My kids each have their own laptops. And they have a desktop, because sometimes they need a Mac for what they want to do, and their laptops are PCs. They also have an iPhone.
You may think this is extreme, but this electronics bonanza is a small price to pay so I can work during the day and homeschool my kids. This means there are no fights over whose turn it is on the computer, there are no meltdowns because there's a game that is only for a PC, and there are no car trips where I am doing a coaching call and the kids are screaming in the background; they are watching something. Anything.
And everything. Because when I found out my son was watching porn, I evaluated the idea of blocking sites and I decided against it. If illiterate kids in can figure out how to make a disabled camera work on an iPad then my son can figure out how to find porn on a sanitized computer.
Also, I am not a big hater of porn. My dad had Playboy magazines in his nightstand when I was growing up, and my brother and I looked at them a lot. So I feel like: who cares?
When I met my husband, he was living alone, on an extremely remote farm, and he had no Internet. I asked him why and he told me he worried that he'd look at porn all the time and it would be bad for him.
I chalked that up to country-bumpkin attitudes toward naked women and I taunted him with links to RedTube when he visited my house in Madison.
Now I think probably my husband was right. We have enough data from Generation Y, who grew up with porn, to see that it probably was not good for them. Women from Generation Y say they have never met a guy who doesn't have a problem with porn. The urban dictionary calls Gen Y the porn generation. Isaac Abel writes a really insightful piece about how porn ruined his ability to get an erection with real girls, and one of the most fascinating parts of the article is that his parents could tell when he was watching porn and they simply did not know what to do.
But it gets worse. An anonymous author, writing in Salon, describes how porn escalates. Which makes sense. Because we already know that teenaged boys are tortured by their obsessive thoughts about sex. There has just never been a convenient salve before the Internet.
I get it. I am not going to tell my sons not to masturbate, so it's a fine line for me to be checking up on them every time they might be.
I keep thinking about my sex ed in school. How useless it was. And how schools tell parents "it's never too early to talk to kids about sex" and then even the best sex ed programs in school don't start until the kids are teens, if at all.
Forward thinking sex ed has been about teaching boys that it's not about "scoring" or "being a man," how it's about love and kindness and both partners feeling good. But that's all outside of school. Inside schools, Leslie Kanter, of Planned Parenthood says, "There is abstinence-only sex education, and there’s abstinence-based sex ed. There’s almost nothing else left in public schools.”
I have made my own sex ed, telling my sons all the time that they must use a condom and that they can never count on a girl to be on the pill. She might miss it. She might forget. She might take the wrong pill. I don't tell them how she might lie her ass off to get you stuck with her and a baby for the rest of your life.
That is for later.
But I'm not sure how much later. Because my seven-year-old son has already started looking at porn. And even if he hasn't, porn is everywhere; he's watching Rhianna videos, and dancing to Gangham Style, which, as far as I can see is just riffs on a guy pretending to have sex with everything. Which my son understands:
Me: Stop doing that in the grocery store.
Him: I'm just dancing.
Me: Well it doesn't look like it to other people.
Him: What does it look like? Tell me! Say it in the grocery store! I dare you!
The New York Times ran a great article about sex ed, and they quote Paul Joannides who says “Porn is the model for today’s middle-school and high-school students. And none of us is offering an alternative that’s even remotely appealing.”
This reminds me of when I was a kid and people told parents, "Don't wait for puberty for the birds and the bees talk because the kids already know by then."
It's interesting to me that as the topic of sex gets more and more difficult, schools step back. And they focus more and more on what is more and more irrelevant, like chemistry. So when it comes to sex ed, we're all homeschoolers.
So I think I am going to talk to him about how porn will ruin sex for him. I don't want it to sound cataclysmic. If nothing else, he has already looked at so much that I'll have to frame it like it's a slippery slope or something. But if I'm really going to trust self-directed learning, then I need to trust that he can follow directions that are good for him.
But really, I'm not sure what else to do. I see almost everything he watches. But sometimes it's too late. It's in the viewing history (which I have not yet told him exists). I want to protect him but I know the minute I say "no porn" he'll be looking at porn every second. Where is the curricula for keeping kids off porn sites? How do you teach that?
One thing I will tell him is that porn is not about making someone happy. It's just about sex. The people are not caring for each other and sex looks very different with romance and intimacy. (I stole that from the New York Times article, but it sounds good, doesn't it?)
Later, I will tell him 7o% of women do not orgasm from vaginal penetration. I got this from a sex ed guy in the Times article as well. But it's a great statistic because it shows a kid, with hard facts, that porn is not really what he is going to experience with a real person.
Daniel Baskin, a teacher and a frequent commenter on this blog, suggests these guidelines:
1.) Have him read the research about soft porn's effect on the brain.
2.) Instead of worrying about the types of porn he watches, maintain conversation over time about how he should treat future sexual partners.
3.) Watch for signs of depression or anxiety. Porn is one of the quickest, easiest, and doesn't make you fat ways of dealing with these emotions.
4). Do not guilt or shame them. Honor and appreciate their sexual curiosity.
5.) Ultimately, at some point, porn consumption will increasingly become your child's decision. After teaching them all the wisdom you know about the ill effects of porn, all you can do is keep them from it as long as possible; once they've found it, make it inconvenient to consume it; and then at some point, simply maintain a dialogue about it until they are either old enough to be on their own or that they know all that you know.
Daniel's list is good. Though I can't help thinking it's just a starting point.
When parents talk about homeschooling, they don't talk about sex ed. Now I'm thinking, though, when a parent asks me how I teach math, I'll say, "You send your kids to school? How will you teach your kid to control themselves around porn?"