This is a guest post from Sarah Faulkner. She is a homeschooling mom in Washington state. She has five kids, ages 13, 11, 9, 5, and 2. 

Back when I was planning on sending my son to school, the things I figured I would have to teach him would be respect, sex, drugs, how to work hard, and so forth—things school doesn’t always teach well. I didn’t realize I would have to teach him about porn.

When we decided to homeschool, I felt so good because I could teach him the facts of life and such on my own terms, at my own speed.  I would not be competing against the kids in school, or against the school.  What I didn’t count on was the competition from porn online.

My husband caught our ten-year-old son watching porn and announced to me that our son definitely liked girls.  While I don’t have a problem with teaching him about the birds and bees at his age, I do have a problem with what porn does to you psychologically at any age.  The Art of Manliness did a great job highlighting the psychological effects of porn.

In order to teach my son about porn I had to understand it.  I didn’t want to just lock down the internet and walk away.  That teaches him nothing for when he is older and I can’t be around to lock down his world.

1.  Porn is Like junk food.  Boys (and some girls) can’t stop watching.
My husband is obviously a man, and when I asked him what to do he just gave me a blank stare. I started asking other women how they handle porn.  I met a lot of blank stares. Let me say this, if your husband has any type of sexual drive, he likes porn.

As I learned about my new enemy, I learned it’s like junk food for the mind.  One afternoon I found myself hidden in my bathroom from the kids, sneaking some chocolate.  That’s when I realized, if I couldn’t stop hiding to eat chocolate, my son couldn’t stop watching porn.  No matter what it is you are hiding, stopping is hard.
 
2.  The moment you make something a big deal is the moment it becomes one.
My husband sat down with our son and gave him this advice: “It’s not ok to watch porn, but it’s OK to feel that way.  You can’t help it.” This advice twisted in my son’s mind into some type of permission, and every time he was caught, he would echo back those words, “I can’t help it.”

I wanted to keep catching him, but I knew if I made a big deal out of it, I wouldn’t catch him because he would get better at hiding it.  I didn’t know how to handle the problem, but I knew I didn’t want to get into a competition with him of hide and seek. I would lose, because I don’t have the motivation or inclination to learn all the secret passageways of the Internet.
 
3.  The punishment needs to be worse than the pleasure of porn.
It wasn’t my concern over the distortion of sex from porn that spurred me to figure this out, as much as it was a desire to overcome his “I can’t help it” excuse. I came up with a punishment of working 40 hours of chores each time he was caught. If he was too tired from working, he wouldn’t have energy to watch it. Part of me was right, he didn’t have energy to sneak around, but he did have energy to keep repeating that line, “I can’t help it.” over and over.

After every chore I would ask him how he felt about porn and every chore his answer was the same smug response.  I wanted to choke him, or beat him, or something. But instead, I just made the chores worse and worse and slowly the attitude behind the words started to dissipate.

4.  Teach a lesson, because punishment won’t teach anything by itself.
I must confess I hate cleaning my refrigerator.  I really hate cleaning it.  I hadn’t cleaned it for a year, so you can imagine how bad it was in a family of seven when my son had to clean it.  He had completed 30 hours of work.  Halfway through the cleaning he came to me and sincerely said he never wanted to watch porn again. He begged me to let him stop cleaning the refrigerator.  I made him finish the fridge, but I let him off for the remaining hours. Once the lesson was learned, I was done teaching.

5. Reward confessions.
We came up with a system.  I would lock down the internet the best I could, and he would tell me when he found a way to watch porn. As long as he told me, he wouldn’t be punished with cleaning the fridge.  But if I caught him, the fridge was waiting.

This has worked well, we are porn-free in our house, basically. At least when it happens I am told about it. The hardest part about all of this is accepting my son’s monitoring of himself while not freaking out over the degrading habit.

35 replies
  1. Letitia
    Letitia says:

    THIS was right on time… I’m dealing with this issue currently. I would like to say, GIRLS are NOT immune to this problem. Porn is the sneakiest bastard EVER! It found her. (Thanks/NO thanksYou Tube side bar)
    I have not come up with a solution, but your article gave me some good ideas.
    Once again, thanks for the kind of transparency that can help others

    LDJ

    • Becca
      Becca says:

      Very very true. I’m 29 now and I was VERY curious as a child and was looking up stuff 20 years ago on my 56k modem lol. I think porn has changed too, having seen it over 20 years.

      I don’t know if girls differ from boys in how porn effects developing brains, but I definitely don’t think porn negatively effected me. I knew/know it’s fantasy and don’t expect porn scenarios in my real life.

  2. cindy Allen
    cindy Allen says:

    Was this actually a problem, or did you create one? Your column prompted me to ask my boys about it. My 19 year old is carving pumpkins with his girlfriend, so I’ll wait until she leaves. I asked my 21 year old, and he just kind of laughed and said he wasn’t 13 anymore. He said every kid under 14 has looked at porn.

    A previous boyfriend was a tech guy, always on all of our computers. He was around during their preteen/early teen years and would periodically check histories. He never found anything that concerned him. So, I never thought much about it. Some looking is normal. So what. I think making a big deal makes it a bigger deal. Sheesh…..

  3. Amy
    Amy says:

    When my son was about 9 or 10, he totally ruined two computers with viruses from porn (kind of ironic when you think about it).

    No video games or online friends for six weeks while the computers were fixed pretty much cured him. (Granted, I let it take six weeks, but lesson was learned.)

    Not saying he doesn’t get porn in other forms, but he loves those video games and stupid you-tube videos too much to risk it on his computer…

  4. cindy Allen
    cindy Allen says:

    My son just told me to tell you, P, that you are going to instill deep shame by punishing your son. Just passing on what he said…..

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hey Cindy,

      I don’t think this post is by Penelope. It says “family of 7” and the photo doesn’t look like either one of her two sons. If I had to guess, I think this is a guest post by Sarah, but when this was posted Penelope forgot to introduce the guest poster to us. Oops!

    • Susan
      Susan says:

      I think the lesson he is being offered is the urge is normal, but the content is age inappropriate. He’s only 10. It’s a proven fact that porn at this young age is damaging and she is protecting him best she can. To turn a blind eye to it seems neglectful.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      OMG this is a guest post from Sarah. I forgot to add that at the top of the post. That’s such a huge oversight. I corrected it.

      And, for the record, we have an unlimited porn policy in our house. We talk about it a lot, (I have dealt with questions like “Do you and dad have anal sex?”) And for now I have decided that making porn off limits does more damage (per Cindy’s son’s remarks) than unlimited porn.

      Still, I like to have diverse points of view on the blog, so I published Sarah’s post.

      Penelope

      • Blackwalnut
        Blackwalnut says:

        Wha?? Are we so petrified about letting our kids feel shame that we allow them to watch porn at age 10? Unlimited porn? Unreal. Do we also allow them to masturbate at the grocery store?

        Sorry, but I believe that you can teach your kids to have a healthy attitude toward sex while still teaching them that there are forms of sexual expression that are not okay. It’s no use trying to pretend that porn isn’t unhealthy. We don’t try to pretend that eating too much sugar is just fine, do we? Even though we have all over Indulged?

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          My kids have a lot of interests, so they would not want to spend all day looking at porn. We have open dialogue about why porn is not healthy for kids. Or adults, really. We have discussions about how self-discipline is difficult.

          You know, your husband has unlimited porn also. And I don’t think it’s much different. It’s a life skill to learn how to limit things like cookies, loafing, gossip, porn, all easy things that are no good in the long run.

          Penelope

          • Blackwalnut
            Blackwalnut says:

            So when you say you have “unlimited porn” at your house what you really mean is you have “limited porn”. Don’t say you allow your kids unlimited access to something when in fact you do not.

  5. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I bought my youngest son a tablet for his birthday last year and his mom found porn on it inside of 6 months. I wasn’t aggressive enough about checking.

    This is what I said to him:

    Do not be ashamed as you are made to be naturally curious about sex. Porn is so incredibly available, and you are so incredibly naturally curious, that it was just a matter of time before you found it.

    But your skull is yet full of mush. Because you have no experience with real sex with someone you love, your brain wants to make porn into what it thinks normal sex is. Trust me on this: porn has as much to do with real sex as an action movie has to do with real life.

    Every man with an Internet connection has to deal with what he’s going to do about porn. If you asked ten men if they’d used Internet porn, nine would say yes and the tenth would lie to you. I wish I could say I’ve had a clean history with it but I haven’t. And even though I’ve been married, which led to you being born, it’s screwed with my view of what normal sex is.

    One of the hardest things in life is figuring out what to do about your sex drive. I wish I could give you a clear path but I can’t. You’ll have to figure out for yourself what’s healthy and right for you. The only rule of thumb I can give you is that sex should build you and your partner up, and draw you closer, and if it’s not doing that, you need to look at it and your relationship pretty closely.

    But I have to protect you from porn, because it will mess with your still-forming mind. I will be checking from now on. I’m a geek and I work in software development — I know how to monitor you, and even incognito mode can’t shield you. If I find you’re using porn, I’ll block your Internet access, period. [This is the worst possible consequence for my son, bar none, full stop.]

    But again, do not feel ashamed. You are wired to be interested and that is a very, very good thing about being human. Shame should not be a part of your sexual experience. But it’s my job to protect you from porn because it will mess you up.

    • Jana Miller
      Jana Miller says:

      This is exactly how we handled it. We had a program that runs in the background that took screenshots at intervals. We could see if our son was on a site for hours or choosing to click off of the site right away.

      I’m not sure if this was the right way to handle it but we wanted to help him monitor himself rather than block everything. He was in his teens. For younger children I’d block it. We must talk openly about this with our kids. Shame is useless.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The Art of Manliness article is a great link. The article lays bare many facts about porn that aren’t readily obvious if you’re watching porn mindlessly for it’s ability to sexually arouse and entertain. Watch enough porn in a detached and critical manner and it’s not too difficult to find it demeaning, unrealistic, vacuous, etc. As the article points out – “up to 88% of all the scenes in porn videos involve some type of aggression, be it hitting, gagging, slapping, verbal abuse, etc” and “What is often forgotten is that sex in porn is choreographed to turn on a third-party viewer, not for the people actually taking part in the sex.”. Children are naturally curious and will find a way to view porn. The extent to which they watch and truly understand it and its effects upon them will depend upon them understanding the facts. Hopefully, they’ll have the ability to explore and understand those facts with the support of their parents so they are able to make sound judgments and decisions. I think the worst perception that a child can have of porn is that its practices are somehow the norm and acceptable behavior because of its pervasiveness and easy accessibility on the Internet. Also, I think it’s important that the child feels comfortable enough to approach their parents with these difficult and awkward questions and discussions and their parents are willing to have them.

  7. Casey Kennedy
    Casey Kennedy says:

    My bro in law is the only male I know who claims he’s never had an issue with porn and he credits that to the fact the his family had only one computer and it was not allowed to leave the kitchen area. Now, this was before smart phones and tablets but maybe a kid that age is too young for that sort of thing anyway, in my opinion. The argument that kids need such things to be tech literate in a techy world is a weak one as those things are programmed to be simple enough for a monkey to use. Delaying access, unlimited access, until one is a certain age is not going to cause any problems.
    On the subject of shame, many of these comments warn of causing your sons or daughters to feel “shame”. While I don’t think young men and women should feel ashamed of having sexual urges, I do think shame can be a helpful tool in becoming a moral and whole human being. There are a group of people who feel no shame, no matter what their actions are. They are called sociopaths. Can parents be abusive by shaming their children excessively? Sure. But shame is not altogether a bad thing. I personally hope my husband would feel ashamed if he was staring at porn for hours every night.

  8. Nikki W (SAHMinIL)
    Nikki W (SAHMinIL) says:

    I don’t buy the line: “Well everyone’s doing it”. I’m sorry you are not everyone — you are my child and I have goals, rules, and expectations. Well you fall short? Of course — we all do — but that doesn’t mean I don’t have rules, goals, and expectations.

    I have seen, first hand, what porn addiction can do to a marriage and relationship and honestly I want better for my marriage and any marriage that my child might have in the future.

    If you child is 18, 19, 20, 21 — well then they might look at you as if you have 3 eyes balls, but if they are 15, 14, 13, 12 — they might still look you that way, but they are still young and can be lead, guided, etc.

    So can 18+ person — but they tend to be a bit more willful and ‘know it alls’.

  9. E
    E says:

    Cleaning the fridge?! That punishment misses the point entirely. Punishing your child is not TEACHING your son anything about how to he can go about creating meaningful, healthy sexual relationships as an adult.

    I cannot recommend the Birds and Bees and Kids web site strongly enough! http://www.birdsandbeesandkids.com/ It’s the very best resource I’ve found for teaching your kids about sex and how to discuss difficult issues like porn and masturbation, etc. I’m so glad I found this resource while my kids are still so young!

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      E, I think it’s the same titling problem that’s plagued this blog for years.

      The editor probably thought it was catchier than “Best way to deal with porn? Make him work like a slave until he repents.”

  10. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Sarah, thanks for tossing up this topic & your approach. With a few years to go before navigating this minefield, it’s interesting to read your take, Penelope’s and those of the commenters. From what most are saying it sounds like if you make your son clean the fridge everytime you catch him you are going to have one helluva clean fridge :-). Penelope’s policy is interesting – I guess leads me to think that like screen time, not all porn is the same (need to find that good, empowering, female-led stuff :-). For some of the commenters there seems to be a common theme of monitoring kids usage which feels intially disappointing, but I’m not going to know until I get there. How does that saying go – trust is good, but control is better.

  11. Casey Kennedy
    Casey Kennedy says:

    I think, judging from the comments, many are operating out of the mindset that they don’t want to raise their children in the same fashion they were raised, which seems to be with shame and restrictions. I can speak from a different angle. I, being now a 30 year old woman, was raised very much in the way PT described raising her sons; no restrictions, particularly when it came to sexual things. At least, that’s what it seemed to me her comment implied. I was watching Real Sex on HBO with my mom when I was a pre teen. I watched porn, had boyfriends spend the night, etc etc. I can tell you, this is not a great experience for a kid. I love my mom and have a great relationship with her now, but I look at many of her parenting quirks with bitterness today. Far from giving me a mature outlook on sex, it gave me a sense that all men were aggressive, had strange fetishes and, if I ever wanted a man myself, I had better be the same. I had many nightmares of being raped throughout my childhood, somehow became convinced I was sexually molested by my father (which I wasn’t), and adopted the idea that if I didn’t assume the lowest common moral denominator, I was a prudish hypocrite. Like I said, I love my mom, but I wish she had done a bit more to maintain my innocence. Without her guidance, I was lost and made many, many mistakes. Perhaps I would have made the same mistakes if she had been more strict. Perhaps I would have different hang ups. I don’t know. All I know is the alternative is not as rosy as some might imagine.

    • Kristin
      Kristin says:

      Thank you for saying this. I agree. Sex is not for the young. I had a similar, though not AS exposed experience, and I started sex young. Playboy channel was openly watched in my house when I was 11, but I did not watch it with my parents. To keep a long story short, I believe my early exposure to sex and sexual content led to me having issues as an adult. Even now I find it hard to talk about sex with adults, let alone my children! This is the one thing in my life I wish I could go back and un-do from my childhood. I fear the day I have to talk to my kids about this! Ugh.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I think there is a huge psychological difference when it’s the kid seeking out their own interest in sex via porn vs the parents openly watching it in front of the kids and encouraging that same behavior (I, personally, find that troubling).

        Could you elaborate on the context a bit more? Maybe I’m missing something.

        I don’t think the author thought through what she was doing. It all seems very reactive rather than sticking to the point. She seemed to be trying to understand and deal with a young child watching porn continuously. Unfortunately, as soon as he triggered an emotional button with her (through defiance) it spurred another set of issues (control and dominance) that she states directly has nothing to do with porn. The whole ‘porn’ issue was sidetracked to oblivion and it became about regaining her significance in the relationship. Win/lose type thing.

        But hey, I guess she’s going to have a sparkling kitchen because this issue is going to come up again and he’s going to continue to watch it.

        Personally, my kids haven’t reached that age yet, but my husband and I have decided that if it happens rather young we will turn the Internet off. If they have questions we would engage them. And we fully expect them to watch it as they age. I also expect them to regulate themselves, and we will explain the consequences of over-doing it etc. Our goal is to have open communication with them, be supportive, and set age appropriate boundaries.

        • Casey Kennedy
          Casey Kennedy says:

          To elaborate, as requested: my mom didn’t watch porn alongside me or do anything sexual alongside me. But her policy regarding sexual matters was to be completely open. PT saying her sons asking if she and her husband have anal sex, this is what I’m talking about. There was no sexual topic that was off limits. This wasn’t all bad, as it gave us an honest relationship, but it certainly cheapened the sexual experience in my mind. I keenly remember feeling like something was wrong with me to still be a virgin at 16 and became determined to change that status in the quickest way possible. That first experience, as you might imagine, was not the greatest. I guess I just wished my mom had allowed sex to be what I see it now, as a married adult: something beautiful, something sweet and special and full of love. The idea that sex was anything but hard and dirty, as it is presented in porn, was laughable in my house as a child. We talk so much about taking the control away from others in regards to our children’s education. How could we be so foolish as to let porn be our children’s teacher on the subject of sex? It’s like dropping your kid off at a strip club for dance lessons.

  12. MBM
    MBM says:

    I think Sarah’s response to all of this is really harmful and she’s teaching him that responding to his sex drive is something to be ashamed of. I say this as an adult, but 20 years ago I was a homeschooled preteen-aged girl with a lot of sexual curiosity who got caught a lot (and sometimes not) anytime I tried to get information. The “sex ed” I was allowed to get, was heavily filtered and largely inaccurate. So I turned to the internet and got my information there any chance I got. That turned into a lot of porn watching.

    I still love porn, and there is a lot of female-friendly porn out there, geared toward men and women. It has come a long ways and isn’t inherently degrading of women like it once was. Please consider teaching your kids consent, and respect, both for themselves and any future partners. As a parent, it’s fine to tell him he’s too young for adult videos, but know he’ll probably still seek them out. If you pin guilt/shame/punishment to these sexual feelings, all you are going to do is help shape some fetishes out for him in the future.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think the real truth is that adults are not so sure how to deal with porn in our lives so how can we be so sure how to deal with it for kids.

      Penelope

  13. Bernie
    Bernie says:

    Really, really interesting topic and it’s great that you highlighted it here.
    I don’t like the punishment approach but I worry about how to handle this and have been avoiding it.
    I’m going to talk to my son and the words of Jim Grey above as well as the resources shared are so useful.
    As a feminist, I have strong feelings about most porn and that makes it hard to accept it is part of life but I’m determined not to stick my head in the sand.
    Thanks once again for featuring.

  14. Jen
    Jen says:

    I watched porn when I was a kid (a little girl of 9ish). I had to sneak down to the basement to watch it on the TV I wasn’t allowed to watch – it was the TV with the cable de-scrambler attached. (This was the 80s). I went down to the basement, not because I knew there was porn, but just because I wanted to know what it was that I wasn’t allowed to see. I remember watching and at the time thinking, this can’t possibly be a thing that real people do! I wonder if I didn’t believe in what I was seeing because I was too young, and grossed out by what I saw. Can young people watch porn, be fascinated by it and yet, still have that disconnect because it seems too out there and like something they would never do? Like the man who loves action movies but knows on a practical level, he will never shoot at his villains while hanging from the Nakatomi Plaza?

  15. Betty
    Betty says:

    I think the worst punishment for watching porn would be to have a LOOONG talk about the ‘facts of life’ and consent with the parent of the opposite sex. That would be so stomach-churningly embarrassing that you’d never want to get caught again.

    I am shocked by the number of young teens who have their own electronics these days. Sure, iPads didn’t exist ten year ago but the rule was that we got our own computer when we were sixteen. It wasn’t monitored but by sixteen you’re mature enough to be reasonable. Before that it was Dad’s computer or nothing. Also no smartphones! Buy your child a dumbphone, for crying out loud.

  16. Jen
    Jen says:

    I know this isn’t the point of the article – but want to throw it in as part of the debate. Most organizations, law enforcement, etc. state, “Child sexual abuse is when a child is exposed to sexual information that they are too young to understand. ”

    I know them sneaking porn and what to do about it is the point. But if you know they’re doing it, do nothing and allow it… ?

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