When it comes to sex ed, we’re all homeschoolers

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 the Millenials, who grew up with porn, to see that it probably was not good for them. Millenial women say they have never met a guy who doesn’t have a problem with porn. The urban dictionary calls Millenials 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?”



97 replies
  1. Jim
    Jim says:

    My teenage sons heard from me about porn some time ago:

    1. Porn is highly compelling and effective. You should have no shame about being curious about it and/or drawn to it.

    2. Porn has as much to do with real sex as an action movie has to do with real life. (I stole that line from somewhere, I forget where.) 99% of what you see there is not what real sex with a live person is like. Watching porn will set unrealistic expectations about real sex.

    3. Like anything that stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain, you can become hooked on porn. Breaking those bonds is hard; it’s best not to have to.

    4. My strong advice to you is to avoid porn until you are an adult and your mind can better handle it. I can’t entirely stop you from looking at it because it’s so easy to get, but if I find that you’ve looked at it on the computers at my house I will change the wireless password and not tell you what it is.

  2. Karen Cook
    Karen Cook says:

    I find it amazing you make no attempt to keep your kids from porn. Such as, making the browser unavailable on devices. Or letting them on it when you’re in the room and password protecting all devices. I get that Net Nanny sucks. But, unlimited access to porn for a 7 year old? Really? Does this relate to the lack of boundaries with your parents, or am I in the dark ages? Shall we let kids take drugs to their heart’s content too?

    Here is my policy: While they live in my house and eat the food I buy, they do not access porn. They can use a password protected desktop while I am home. They have no web access on their ipod touch. But yes I’d love to know how others are dealing with this issue. Parents were in no way prepared to deal with their spouses and children having unlimited access to xxx porn. It is causing great pain. It is causing divorce. It is as destructive as any drug. So I fail to see why anyone would allow their children to access it. At least control it while you have the chance.

    • scifi
      scifi says:

      Penelope has posted before about being sexually abused by her father, so it’s not surprising that she doesn’t know where to draw the lines for her kids.

      I wish this post were just another example of, to quote another blog, “Right or wrong, nobody moves your cheese like Penelope.” But sadly, I think it’s just another in a long series of posts where Penelope tries to manufacture an ex post facto justification for her decision to let her kids do pretty much whatever they want, because she can’t figure out how to do anything else.

      • Karen Cook
        Karen Cook says:

        scifi, I agree on all points.

        One more thing Penelope. You talk about how it’s no big deal, after all your father left his Playboys in his room and you looked at them. Please. Your father is a very sick man and should be in prison for his acts so let’s not hold him up as some great example. Second, Playboy in the 1970s was nothing compared to what’s on the web now. It wasn’t much different than Victoria Secret.

        Penelope you do not have an appropriate sense of boundaries with your sons. Have you considered flushing the toilet when you bleed into it, for Christ’s sake? Maybe your husband could advise you more on what is appropriate? He seems like a reasonable guy.

        Your posts on homeschooling helped me to come to the decision to homeschool. I am grateful. But how ironic that I have concern for your boys, being home all day, lacking appropriate boundaries.

  3. CL
    CL says:

    I like Daniel and Jim’s sensible advice, except for Jim’s last recommendation. It is the opposite of Daniel’s 4th recommendation: “4). Do not guilt or shame them. Honor and appreciate their sexual curiosity.”

    It’s true that porn is changing the way that we think about sex, but I would hardly say that it is warping society as badly as Isaac Abel says it is. Karen’s comments seem, at least to me, to be very sex-negative and judgmental.

    Penelope is all about being frank and honest with her children (Life Blood, anyone?) and I feel like being frank and honest about porn – what it is and where it all can go – is the way to handle the situation.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      Thats fine to be up front and honest, I am totally for that. But I think you can be up front an honest without allowing “young” children to watch something so inappropriate. Have you heard of the saying “age appropriate”? I don’t allow my children to watch things that they are not old enough to form an educated decission on. I am the parent, the educater, so I will continue to educate my children on such important topics instead of thinking that they are capable of doing do themselves. I will always try to be open and honest and answer the questions they have but I will also set boundaries!

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    My comment has less to do with porn than it has to do with parenting. The following sentence really made an impact on me – “Him: What does it look like? Tell me! Say it in the grocery store! I dare you!” Now I wasn’t there and really don’t know the dynamics of your relationship with your son but this is how it came across to me. It appears as though he’s challenging you and daring you to say something which he’s pretty sure you won’t say (at least in public). So he has the “upper hand” and he’s not being respectful to you. So I don’t think he’s exhibiting appropriate behavior to you as his Mom or to you as an adult. I believe there are times when a parent needs to say no and that is that simply because you are the parent and he is the child. Explain and show reason to the extent possible but discipline is necessary at times even for the unschooled, self-directed child. Which brings me to computer porn. It’s at least an order of magnitude greater impact than a few Playboy magazines laying around the house. You understand the slippery slope. Your child doesn’t so there needs to be some times where you need to say “no” in such a way where there isn’t shame or guilt placed on him. Maybe some kind of limited, controlled discovery of porn or something like that.

  5. Amy
    Amy says:

    My son ruined his laptop once when spyware infected it through a porn site. I didn’t fix it for a month. Lesson learned about the dangers of porn. Boys like porn, but they love video games.

    • Leslie
      Leslie says:

      I wish there was a like button on here so I could like your comment. It’s like a lesson about good computer usage and accessing porn at the same time.

  6. Autumn
    Autumn says:

    This is some kind of Joke right??? Allowing a 7 yr old free access to Internet pornography??? I actually think that qualifies as some sort of child abuse! I am dead serious… If you think for one minute that a 7 year old mind is capable of handling such disgusting images…. Wow… I have to say I am truly floored…. I saddens me so deeply to know that there are parents out there who would find this even remotely acceptable….. I have truly loved all of your other posts about homeschooling… I just would never be able to respect another word that came out of your mind after this!

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      I don’t think anyone here thinks a 7 year old looking at porn is a good thing.

      I think the distinction lies in whether you believe keeping it from them by force is possible.

      • Autumn
        Autumn says:

        Ummmm … Of course it is possible! Unless you are a lazy parent who doesn’t give a damn….. Why bother teaching kids to look both ways before crossing the street?. They’ll figure it out one way or the other! Wanna eat pizza and cookies all day? Go ahead! I certainly can’t FORCE you to be healthy…. Surely you can see how insane this is??

        • Daniel Baskin
          Daniel Baskin says:

          It all depends on how capable you think your kids are. I think you are right when you say that this is not something to be lazy about. I think the wrong approach, however, is to assume that physical restriction is a long-term, sustainable solution. Yeah, in the short term, it feels like all that matters is keeping them from it. And that’s okay for the short term. How long do you keep that up for?

          I know that many believe the internet to be a place that one can easily do without. But for an unschooler, it is an endless source of self-directed learning. It means something different to Gen Z than to any other generation.

          The most long-term success in forming good habits comes from developing intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic motivation. Developmentally, a 7 year old may not be able to put logic ahead of testosterone poisoning–even an adult male for that matter. After they understand the research about porn and the key truths about love and sex that porn distorts, I really think it all comes down to helping kids form alternative healthy habits for boredom, depression, and anxiety.


          When you erase anxiety and boredom from the equation, curbing porn addiction becomes manageable. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t make it inconvenient to access it, but I feel like you underestimate kids’ ability to eventually find a work-around.

          Better to stop bad habits by forming new, alternative ones (or help your kid form new ones), rather than just white-knuckle-shame oneself or another away from the bad habit.

          • Autumn
            Autumn says:

            Yeah, my 8 yr old daughter still like to play with baby dolls…. she is endlessly curious about many subjects…… Porn isnt one of them! I know this beause I am a responsible parent who does not put my own selfish needs before my children…… FTR… It really sounds like Penelope works too much! Hey kids, here’s a computer…. Go watch whatever you want, for as long as you want just don’t make any noise or bug Mom cause I need to work…..
            This is just so insane….. What if her sons click on something horrific? Child pornography? A rape video? There is no end to the horrors that exist on the Internet….. Curiosity does not equal capability…. By that logic we should all just leave cigarettes, vodka, sharp knives and loaded guns lying around the house and see what happens! After all, I am sure our kids will be interested or curious about all that stuff at some point…. Who are we to restrict them?
            This is scary and depressing and really not giving self directed learning a good name!

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Really? We are going to equate girls with boys? Has anyone read that there is an epidemic problem with girls watching porn online? Because i have read nothing of the sort. So Autumn’s self-congratulatory comments about her daughter strike me as persuasive as Autumn telling me she knows how to keep boys from turning Legos into guns because her daughter does not turn Legos into guns.


        • Autumn
          Autumn says:

          Well Penelope … I have a 10 yr old son as well…. And he certainly has never encountered porn on the Internet! And YES, he is able to search for anything he is interested in learning about… Within REASON… I have a security program that would block him from seeing pornography and other things that children should not be dealing with! Common sense you know….. I only brought up my daughter because she is close to your sons age…..

          • Daniel Baskin
            Daniel Baskin says:

            So you know he hasn’t looked at it because he has told you so? Or because your software is bullet proof? At 10 years old, I’m sure that it’s likely he may not have encountered it yet.

            And you know what, you might be right that you’ll be able to keep it away from him indefinitely. That’s good! Good on you.

            Okay, so then, it’s awesome that he may never get into porn. How are his independent learning skills. How’s that coming along? How much have you talked with him about porn? Or would that cause him to become to curious about it and you want to prevent over-curiosity?

            If he did somehow get caught up in porn–crossing our fingers not–would he feel okay telling you? Or would he feel shameful? I mean, it’s healthy to acknowledge personal wrong-doing–otherwise would be unhealthy–, but has he been set up to feel shameful for it if he does do it?

            Again, I want to re-iterate, kudos for keeping him away if that is the case (but, begging the question, how do you actually know that you can know that?). I just hope that you are not avoiding the very frank talks about porn and sexuality because you don’t want to spark curiosity in his mind.

          • Autumn
            Autumn says:

            I guess I can’t reply directly to you Daniel Baskin… For some reason…. So I will just say …. I know that my children have not seen pornography on our computer … I have a very strong parental control set up on the web viewing…. I would know… Not to mention I am here with them all the time and I check out what they are looking at quite regularly… They are not allowed on the web whenever they want…. They have to ask, that way I can be in monitoring mode!
            As far as his independent learning skills go… I fail to see how that has a damn thing to do with whether he is allowed to explore the world of sexual imagery??? But anyway, he is an extremely bright boy…. He has self taught himself the drums…. Ha also plays guitar and is starting with the piano…. He loves Lego construction and regularly builds and rebuilds complicated structures that he has completely designed himself…. He is currently obsessed with all things Hobbit and Lord of the Rings related and is reading through the entire series completely UN-prompted by me…. Just yesterday I found him researching the life of J.R.R Tolkein because he wanted to know what his childhood was like… Whether it had an impact on his stories. He has an endless imagination and a huge vocabulary…. He loves to converse and ask questions! He is kind and compassionate and respectful. He is absolutely comfortable talking to me or his father about ANYTHING… Believe me…. He has come up with some real doozies in his 10 years….. :)
            The very idea that you feel it would be necessary to have “frank talks about porn and sexuality” with a boy the age of 10 is just so completely ludicrous! One of the most important reasons for home educating my children is being able to KNOW what information they are ingesting! I don’t leave them to stumble across something as potentially life-altering as pornography…. Just the same as I don’t let them play with knives, or guns or sip alcohol! A parents job is to protect their childrens young minds…. Once something is seen, it cannot be unseen !!

          • Daniel Baskin
            Daniel Baskin says:

            Then I have no more to say. As long as you have a relationship with him that says, “No matter what you do, I’ll always love you,” which I’m sure you do, then way to go!

            I don’t think you need to be explicit to talk about porn. I just think that maturity is not merely about good habits and staying pure, but about learning to be open-minded.

            No one is advocating making porn easily available, or okay. I agree with your frustration about being lazy in this regard. It is a serious issue.

            My argument is not about availability, but openness and frankness in discussion. Sure, you could say that at 20, they are developmentally better equipped to deal with porn should discussion of it lead to a curiosity that leads to porn consumption. But what about missing the opportunity of learning to think with a morally empathetic and non-arrogant prude mindset when they are young. You are missing out on answering questions like, “Why do people get into the porn business?”–which would be a learning moment for talking about anxiety, shame, sexual abuse, etc., which would lead to discussion about how we can create a world that mitigates for those things. etc.

            I’m just saying, 10 years old is not too young to have frank discussions about values that are more than just the bullshit “We don’t do that in this house because I said so.”

  7. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    I don’t have kids yet, but I want them at some point, so I’ve been thinking about these kinds of issues, namely, how much do you restrict a child? Porn and junk food are pretty similar: they both become addictive and harmful when consumed without enough restraint. But how does restraint develop? I can understand the mindset of parents who say they shouldn’t be exposed to it till they are adults and can ‘handle’ themselves, but this could be misguided. Perhaps learning to handle themselves is actually easier with exposure when young. Perhaps it’s actually harder to learn to resist something that you encounter later. On the other hand, do we know that exposure at a young age might not actually prime them to like it more as adults? People who start smoking at a young age have a much harder time quitting when adults, for instance.
    How do you handle unhealthy food and picky eating, Penelope? Do your kids get to pick what they want to eat or do you regulate it? Kids aren’t known for craving healthy food. Do they get to eat something else if they don’t want the meal that’s prepared for them, or are they stuck with it?
    Thanks for this post, it was incredibly stimulating

  8. Ben
    Ben says:

    I have young boys. There is a desktop computer in our kitchen that is available for their use and only sometimes (not before school, not after 9). And *I* have an ipad with some apps they look at somtimes (i disable wifi). That’s the beginning and the end of computers for them.

    My oldest kid is 13. and she has a smart phone but only in the last year. She texts. She browses. She has google + teen stuff. But she’s not allowed to watch porn on it. And unlike you, we’re very upfront that we can see her browsing history. She’s also not allowed to send suggestive photos of herself or others, she has to leave it downstairs at 9, etc etc. We have all kinds of rules. We have a million of them. And yes, we start talking about sex at 8 here. We actually use a book!

    I guess we may be raising the opposite of self-directed kids in your book but i’d propose no kid that young can really self-direct when it comes to video games and porn. I think it’s just crack for these brains and I wouldn’t expect them to be able to pull away. I wouldn’t put them in that situation.

    This post depressed the hell out of me

    • Hannah
      Hannah says:

      Me too. As a mom with two sons (11 and 10) and a daughter (almost 9) I am fighting to raise kids who respect the opposite sex. I want to give them a leg up at being a good spouse, citizen, neighbor. I believe that exposure to porn works *against* us–me and my kids–and not for us. There are other things I choose to keep from my kids at these ages because I want them to look back on their childhoods as times of innocent fun and learning. I do not want them developing a taste for porn–in all of its many sick forms.

  9. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    My son is twelve and has unrestricted access to the Internet through his computer and an iPod Touch. We don’t have an issue with porn at our house. It’s not because he doesn’t know about it. He does and he has seen some. It’s not that he isn’t interested. The reason it’s not an issue here is because all Internet usage is allowed only in common areas of the house. For us this is upstairs. The upstairs is basically a large open area with the computer room, living room, and kitchen. We spend most of our time in these rooms together and no one is interested in looking up something they don’t want everyone else to see. iPods, iPads, and computers are not allowed downstairs (where the bedrooms are) or in the bathrooms. We have very few “rules” in the house, but this one is not negotiable. Now, sometimes we let my son stay home when the rest of us our out and he may or may not be looking things up. I don’t check on his history, but I trust him. So far he’s been very open with me whenever he has questions and I hope to keep that relationship strong. That way I know that if he finds something he doesn’t understand or wants to know more, he can ask me. I am always honest with him.

    As a side note, it’s been suggested to me that I sign up for the Victoria’s Secret catalog and leave it out for him to find. Assuming he wants something to look at for pleasure, at least it’s a softer core version. I haven’t done it though.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      I should add that the rule isn’t really about porn. It’s about general Internet safety. I’m far less worried that my kids will be exposed to sex than I am of them chatting with someone who is not who they say they are. My kids can’t go anywhere without me yet, but one day they will and I don’t want them getting tricked into a bad situation.

      One more thing, we have regular talks about Internet safety and what is appropriate and not appropriate information for the Internet. My son has his own YouTube account but everyone has nicknames that they use online. Real names, ages, and locations are not allowed.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Sarah, one of the links I provided was to an article about a kid whose parents had the same system you have — family computer, everyone sees everything – and that system did nothing to stop him from becoming so addicted to porn that he wrote about it in Salon.

      This whole conversation reminds me of parents in the 70s who declared that they had the kids who were not having pre-mearital sex. Seriously, how would they even know????


      • Autumn
        Autumn says:

        Yes… I read the article…. And his parents were idiots…. They found it in the history, asked him about it, and he lied…. And of course they knew he lied…. But they did nothing about it! You know like password protecting the entire computer so he couldn’t sneak in the middle of the night and watch it? Or looking at him and saying “we know you’ve looked at porn on OUR computer…. That is not acceptable…. It is an unhealthy and harmful habit that cold destroy your future relationships. Since it appears that you are unable to handle making good decisions while having unlimited access to OUR computer, we are going to do it for you! At least while you are living in our home and using Our computer. ”
        But that would have been entirely too parental and not at all LAZY.

      • Sarah
        Sarah says:

        I know that a family computer in a common area is not a complete deterrent to finding inappropriate Internet content. As I said, he’s already found porn and I don’t doubt that when left home alone, he *could* look it up again. However, I don’t let it go unnoticed. We discuss it. If I noticed it becoming a problem, I would most definitely make some changes. I pay attention and don’t avoid the issue. I have friends with boys the same age who have told me their sons “are not interested in sex yet” and so they allow this same unrestricted access, plus allow their kids to have their devices behind closed doors.

        First of all, I know my friends are not being truthful with themselves about their sons not being interested in sex. Plus I have seen these same boys “humping” playground equipment at the park. I have also heard from several different moms that their kids (boys and girls) are finding out about different sexual terms or viewing sexual content and they aren’t sure where it’s happening since we all homeschool. It’s that type of head in the sand thinking that confuses me. I think you can be aware, be open, be unrestricted, and be honest with your kids. Could I be wrong? Sure. But to this point, I know that my son and I have a better understanding of each other than my friends do when it comes to this particular issue.

  10. MBL
    MBL says:

    I don’t know diddly about the legal aspects, but I suspect you may be setting yourself up for potential trouble. Personally, I wouldn’t let my 7 year old dd near any of that stuff for myriad reasons. But, as stated above, it can escalate and I think there is a world of scary stuff that it could head towards. What happens if they click on images of children? I’m pretty sure it is on you every time they click that they are of a certain age. I’m pretty sure “what could I do?” wouldn’t really cut it. What if, god forbid, they were approached? If they think you are somewhat okay with it, okay enough not to stop them . . .

    As discussed in a recent thread and above, you have written that you publish things this controversial/brave because you do not trust that you have a good foundation of proper boundaries and sexual propriety. My understanding is that you want feedback to know when you are off track. I care about you and your family and I think this may be a blind spot for you.

    Can you keep them from it later, no. Is it your job to facilitate healthy brain wiring while it is still doing some major work, yes. I don’t know diddly about neuroscience either, but I’m pretty sure exposure to porn at such a young age could be incredibly harmful, assuming they wish to have healthy sexual relationships when they are older. As mentioned, pleasure centers that are routinely amped up via fantasy sounds like potential disaster in all kinds of areas.

    I will certainly tell my daughter about porn at some point, but I suspect it will include pros/cons and statistics rather than videos.
    (Oh wait, she saw Beyonce’s half-time show during the Superbowl. My bad.)

    This post really worries me and I am really glad you are looking for suggestions and revisiting the issue.

    FTR, I honestly don’t think setting boundaries or rules with a parenting issue such as porn means you lack faith in self-directed learning. Children need their parents for more than just the basic necessities plus wireless (which may actually have been upgraded to a basic necessity already.)

  11. Leah McClellan
    Leah McClellan says:

    I really like your attitude toward this, Penelope, because I feel strongly that normal things like sexuality should never be repressed or punished and so on–results of that are not good as you know. But having read through the comments I’m reminded that there are so many details.

    I think if I were in the same situation (I’m not a parent but may be so I think of this) I’d probably talk about what porn is, exactly, according to my way of looking at things. I’d probably talk about how it’s not very nice to “spy” on people in general (say, if a window isn’t curtained and you can see two people being intimate quite by accident), and porn is something like that. Both can be stimulating, but what does our moral compass tell us? Do we turn away? Or do we gawk and masturbate automatically, just because we’re aroused? Something like that.

    I guess I’d share my own values with a child: I don’t care for porn. It’s not my thing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, in itself (in general), but it feels so voyeuristic to me I can’t get into it. I know they’re actors, but still. And that brings me to another point: what I know about the porn industry isn’t nice at all. I don’t know how I’d communicate that to a kid. But I would, somehow. It’s a world I don’t want to be a part of (or a child), even if only by viewing it in the way intended. And I’d want to share values like that with a child–kind of like buying a cool T-shirt and knowing it was made in awful conditions in Bangladesh or something. Should we have a part in it?

    Anyway, good stuff. Good post, good writing (this one really came together beautifully; I couldn’t help but notice).

    One more thing–someone said something about the age of a child and that processing of some things/images might not be something he’s capable of…when I was a kid, I had some issues after watching certain things like dogs mating when I was around 7 (I freaked–it wasn’t sexual; I didn’t get that at the time. It was violent and they were “stuck” together–I’ll never forget. Horses mating too–freaky to see and my parents gave no explanation of any sort….). What if a young child stumbles on something violent on the Internet while without supervision? Abusive, sick, and so on? Erotic asphyxiation and whatnot? SMBD? Is it worth the freedom to have some kind of trauma or that kind of self-directed learning? Maybe something to consider.

  12. karelys
    karelys says:

    I guess the world is not waiting for a comfortable way to shove sexuality in everyone’s face. Might as well be just as upfront about it.

    The kid can’t direct himself here very well because he kind of doesn’t have much of a choice. The porn industry is directing him here and since he’s so young it’s hard to grasp the “this is my desire but is it good or bad to give it free rein?”

    In this situation, with the same impetus that porn takes his attention you could talk to him and help him with direction.

    I do have an honest question, how do we handle this?

    If we don’t allow porn in our kids’ way they will find a way to explore their sexuality. Are we supposed to scare them into not masturbating? that’s what many religious groups do. If they masturbate by fantasizing about someone they are still learning to use people instead of interacting with them for sexual pleasure.

    It’s really unrealistic to expect them to not do that.

  13. Tim
    Tim says:

    ” But how does restraint develop? I can understand the mindset of parents who say they shouldn’t be exposed to it till they are adults and can ‘handle’ themselves, but this could be misguided. ”

    This is pretty much the way our society handles alcohol consumption. We say “no, no no, not until you’re 21,” as if the 21st birthday is when the magic responsibility light goes on and suddenly our “impetuous” children have turned into the kind of thoughtful forward-thinking adults that we can trust with alcohol. Surprisingly this fails, and we have colleges filled with binge drinkers.

    So how about I offer the perspective of someone who is closer to this than many here.

    I’m a 31 year old male (happy birthday to me), and I was once a teenager who viewed porn on the internet and before that I was a child looking up dirty words in the dictionary before I even knew what masturbation was.

    I can promise you that the all the restrictions and roadblocks you put in the way of your child will be mere speed bumps on his quest for smut. Once the can of worms is opened, it’s all over, because the internet is too dynamic of a universe for any filtering service to fully “protect” you.

    Oh and once they find out about internet search histories, cookies, caches etc. you can damn well bet they’ll be covering their tracks if they have any reason to believe they are doing something verboten.

    The best advice on here is probably a mix of Daniel’s and Jim’s and I would also advise that ultimately one of the best ways to counteract some of the negative effects of porn –the unrealistic potrayal of the naked female form– is to actually provide alternatives that show real women in a natural way. Obviously I don’t mean at 7 years old, but eventually I will probably end up having a similar conversation with my son when he’s of an appropriate age (although that’s probably a decade away, so who knows what kind of holographic-VR porn will be around by then).

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Let me just add that threats of being locked out of the Internet will definitely stop being effective once your son reaches puberty. It will work about as well as forbidding masturbation.

      I also can’t help but wonder if people would be as in much of an uproar if the erotica their children were perusing took the form of fiction as opposed to photography or video.

      • Ben
        Ben says:

        Porn available today is just very different than the porn out there when you were a boy 20 years ago. And wholly different than the playboys of 35 years ago

        There needs to be short term strategies for different ages. And yes, for a 7 year old that would mean very LIMITED access to the Internet with a goal of no porn at all. (I have a 7yoso I know this is actually not hard to do)

        Erotically very different from a scientific point of view. So yes, assuming my kids were an age that they could read erotica (or just smutty stuff), I would be less concerned. There is a pacing and even if you’re skipping to “the good stuff” it doesn’t have the addictive qualities if online porn. It’s why online gambling is more addictive than gambling with actual playing cards

        I was going to ask if Penelope was going to limit online gambling, but I’m beginning to doubt Penelope Is capable of limiting anything at all

        • Tim
          Tim says:

          “It’s why online gambling is more addictive than gambling with actual playing cards”

          So I guess you don’t want to hear about the 2 years I spent playing online poker as a second job.

          I plan on exposing my children to lots of gambling because I think there are some great lessons in there about probability and odds, and the psychology of gamblers. Children grow up to play terrible state run lotteries because they aren’t infused with this understanding.

          “Porn available today is just very different than the porn out there when you were a boy 20 years ago.”

          This sounds like the arguments made against cannabis legalization. “Oh this isn’t your father’s weed from the 70’s, it’s soooo potent.” The biggest difference between porn from when I was a child on the internet, and porn today is HD resolution. You think there wasn’t crazy stuff, but I promise you there was, I know because I was looking for it and I found it.

          To say there is something wholly addictive about “online porn” as opposed to written erotica or even printed porn is really misguided. If your son masturbated exclusively to romance novels, mulptiple times a day, would you say that he had an “addiction?”

          I, of course, wouldn’t. But I wouldn’t say that if he did the same to naked pics. He’s a curious pubescent boy, it’s natural.

          • Ben
            Ben says:

            Weed is better now. I’ve never heard it expressed the other way.

            And online porn – and online gambling – has been shown to be far more destructive and addicting than “physical” porn or gambling. If I were Penelope, I’d link it up 1000 times.

      • Autumn
        Autumn says:

        Well I certainly would! 7 year olds have no business being exposed to Erotica in any form! What happened to letting kids be kids? Personally I don’t think it is even slightly normal for a 7 yr old to be searching for “sexy girls” on YouTube …. That tells me that this poor child has been neglected and allowed to make his own entertainment choices from a very early age, and has been exposed to completely age inappropriate content! For the sake of what? Mom having peace to WORK more??

          • Autumn
            Autumn says:

            Ummm no….. A 7 yr old boy should be searching for Lego sets, superheroes, and funny dog videos! I have a 10 yr old son… And you can be damn sure he has never searched for pictures of naked women! Of course, I actually moniter what his young mind is ingesting… you know kind of like a PARENT is supposed to??!!!
            My god, the world is so much sicker than I really thought! To think my kids have to grow up and interact with kids of parents with these type of mindsets and lack of rules/discipline/morals is just very depressing

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Autumn, does your kid watch Gangham style? If that’s not porn, I don’t know what is.

          Does your kid play Mario? Google “unintentional porn mario” and look at all the characters who are in sexual positions together.

          Do you walk through a mall where there is a Victoria’s secret? Because many communities regulate those window displays because they are porn.

          I’m just saying that you are delusional if you think you can keep your kid from finding porn.


          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            I think I’ll go with you don’t know what is.

            He’s riding a horse. Seriously. That’s why half the video is in a stable.

          • Autumn
            Autumn says:

            No my children do not watch music videos at all…… They aren’t interested in them, but even if they were, I wouldn’t let them at this point….. We do walk through the mall, but we actually try to avoid walking past the Victoria’s secret displays…. I am SURE you will all scream PRUDE…. Well, go right ahead……
            I am not delusional …. I made the intentional choice to stay home and educate my children… They are with me…. I am engaged in their day…. I account for their time…. I am interested in what THEY are interested in… So I actually check in with them FREQUENTLY throughout the day! (GASP) I do not have a “job at home” that requires more attention, time and effort than being a mother to my children! Perhaps YOU are the delusional one for thinking you could balance all that you do and still be a capable, involved Mother? One who facilitates HEALTHY learning…. Not just throwing unfettered technology at her kids and calling it “self directed learning”……. But it’s all good…. Cause you check their web histories later….. Unreal!

          • kristen
            kristen says:

            Alright, I’m not going to scream at you the way Autumn has…it’s actually giving me a headache to read her comments. So, I’ll replace her caps with quotes.
            I treat many things the way you treat school.
            You have “figured it out” and if the rest of us could just “figure it out” we would take our kids out of school as well. You “know better” than most people and if you just explain it to them and they read the research then they’ll get it and start homeschooling. School is for suckers. Right?
            I feel that way about so many “mainstream” ideas that you take for granted. And the way you look at parents who haven’t considered homeschooling is the way I’m looking at you. Kinda exacerbating, isn’t it?
            Neither of my boys (7 and almost 10) have seen any music videos other than what we’ve shown them. (I just showed them B52s’ Love Shack last night since they love that song.)
            They have no hand held devices so they only get to play Mario at our friend’s house and have never googled anything about it. The only time they use one of our laptops in the kitchen is with our express permission and they would be as likely to use the car without permission as they would the computer.
            We don’t go to a mall (or a superstore of any kind). Ever.
            All of these things which you find so entrenched in our society that you couldn’t imagine your kids growing up into normal functioning adults without…we don’t partake of.
            We miss them as much as you miss school. And when people ask us, “How do you live without Walmart/Nintendo/TV shows/junk food/god/whatever?” We look at them, exacerbated, just like when they ask you how you educate your children without school.

            We’re all just trying to do the best that we can at the most important job of our lives.
            Good Luck.

          • kristen
            kristen says:

            I just watched “Gangham Style” for the first time, without sound, and I would have to agree it looks like he is riding a horse and occasionally makes lasso like movements with his hands otherwise they’re on the “reigns”. There was a young man in the elevator making humping motions and a close up of a girl’s tuchus but not what I would call “porn”. I still wouldn’t show it to my 7yo but I wouldn’t be horrified if he saw it.

  14. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    I think a lot of the comments here are far off the mark. Nowhere here does it say that Penelope plans to let her kids embark on a non-stop, unremarked pornathon.

    She just says that she doesn’t realistically think she can prevent her kids from watching porn.

    What she says she plans to do is have multiple, repeated, in-depth, open conversations about sex and porn with her children.

    Anybody who remembers being a child knows that this is a much more terrifying threat than spanking.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      Here’s an idea which Penelope may be already doing.
      Have the kids read the post and all the comments and then have a discussion about it.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        And then tell them that every time you see they’re watching porn on their computers you’re going to blog about it and all have a family discussion that you will then repeat on your blog in public and so on ad infinitum.

        The shame will metastasize internally until as soon as some porno popup comes along on their game sites they’ll shut it down out of nausea and fear.

        • Mark W.
          Mark W. says:

          I don’t believe in shaming the child.
          In fact, in my comment above (last two sentences), I said – “Your child doesn’t so there needs to be some times where you need to say “no” in such a way where there isn’t shame or guilt placed on him. Maybe some kind of limited, controlled discovery of porn or something like that.”
          So what I’m saying is you’re mistaking the meaning of my comment. “Have the kids read the post and all the comments and then have a discussion about it.” if done properly will not result in shaming him imo.

  15. Mary Kathryn
    Mary Kathryn says:

    I didn’t read all those comments above, but I really have to agree that porn is insanely damaging and hurtful to relationships. And from what you’ve said about your father and your experiences growing up … how is his having porn the nightstand a good thing that you’d want to emulate in your home?

    So basically I can’t agree with your no interference philosophy. If we’re willing to eliminate other damaging influences from our kids’ lives, we should do so with porn. We shouldn’t make an exception simply b/c it’s a sexual topic. That just shows the “sexual freedom” mentality. Nobody gives their 7 year old that much freedom in other areas, so why in that area?

    But you’re right that, in the end, it’s the individual’s decision, b/c your son will soon be 17 and not 7, and he’ll find it for himself. I have sons, 18 and 22. Boys/men learn the hard way that porn will destroy their marriages. So what your son really needs is wisdom, discernment, and self-control, so he will make the right decisions later. If those are traits you’re actively trying to instill in him, that will work best and help him in multiple areas of life.

  16. Julie
    Julie says:

    I think your approach would make a lot more sense to me with a teen. But I just can’t see it with a seven year old. I have a seven year old and there is no way I would give up on keeping her from porn at this age. I know she hasn’t found it because she does not have the computer skills or free and private access to a computer. I mean, googling “poop” is about as bad as she can conceive of right now. If some how she managed to find some I guess I would explain what it is, why it is not good for her and why she can’t watch it. And then I would enforce it and I feel pretty confident that I could enforce it, even if it meant shutting down the computers. There are a lot of things a seven year old is too young for and porn is one of them.

  17. Bird
    Bird says:

    Something the author Neil Gaiman did with his teenage son that I liked: He pointed his kid to a stack of now-vintage porn mags in the basement that he’d written for when he was younger, and he said something like “You might want to stick with these for awhile. There’s plenty to look at here, but none of it is disturbing. Once you’ve seen something you can’t unsee it, and the Internet is very good at showing you things you weren’t looking for and won’t be able to get out of your head.”

    We’ve had a not-entirely dissimilar series of discussions with the kids about adult themes and violence in books and TV/movies. One thing my gang of parents has tried to do is to say “There are some things you might not want to put in your brain yet, because you’re not happy when you’re processing them.” (We’ve messed up plenty so the kids have lots of examples of what this feels like.) The kids have taken to using the kid recommendations on Common Sense Media to check stuff before they watch it.

    Having a viewing history is good. Go back and watch some of it together. (Not all moms could do that, but you can.) Help them deconstruct what they’re seeing, like you’d help them deconstruct a short story. Figure out where they start squirming, so you can help them create boundaries for themselves based on their real comfort level. And give them some places to look that will support staying inside that comfort level, so they don’t have to find them the hard way, by trial and error. Or worse, numb themselves into unawareness of their own comfort level.

  18. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Penelope brought up a LOT of different issues in her post. Parents are mostly left on their own to teach their children about sex and sexuality with few resources and fewer role models. So most parents avoid those conversations as much as they can allow.

    It’s important to give children age-appropriate information as they develop (i.e. they should always be taught the proper words for their and others’ body parts) and answer their questions as they come up (like “where do babies come from?” or “why is there blood in the toilet?”). Penelope doesn’t seem afraid to be frank, which is important.

    Unfortunately, kids and internet porn is fresh territory that not even the most progressive sex ed orgs, that I know of, are willing to touch. That being said, I agree with Jim and David that we should try our hardest to make online porn inaccessible and inconvenient for as long as possible, while still having supportive and honest conversations about sexuality.

    I’m a millennial, and nearly every guy I know found porn online not long after they found the internet. Kids will find it no matter how restrictive we are, its just a matter of how much they’ll be able to consume.

    I also agree with the commenter who said we should try to counter the surrealism of porn and other media with more realistic representations of sex, relationships, and the human body. A huge generational difference between my mother and I is that I never had socially appropriate ways of seeing other people naked. We didn’t shower in gym or change in front of each other at camp. That wasn’t acceptable. Growing up, I could count the pair of real live breasts I’d seen on one hand. And that’s not good. I’d only seen Hollywood or idealized representations of the human body in books or film and that gave me a warped view of how people are supposed to look. So if there are ways to counteract that, we should.

    • Karen Cook
      Karen Cook says:

      If you take your kids to any beach in Spain or France, you’ll see all kinds of breasts as many women (of all sizes) go topless.

        • Tim
          Tim says:

          Actually it does help US parents since it points out that taboos are artificial constructs of a particular culture

        • Karen Cook
          Karen Cook says:

          I don’t care if my boys see topless women swimming and sunbathing in France. I took them (while we were traveling there), they saw, it was not a big deal. But I do not want them watching hard core porn. I see a major difference.

          In other societies kids are exposed to nudity on a daily basis and it’s no big deal. Nudity as part of daily normal life is not a big deal. Watching hard core porn is a big deal. It is destroying familiies. It is turning men into addicts – how pathetic that many cannot perform sexually and aren’t terribly interested in actual sex, due to all the images and jerking off they have been engaging in. And how many women are now opting out of relationships because they sense men now are so twisted in this department?

  19. Cindy Gaddis
    Cindy Gaddis says:

    I’ve raised 6 boys. I’m a Christian unschooler. You can absolutely raise boys (and girls…I have one) who are sexually open, sexually aware, AND sexually responsible…by choice. As we unschoolers always say, unschooling is not for the weak of heart. It takes a LOT of time, interaction, and mentoring.

    I think you know where your number one problem is, Penelope, in figuring out where to go from here. You have used technology to babysit your children and it plain isn’t working. Technology is great if you appropriately coach, mentor, and talk about things.

    If food is used as an unhealthy outlet, especially when young, the result is often a lifetime weight and self-esteem issue. If sex is available in an unhealthy way, especially when young, the result is often a lifetime poor relationship and self-esteem issue. If alcohol or drugs is used as a self-medication outlet, especially when young, the result is often a lifetime of drug and alcohol and self-esteem issues. Please do not kid yourself on this one and cloak it as self-direction.

    Childhood is the only innocent time a person gets in their whole lives. Why are we so fast to destroy it with material that decays the mind faster than they can process it? I even notice less children just playing in their yards, playing fun, interactive, simple games with their parents/family, eating dinner together, etc.

    Anyway, yes, childhood is a time for them to slowly learn self control, self awareness, and mindful choices. With typical childhood choices! For instance, you have choices of clothing … appropriate weather, finding your style, what does that mean, etc. Choices of food … how does that make you feel, what does balance look like and why, what does my experience show and what do you think, etc. Choices of television … the exact same questions. Choices of video games, same questions, etc.

    Also, during childhood, Internet SAFETY is discussed, just like another poster mentioned. This involves how much information to share, awareness of negative influences on the computer, INCLUDING porn, but not exclusive to just porn. People who may pose, etc. With this in mind though, in the childhood ages particularly, computers and electronics are in public places as someone mentioned, and we ALL mindfully choose to be on it, not surf and mindlessly distract ourselves. We teach and mentor conscious engagement.

    Childhood is more the time for boys saying poop, penis, farting, and thinking that’s all funny. That’s why Captain Underpants is so popular with boys…it’s talking about underwear… teeheehee say the boys. That’s normal. They’re not naturally interested in sex stuff yet. Yes, it’s a good place to talk about the other gender’s parts, like breasts, vaginas, etc. Baby talk might come up, but they’re more interested in generalities at that point typically.

    One thing you may need to remember, Penelope, is I think you say your boys are gifted. That means that although their intellect is high and they’re capable of talking more in-depth, doesn’t mean that they’re still not 7 emotionally and developmentally. They are. Just because they’re more CAPABLE of talking about higher sexual content, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Same with if Aspie characteristics are involved. These minds need more care with the input into their minds that can misconstrue.

    Middle school is where all the higher level sexual information and curiosity begins. It makes sense because it’s between 11 and 13 that the brain shifts and you become more aware of your place in the broader world. At that point, you can have totally healthy conversations about the normality of it, and then have those same thoughtful conversations you had in their childhood about typical things, like video games. Let’s talk about how does that make you feel, what does balance look like and why, what does my experience show and what do you think, etc. See how the previous appropriate conversations on more typical interactions now come into play with the more serious stuff? If you didn’t have those conversations with non-serious things, how can the trust and respect happen in the serious things? And by continuing to be present in their lives, and involved, these discussions will happen consistently.

    Those are some of my experiences and thoughts for you as you figure this out. To me, I proactively paid attention to developmental stages of learning, awareness, and ability to process so as to embrace optimal healthy sexual awareness.

    You are in a different situation now that such young boys have seen harmful content at their stage of development. I think you have to do some serious damage control through many discussions, and even talk to them about what’s healthy in the development of sexual awareness and that his exposure to porn at this tender age may cause confusion, unhealthy views and actions, the inability to know how to handle that. I would apologize to them, and then help them know how to deal with the information they have that they now can’t delete.

    Frankly, his actions in the grocery store is an example of this. He has this high sexual content that he thinks is normal, and he’s acting it out, and he knows on one hand it’s probably wrong, but it’s now his norm, and he realizes this is going to make for uncomfortable situations now. And he’s challenging you…what are you going to do about it? I think it’s a serious question that you better find a good answer to. My opinions and experiences only…

  20. Francesco
    Francesco says:

    Ah, the human race…a bunch of moral Fred Flinstones playing with the holodeck on the USS Enterprise, set up by the Xyrillians to destroy them through pleasure. And they don’t even see it coming.

    But, as Mr. Abel wrote in his insightful piece, “as long as I’m not hurting anyone else…” right? On what other sexual topic du jour have I heard that line again?

    Somebody ought to make a WarGames-type movie on the consequences of moral world views.


  21. Liobov
    Liobov says:

    In my experience when 7-10 years old boys look at porn they perceive it in more in terms of a tabu, freak show rather than actual sex act. Kids that age seldom have a concept of sex, the way adults think of sex. It’s just a mysterious thing that adults do and hide and refuse talk about and the kids are trying to figure out what exactly do grownups do and why the hell is it so hush hush. Of course every kid is different but I have yet not come across someone who at 7-10 years of age masturbated while watching porn, the way teenagers and adults do. For a kid, viewing porn and masturbating are two completely different activities. In my experience kids (of both sexes) masturbate for the basic physical pleasurable sensation of the act, not as a couscous sexual act. As a kid, if it itches – you itch, and if parents/society tells you that it is shameful to itch in public, you do it privately.

    That said, if you want to start a healthy conversation with your kids about sex and porn, why not read them articles about how actual shoots are made (so they understand that what they see is staged, just like a theater play)? There are a lot of healthy, sex positive pornography out there, often labeled as “female friendly porn”, “feminist porn” or “authentic porn”. You can show your kids some of it and listen to their questions.

    In the end, how your kids will handle sex and pornography will depend on your own feelings about it. It’s easy to treat porn as any other subject if you regularly view films in which you feel that women are treated well and sex acts depicted look authentic. If you interested I can e-mail you some links, but I think you are a pretty savvy googler yourself.

  22. renae
    renae says:

    A lot of commenters have pointed out that boundaries here may be blurred or nonexistent. There are people that have really good answers– perhaps you should engage a parenting coach.

  23. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    I was exposed to Playboy as a kid too (back in the 1970s) and it is very mild compared to what you can find on the net if you search. And even if they aren’t deliberately looking for the really vile stuff, it could be sent to them by friends as a dare, or found by mistake when searching for something else.

    I do believe that in lots of poorer parts of the world (and times in history), there is less privacy and kids are exposed to sex. It doesn’t ruin their little minds. Some of the comments here are the typical “helicopter parenting” that infects so many — the idea that if we do *anything* wrong it will ruin our kids.

    On the other hand, if you don’t set any standards for your kids, they won’t develop them. Find a site you think is appropriate and say “Stick with this. Some of the things you’ll find out there are disgusting and I don’t approve!” That’s the modern equivalent of leaving Playboy around.

    I’ve teased my sister that she should send her 13-year old boys to http://www.kindgirls.com/ but she seems to hate the whole idea of them even being interested in sex!

  24. Blessed
    Blessed says:

    i feel bad for you penelope that you’re so fucked up that you have to fuck up your kids too…whether its by leaving your seven year old online alone where child sex predators prey on innocent souls or allowing to be raised with close friends around such as your sad little friend melissa who is a total screwed up whore that goes from guy to guy to keep busy and not deal with her own fucked up demons. Child protective services needs to be all over this and I hope they take your kids soon before its too late which honestly in my heart i feel that it is.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I feel bad for you that you would spend time reading a blog written by someone you think is so messed up.

      A really core idea of this blog is that people should learn to find what they are interested in, and spend their time doing what they feel is valuable. You reading my blog reminds me of kids having to read books they hate. Why bother? There is so much in the world you can read and love and grow from. Don’t bother reading stuff you hate.

      This is, I think, what happens when you have too much school: you start to think it’s fine to spend time reading a blog you hate.


      • kristen
        kristen says:

        I feel bad for you that you felt you needed to respond to this god-forsaken troll.
        I expect better from you.

  25. Josh
    Josh says:

    I don’t agree with all the commenters who say that Penelope is a bad parent and that she is wrong. She shows up clearly as a very loving and good mom.
    Also porn is everywhere, it is widely used to sell goods. The most important thing is to keep on talking to your sons and explain what porn is, and how it is different from a nurturing sexual relation. My son, who is now 21, watched a lot of porn. It troubled me. But we kept on talking about it, in a non judgemental way, although talking with a kid is difficult, both for a mom and for the kid. He is grown up into a nice man, good with his girlfriend. We still talk a lot about difficult stuff if he is home from the university. Talking and trusting and loving makes a relationship and that is much more worthwhile than controlling and mistrust. Our sons and daughters have to come to terms with porn, and it better happens within a trustfull connection with your parents, than in loneliness or just with peers.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      ” how it is different from a nurturing sexual relation.”

      Do you really have to discuss it? Because it’s obvious on its face.

  26. Tim
    Tim says:

    For those who are reasonable on this subject, and can discuss it without succumbing to hysterics… I offer two links of related topics:

    Lies we tell our Kids

    Adults lie constantly to kids. I’m not saying we should stop, but I think we should at least examine which lies we tell and why.

    There may also be a benefit to us. We were all lied to as kids, and some of the lies we were told still affect us. So by studying the ways adults lie to kids, we may be able to clear our heads of lies we were told.

    I’m using the word “lie” in a very general sense: not just overt falsehoods, but also all the more subtle ways we mislead kids. Though “lie” has negative connotations, I don’t mean to suggest we should never do this—just that we should pay attention when we do.

    On talking to children and adolescents about BDSM and Sex

    The point I’m making here is that talking to very young kids about sexuality—any kind of sexuality—rightfully starts by discussing the fundamentals, the 101s, if you will. Since these are fundamentals, they are widely applicable, and even if they include some explicit references, they never need to be eroticized (because yes, there is a difference between “explicit” and “eroticized”). It frustrates the living daylights out of me that so many people seem to forget this basic principle of growth and learning and start freaking out over whole subjects, rather than specific details, that they project would be “age inappropriate.”

  27. JRW
    JRW says:

    These kinds of posts are the ones that make it hard for me to get my friends and family reading your blog, Penelope. I guess your writing (and life?) is just not for the faint of heart, and as you’ve said, it requires a very open mind to read. You never fail to make me think deeply though, and I do appreciate it.

    Also, the last link in the post about “soft porn’s effect on the brain” is broken, I’d like to read it if you could fix it please!

  28. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    like “2 girls, 1 cup”, I with I could unsee this post.

    1. How are you homeschooling your kids about sex ed? By providing unlimited access to the internet? Really? (For that matter, I’m beginning to wonder how you provide any homeschooling at all, on any topic)

    2. I think you are confusing an article in Salon for actual common sense. “I know a guy who was killed in a car crash and his car had seat belts!” “Yeah, but you have to actually fasten your seat belts or that don’t work.”

    3. For someone who has a lot of her ego wrapped up in being on top of things, I think you’re at least 5 years behind the times. I have younger kids and teen kids and these days, it’s so much easier to keep kids away from harmful things. My 6 and 7-year old have seen that video or played Mario. They have seen almost no internet or broadcast tv for that matter. It’s all about steaming netflix and apps — when we do that stuff, and we don’t do a lot of that stuff. They’re “game-ish” enough.

    You love links. Here’s one about how silicon valley big wigs are sending their kids to waldorf schools. There are actual professional tech people who agree that this much access and screen time in general at this age is not appropriate.


    I have no problem with Victoria’s Secret catalogs. That you do is shocking to me. My kids all spent 2 years of their lives in Paris where bulletin boards have far more naked bodies. THIS concerns you?

    4.. Do your boys have any limits on anything, ever? How is your rational different with food or brushing teeth?

    5. I dont’ know the situation with the father of your boys, but I’d be suing you for custody after reading this. THAT is how outrageous this post reads.

  29. Simone
    Simone says:

    I found this post so profoundly sad and troubling on so many levels. Its quite obvious that you are a good mom who loves her children and would do anything for them. You make sacrifices that most parents would not such as homeschooling over choosing a high octane career path and staying with your husband to keep the family together as oppose to divorce for your own personal benefit over your children’s needs. I have admired much about you but this post is so chillingly, scary to me.

    What I find troubling is how faulty the basis of your rationalization is here. The mere fact that you would use your upbringing by parents who sexually abused you as a basis for any part of your decision is a cause for concern. In the normal/non-traumatized mind, this would be an immediate red flag.

    I’m scared that this rationalization is a perpetuation of your own abuse. I can only imagine what your parents were thinking to justify what they did to you. And if you can’t see the boundaries that they broke with you, how are you suppose to see it with your own children. I fear the slippery slope factor here.

    I don’t sexually touch my children, but I let them see sexual acts. Is this not sexual abuse? Is this not sexualization of a child at an early age? Considering that most sexual abusers/molesters use this tactic as part of the grooming process, what are you setting your children up for? And I’m sorry Ms. Trunk but music videos and pop culture is vastly different than the graphic sex your child maybe viewing.

    And what happens if your child starts touching his peers in the same manner he is viewing? When playing house which happens with kids its usually some innocent hugging or kiss on the cheek type things (you hope) but because of your sons exposure to porn, I fear he’ll have a more adult context to mimic. Or god forbid, if he is touched in that manner?

    I remember when Oprah talked about her abuse how she said what parents don’t realize is that the touching feels good. How will your son know the difference? Did you? This is just such an opening of a Pandora box where you can’t control the factors that has the potential to damage his young mind. Children are so impressionable, I fear your not only sexualizing your child at an early age but forcing him into adulthood as well. This is what your parents did to you.

    I know how much you like research and links so I went looking to see if victims of sexual abuse, especially incest, become abusers themselves. The findings is that with male victims, yes, they do go on to be abusers at higher rates than female victims which is somewhat reassuring here, but not really.


    I just don’t understand considering the trauma and havoc that your own sexual abuse has caused that you would you not feel the need to safeguard your own children. Imagine your parents agreeing that your children should watch porn at this age? Did they let you at your son’s same age? Imagine a teacher, a total stranger making this same decision?

    There is a vast difference between teaching your children sex ed and letting your them watch porn. I think I need a break from your blog. I truly hope that you will take into account some of the comments here.

  30. Sam
    Sam says:

    I don’t think porn is a terrible thing in and of itself. And yes children will get their hands on it even with the most vigilant parents. But by not saying anything about it to your kids, you are actually saying something. You don’t have to scream “No porn!” and put all kinds of blocks on. But you can explain that you care what your kids watch and that they should care too.

    It’s not really the “sex” in porn that I think parents need to be careful of- it’s the rampant overtone (sometimes obvious, sometimes not so much) of degradation and cruelty.

    Once your sexuality becomes based around humiliation and cruelty, it can be hard to undo. Not to be crass, but guys in my generation (20s) are obsessed with things like ejaculating on women’s faces because they have been wanking off to those images since they were 7. I know this because I ask them why they like such things, and the only real answer is that they’ve seen it a thousand times.

  31. Katie
    Katie says:

    Thank you for sharing. We felt like such a naive parental failures when we discovered our 13 year-old had been watching soft porn since the age of 9. We used Net Nanny for a year or so, but it was a nightmare with all the conflicts with the virus software, not to mention the constant cat-and-mouse game. What we ended up doing was banning computers in the boys’ bedrooms. They have to use the computers out in the family areas. There are plenty of times when we leave the house that they get to do whatever they want, but at least there is a time cap on their porn consumption.

    Every time we catch a violation (laptop snuck into the bedroom after lights out), it is a week’s worth of allowance. That has actually been fairly effective.

    You can tell them that porn is bad for them, and they may register your message on some subconscious level, but you have to remember how visual males are. Once they reach puberty, they will sit around and masturbate until their fingers fall off if you let them. (Then they will switch to their toes.)

    • Karen Cook
      Karen Cook says:

      Why don’t you simply put a password on the computer for the times when you’re not home? Or kill the wifi?

  32. Katy
    Katy says:

    I can’t read through this whole thread because so far I’m not seeing anyone address the real issue here: allowing boys to watch porn is allowing them to victimize women. If it’s not okay for your son to drug and rape someone, it’s not okay for your sons to go online and watch someone else do the same things (and get off on it)

    I don’t give a shit about this highly academic ivory tower discussion on the value of trying to restrain someone from doing something harmful to others.

    Apparently you’re not very well versed in how young women get roped into the porn industry, or what it does to them. They end up empty shells of flesh – souls are literally destroyed by an industry that is fed and kept alive by all the people who feed on it.

    any discussion of porn with my two sons will be done with the knowledge that they have a precious sister, and the girls in those videos aren’t there because that was their lifelong dream and ambition. Respect for women first – sex “education” is secondary.

    • kristen
      kristen says:

      This is what we will educate our boys about when the time is appropriate.
      The same way we talk about what “made in China” or “made in Vietnam” means for a lot of people who don’t have our advantages.
      We don’t just say “no”, we explain why we don’t do it even if everyone else does. These are our family values. Who will teach them to our children if we don’t? School?

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      If it’s not okay for your son to drug and rape someone, it’s not okay for your sons to go online and watch someone else do the same things.”

      Are you aware that what qualifies as pornography is a much larger and varied collection of media than images/videos of staged rape?

      Apparently you’re not very well versed in how young women get roped into the porn industry, or what it does to them. They end up empty shells of flesh – souls are literally destroyed by an industry that is fed and kept alive by all the people who feed on it.

      Apparently you are not aware that a lot of porn out there these days is user-generated content. No one is getting spit up and chewed out (well unless it’s part of some sort of TPE situation). I know this might blow your mind, but there are women who GET OFF on being nude in front of people. Granted it’s not a large segment, but it’s an existant one.

      “the girls in those videos aren’t there because that was their lifelong dream and ambition.”

      How in the world could you possibly know that? How can you speak for so many people you’ve never met?

      I had a bit of this whole discussion with my partner recently (inspired by this blog post). She probably shares some of your concerns because one of her biggest issues is instilling our son with a proper concept of consent. One of the biggest issues she has with porn is that often times the consent isn’t shown at the beginning of the video. Now there are some videos that involve a post-action interview where the actors discussed what happened and how they felt about it. Her goal would be that as a society we should be instilling the value of consent in our children so that they demand the type of porn that features a similar segment at the beginning showing consent.

      It’s an ambitious goal, but at least it’s one that we can do our part to achieve with the things we teach our son.

      • Katy
        Katy says:

        How in the world could you possibly know that? How can you speak for so many people you’ve never met?

        Yes I am aware of all the user-generated content, and yes some people enjoy making those videos of themselves and posting them online.
        But to assume that all the girls in those videos are there with total consent – and that they are not hyped up on drugs to get through it – and they haven’t been kicked out by their families and need the money – yeah.
        Men like to pretend that all the girls they watch are totally into it. That they aren’t participating in the abuse of another.
        If you can find a place online that guarantees that, then go ahead and indulge all you want.
        Incidentally I have an ex husband who was addicted to porn and he was almost non-functional in the bedroom. And it’s not because I’m fat and unattractive – (or “my wife doesn’t want to get jizzed in the face all the time and she’s not crazy about anal so I need to watch all this porn instead”)

        So I stand by what I’m going to teach my boys on this. It partly destroyed our family, it does contribute to the degradation of some women, and it absolutely promotes disrespect of women if you get addicted to it.

  33. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The advocates and detractors of a porn ban on the Internet are having a “discussion” in Iceland. I don’t think the government should insert themselves here but every culture is different. I find both pro and con arguments and their reasoning to be interesting.
    The following taken from the article ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/25/iceland-porn-ban-internet-filter_n_2758526.html ) as it applies to this post – “Advocates say it is a sensible measure that will shelter children from serious harm. “When a 12-year-old types `porn’ into Google, he or she is not going to find photos of naked women out on a country field, but very hardcore and brutal violence,” said Halla Gunnarsdottir, political adviser to the interior minister. “There are laws in our society. Why should they not apply to the Internet?”

  34. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    This is a really tough one. I totally get that we can’t stop them seeing it, that’s true but we can try. I think it’s one of those things like smoking, drugs and drinking, our kids are probably going to try it but the older they are the better they’ll be able to deal with it and the less chance they’ll have of becoming addicted.

  35. Francesco
    Francesco says:

    Most parents are like Voltaire: they want their children, their spouse, and their CPA to be Christians, but, as for them, they quite cherish the idea of following the demon of the age.

    I see three options:
    1. Keep up the hypocrisy (hint: works only for 7-10 years or so, they it’s your children’s turn to follow the demon of the age, in this case post-modernism’s unrestrained lust for empty self-gratification). This is the road chosen by conservatives;
    2. Be honest but evil and let them soon worship the same demon you do; this is the road chosen by liberals;
    3. Be honest but good and consistent. Give them the red pill, but take it yourself first. But who wants to take up a cross and walk the hard road in the age of holodecks? It’s so dèmodè.

    Remember the words of Will Durant, “Sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.”

    This includes adults.

  36. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “NASA Johnson Style” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Sar5WT76kE ) is an educational parody of Psy’s Gangnam Style. It’s a volunteer outreach video project created by the students of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The lyrics and scenes in the video have been re-imagined in order to inform the public about the amazing work going on at NASA and the Johnson Space Center.

  37. Catty
    Catty says:

    I think there is a problem with girls looking at porn. I’ve looked at porn a few times, and it confused me so much every time- aged 12 to 18. It said that it was ok to do those things. I did some of those things. I thought ‘it’s just body parts, what’s the big deal?’ and started at 14. But later, it turned out it was a big deal, and I’ll regret things that happened for the rest of my life because I let myself get to a situation where I had no control, and, effectively, I was raped.So I’ll be putting a filter on my children’s computers just to make it a little harder, and to prevent them seeing it accidentally. As you say, they’ll find a way round it if they want to, and by that point we’ll have talked about it, and will continue to do so. No one spoke to me about it.

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