Why Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Porn

By | 2017-12-13T07:02:32+00:00 January 16th, 2017|

As a psychiatrist specializing in teens and young adults, I bear witness to an alarming and insidious toxin that has increased in potency over the 15 years of my practice: online pornography. Though often dismissed as harmless, pornography has had a devastating impact on the well-being of many of my patients, and it can affect a person’s mental, physical and social health.

By age 15, children are more likely than not to have seen online pornography, according to an extensive study of adolescents in the UK by Middlesex University. These young people were as likely to find pornography by accident as to find it deliberately. However, 46 percent of the 1,001 children and young people studied reported searching for it actively.

The Internet provides a degree of anonymity – both real and perceived – accessibility and affordability (with free-to-view websites) that make it particularly powerful as a medium for viewing sexual content. And research finds that educational messages are outnumbered by adult sexual entertainment and pornography.

Physical, Mental and Social Consequences of Porn

Learning about sex from pornography, including potentially degrading and violent depictions, is reason for concern. Viewing pornography is not just a moral issue, but has been shown to be harmful to physical and sexual health and mental well-being and can influence how viewers believe they should behave in a relationship.

Multiple studies have linked porn use or porn addiction to erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, anorgasmia – in which a person has difficulty achieving an orgasm – low libido and less brain activation in response to sexual stimuli. In a 2014 brain-scan study, researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development found several brain changes that correlated with the amount of porn consumed. More time spent viewing porn correlated with a reduction in gray matter in sections of the brain’s reward circuitry, or dorsal striatum, involved in motivation and decision-making. Porn use was also found to be associated with weakened connections at the frontal cortex, suggesting porn may impair willpower.

In the Middlesex study, those who had viewed porn reported a mixture of emotions, including curiosity, shock and confusion. Younger children were more likely to report feeling disturbed and depressed by what they had seen. If a person is consuming more and more pornography, the brain connects being aroused with porn’s graphic and fanciful content. It then becomes more difficult for that individual to be aroused by a real person or a real relationship. These addiction-related brain changes result in many users feeling like something’s wrong with them; they are left feeling empty and depressed.

Exposure to pornography has implications for adolescent sexual relationships, including an increase in having multiple partners and substance use during sex. Adolescents who frequently visit erotic and sexually explicit websites are more likely to hold sexually permissive attitudes and accepting views on casual sex. In addition, some youth use pornography as an instructional resource – or a way to learn how to have sex – imitate what they view, or ask a partner to perform what they saw.

What Parents Can Do

The Internet is a key part of adolescents’ lives, and therefore parents, educators and practitioners must make it a topic in their discussions about sexual health. Comprehensive sex education programs that contain accurate, evidence-based information can help youth delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase condom and contraceptive use. One helpful resource is Advocates for Youth, which promotes policies and champions programs that recognize young people’s rights to honest sexual health information.

Technologies and setting the right preferences can also assist in preventing pornography from reaching young eyes. Inappropriate TV programming can be restricted through devices like the V-Chip. And Google has a SafeSearch mode that can be turned on to block Internet pornography. Most devices also have a family safety tool within the operating system.

The best tools, though, remain close adult supervision and thoughtful conversations. Since children are known to begin looking up sexually explicit material around puberty, it is a good idea to start having these conversations before they reach puberty. An effective household rule is not allowing media devices in children’s bedrooms, so parents can keep closer tabs on the material their children are viewing. However, spying on your child’s Internet activity could alienate them and spur them to become even more secretive, whereas asking them about it can lead to a more productive and honest dialogue.

Fortunately for those that do view porn frequently, there is evidence that eliminating porn consumption can cure sexual dysfunctions. However, it’s important that parents take steps to be proactive and prevent the negative health consequences that can result from children viewing online pornography.

We need to act to restrict youth’s access to harmful sexual material, but also ensure that they have spaces in which to discuss and learn about sex. We should recognize that online porn is alluring for many people and has the potential to rewire brains. If we avoid talking about this taboo issue, we are ignoring the suffering it’s causing and delaying any action to reduce the disruptive impact it has on people’s lives.

[Original Article]