We live in a culture where pornography is easily accessible, but not easily discussed. Anyone, including teens, who has access to the internet can easily access pornographic content. What sex therapists and educators are learning is that most people report that their sex education came from porn. Many schools in our country legally do not need to provide comprehensive sex education in classes, which leaves kids and teens feeling confused and ashamed when they want to start exploring their own bodies and engaging in relationships. Teens turn to porn to fill in the gaps that they didn’t learn in sex ed, which has the potential to be very problematic if no one is talking to them about it.

If you have an adolescent child, more likely than not, they have seen pornographic content through their own internet searching or friends have shown them. Regardless of your personal views on porn, it is your job as a parent to talk to your kid about it and explain to them the difference between porn and real life. As uncomfortable as these conversations may be, they are necessary for your teen’s education and future sexual self-esteem. Here are 3 things to keep in mind when talking to your teen about porn:

1. Normalize it. Even if your own personal reaction is fear, anger, and shame, it is important to normalize your teen’s curiosity and interest in sex. Something to keep in mind is to remember how you were feeling when you were their age. Were you also curious about your body and sex? Maybe you didn’t have nearly as much access to information as your children do now, but the curiosity and confusion were probably still there. It is perfectly normal and healthy for an adolescent to want to learn about sex and explore their own bodies through self-pleasure or masturbation.

2. Explain the difference and why porn can be problematic. We want to teach kids porn literacy, which is understanding the difference between porn and real-life. Take this opportunity to discuss body-image, consent, and violence. If you are comparing your body to what you see in porn, it will likely make you feel that there’s something wrong with you. Therefore, it’s important to tell your kid and their body is normal and healthy, and often times porn and media do not show an accurate portrayal of the diversity of bodies in our society. A major component of a healthy sex life is missing from porn, which is consent and having a discussion about what feels safe for you. Porn often depicts sex as being violent and completely misses any dialogue between partners about negotiating boundaries. Teens who grow up watching porn as their sex education may have a skewed idea about what sex looks like and what their partner’s preferences may be.

3. It’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation, and it still needs to happen. Many parents avoid talking to their kids about sex because it’s uncomfortable or they see it as the school’s duty, not theirs. Most schools do not provide comprehensive sex education or talk to their students about porn literacy. Even if your child’s school does, it is still important that they hear it from you too. If porn is serving as your teen’s main source of education, their views on sex and intimacy are likely to be extremely skewed and could potentially put them into dangerous situations. It is also developing their future sexual identity. If they grow up thinking that sex and masturbation is a shameful thing, that could show up in their relationships with future partners.

Talking to your kids about porn can feel scary, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. By opening a dialogue with them about it, you are creating a space for your teen to ask questions and receive a message that it’s OK to talk about sex. When these conversations don’t happen, or if they’re only in the context of a fight or a punishment, it can leave teens feeling ashamed. As a couples and sex therapist, I often see clients who feel ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality because they were punished and shamed for watching porn or caught masturbating. These messages from childhood stay with us, and it is a parent’s role to create an open and safe environment to have these conversations. If you are wanting to learn more about how to talk to your kids and porn and sexuality, contact one of our therapists at Symmetry who specializes in this.