talking to your teen about porn

This is the actual conversation I had with my teen. All through middle school, we had talked about sex, his phone, and pornography, but it was more about warning him and encouraging him to make good choices. I realized that at his age now, he had undoubtedly seen porn. (The average age of first exposure is 8-11. 94% have seen pornography by age 14.)  Even though I had never seen anything amiss when I checked his phone, it was time to hit porn head-on. So, I educated myself and just found a good time when we were alone and came out and asked.

The conversation was not as bad or awkward as I thought it would be. I set the tone by being calm and genuine. Plus, this was not our first “difficult” conversation. I have a track record of not freaking out and have built up relational “capital” with him that I can draw from. This helped a lot!

So, here we go…

ME: I know at your age and you having a smartphone, you have undoubtedly seen pornography. Your body is changing and being curious about girls and sex is healthy and normal. You are well past girls having cooties. There are other things about them that you are curious about now, right? So how about it, have you seen porn?

MY SON: [Chuckles about cooties.] Yes, I’ve seen porn. [Looks Away.]

ME: I get it. I’m not shocked or surprised. When was the last time you looked at porn?

MY SON: Three days ago. I know it’s wrong.

ME: Why do you think it’s wrong? [Notice I am probing gently, not lecturing. I am a concerned questioner, but I’m not bombarding him with a million questions. I want HIS thoughts.]

MY SON: I know it can become an addiction. I know it goes against my religious beliefs. And, I know it affects the way I look at girls and it’s just not good to fill my head with.

ME: Those are a lot of really good reasons. How’d you come up with them?

MY SON: I’ve talked with (his older brother of 8 years) about it. He asks me questions about it.

[ME INSIDE:] [Great job older bro!] What did he tell you about how porn is addictive? How did he explain it?

MY SON: He said the more I looked at it the more I would have to look at it… what “did it” for me before wouldn’t “do it” for me next time. He said I would start to see “real-life” girls only sexually.

He’s right!

ME: Do you know the science behind that? Your brain releases chemicals when you look at porn. One of them is dopamine and another is oxytocin. Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical. You’ll want that feeling more and more BUT your brain will build a tolerance for it. It will take more and more porn and more explicit porn to get that feeling. It’s called “The Law of Diminishing Returns.” The chemical oxytocin is the chemical that creates bonds. It gets released when mothers have babies and people hug and kiss. Porn releases it too, creating a “bond” between you and pornography. It’ll become easier to bond with pornography than real people. Does that make sense?

MY SON: It’s like drug addiction?

ME: Yup. And it’ll affect how you look at girls in real life. Have you noticed that yet?

MY SON: Yeah. I’ve already noticed.

ME: If you look at porn, I want you to remember that that girl is someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. I have a daughter that’s your sister. [This felt a little old-school and even a little corny, but it got a strong reaction from him—he loves his older sister and did not like connecting those dots at all. No way.]

MY SON: Ewwwww…

ME: And what you might be enjoying with pornography destroys many of the lives of the people that make it. The drug addiction, alcoholism, and STDs among “porn stars” is crazy high.

MY SON: Don’t some of them make a lot of money?

ME: Some do probably, but at what cost? Did you know that a lot of the girls you see in porn are not there because they want to be—they’re there because of sex trafficking? Do you want to participate in that?

MY SON: No. Of course not.

ME: You know how for years I’ve talked to you about how great your heart is and how you need to protect it?

MY SON: Yeah.

ME: Nothing will harden your heart faster than pornography. You have to keep protecting your heart. The people that make porn have problems having real relationships in real life. So do the people that watch porn. So how often do you look at porn? How do you look at it? 

MY SON: Once or twice a week. Free porn websites. The first phone you gave me blocked porn websites. When you upgraded my phone, you didn’t block porn websites.

ME: [This made me sick to my stomach. I was asleep at the wheel. I have to live with this.] I blew it then. How can I help you now not look at porn?

MY SON: Keep talking with me about it. Keep me accountable. You can change settings on my phone but it’s everywhere. We need to keep talking about it.

ME: I will for sure. And thanks for being so honest with me. You can always talk to me when you feel tempted. Let’s keep this conversation going.

Talking to your teen about pornography is not a one-time talk. It’s an ongoing dialogue. Hopefully, this helps you get your dialogue started. Don’t avoid it because it’s a hard topic. Lean into it because it is a hard and incredibly important topic. You got this!

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