, and transphobic messages in porn reflect broader issues in society.

“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.”

Rather than trying to prevent boys from watching porn, parents should instead have ongoing conversations about healthy sex and pleasure with their sons.