My 16-year-old daughter likes pornography, and does not see it as a necessarily harmful thing. I talk with her about the things that I don’t like about it – when it is degrading to women, when it is violent, that it desensitises people to real emotions and sexual enjoyment. She is aware of these things, and I think she would agree, but I think she believes her use of it and approach to it is healthy. Is there such a thing as healthy pornography in a teenager’s life?
It can be quite a normal reaction for parents to be concerned when they come to the realisation that their teen is developing sexual awareness and making sexual decisions that may be quite different to their own. Just like our kids will develop different tastes in music, movies and clothes, they will also make different decisions around their sexuality. Watching porn, having sex or doing sexual things does not make your daughter a bad person. It means that at the age of 16, she is aware that she has agency of her sexuality and the ability to make choices. When it comes to deciphering and talking about personal sexual behaviour, one of the starting points is to consider: “Is it a problem for the person involved or their interaction with the world around them?”
Your daughter’s porn watching may be relatively harmless now but depending on her viewing habits, may be an issue down the track. Therefore, it’s worthwhile extending the conversation to find out what kind of porn your daughter is watching. Is it hard-core or is it more the soft erotica type? Knowing this may help guide the conversation. The genre may affect the way she thinks about her sexuality, body image and relationships in the future.
It would be a good idea to be alert to the frequency and persistency of her porn viewing. If, at any point, your daughter becomes withdrawn or secretive, this could signal the need for intervention as it may be a sign of compulsive behaviour.
Also ask her to think about why she’s watching it. The obvious answer may be for pleasure. But does it signal a need to escape, mask negative feelings or avoid meaningful relationships? If this were the case, encourage her to explore those emotions with a professional rather than escaping from them, as continuing to watch porn regularly may embed behaviours that are hard to change, and become a hindrance to developing authentic intimate connection.
If you have had all the conversations and your daughter still feels it is healthy for her, making a big deal out of it will only break down your relationship and potentially create deeper issues of shame. Continue to make yourself available to your daughter so that if she ever identifies her porn viewing as problematic, you will be the best person to be a listening ear, help her access professional support and assist her in changing habits.
Liz Walker, sex educator and founder of Youth Wellbeing Project, www.youthwellbeingproject.com.au
It is difficult to give an opinion without knowing what sort of porn your daughter is looking at and what she believes is healthy. What you as a parent can tell her is that porn doesn’t portray sex the way it really is. It is a fantasy and leaves out some of the things we like about sex: emotions such as talking, laughing, intimacy and feeling close.
Porn is made for adults, as a fantasy featuring professional porn actors with unusual bodies doing unusual things. The movies show explicit sex scenes, involving lots of editing and deliberate selections of certain shots for the main purpose of sexually arousing the viewer.
Porn is not designed to be real and should not be used for educational purposes. Teenagers these days are looking at incredibly graphic re-enactments of sex, before they have had their first sexual experience. Unfortunately, female porn actors are often portrayed with little regard for their own pleasure.
Sexual curiosity is healthy but looking at hard-core images gives teenagers unrealistic expectations of sex, and that can’t be healthy. The good thing is you are able to discuss the topic with your daughter; most parents find this very difficult or don’t know how.
Matty Silver, sex therapist and columnist, www.mattysilver.com.au
Our Ask an Expert Week panelists are all qualified professionals in their field. However, advice given on The Kids Are All Right website is not a substitute for direct, personal, professional counselling or psychological care, medical care and diagnosis.
All the questions from Ask an Expert Week 2013