Helping your Child Deconstruct the Messages in Porn

I recently had a conversation with a friend who reads our blog. Her son is about to turn 18 and will be off to college in the Fall. She’s a single parent and they have a pretty open relationship. She’s aware that he watches pornography. She goes back and forth in her mind about what kind of restrictions she should put into place at this point, recognizing he’s leaving home soon. Her dilemma: what would six months of policing his access to pornography really accomplish at this point?

After having that conversation, I decided it would be helpful to provide some talking points for parents who want to have discussions with their teens on how to deconstruct the messages in pornography.

These conversations should begin with informed consent. Informed consent is having full knowledge of the possible risks and consequences before making a decision. I am not recommending parents encourage their children to watch porn. These are simply suggestions on how to direct a conversation with older kids. Older adolescence can be a time where you can be allowing your child more autonomy and independence by relaxing restrictions and relying on them to start making their own decisions.

As addressed in my previous blog about porn, there is concern that it can have a negative impact on young people’s view of sex and relationships, and there's growing concern it can be addictive*. There's also a concern porn can cause PIED (Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction), since users frequently need more graphic porn for it to provide the same level of satisfaction**.

Talking about deconstructing porn can be a pretty difficult conversation to have with your teen. Here are some pointers to guide the conversation.

Have your teens ask themselves these questions:

Do I understand that porn is not real and that the people are acting?

Do I know that real people having sex does not look like porn or sound like porn?

  • Unfortunately, porn is now being used as informal sex education, when really it is an inaccurate glimpse into what sex looks like, especially since the people in porn are acting for the camera. Think about what it would be like to be having sex with someone and the person was acting, putting on a performance, being loud, dramatic and faking their response.
  • The behaviors in porn are often abusive, aggressive and focused on gratifying the male. Porn does not teach you how to communicate with your partner to obtain and maintain consent. Porn does not teach you to double-check that both people are being gratified.

Is my porn use negatively impacting my life?

Do I feel better or worse after watching it?

  • Some people use porn to improve their mood or relieve boredom. Watching porn to regulate emotions is a bad habit that’s hard to break. There's growing concern that porn is as addictive as drugs because it reaches the same pleasure centers as drugs or alcohol. and people can develop a tolerance.* Porn can provide instant gratification, however, after the gratification wears off, notice if you feel lower than before. Test yourself and take a break from porn. Are you able to stop? Is it difficult? Try a porn detox and notice if once you get over the initial withdrawal you might actually feel better about yourself.
  • If you're ultimately seeking a relationship or companionship, pornography isn’t going to fill that void. There's a good chance it’s making you feel worse, lonely and isolated. Attempt to push yourself out of your comfort zone and join a group, organization or activity to meet people (off the Internet) who might have similar interests as you and could be people you're interested in dating.

What limits should I set for myself about pornography? For example: How often? What type?

  • The porn industry isn’t going anywhere. Recognize that the concern with pornography is that it can normalize and desensitize people to abusive and aggressive behaviors. It also lacks intimacy. Make a conscious decision to decrease the frequency that you watch porn. Guide your use in a healthier direction or set some limits and guidelines for yourself on what is okay and not okay to watch.
  • Consider challenging yourself to explore sex-positive and feminist-friendly porn where sex is pleasurable for everyone involved and everyone is respected. This website offers a number of options. (Note: This is a third-party website that offers links to pornography. Visit at your discretion.)

I understand these conversations can be awkward, especially if you haven’t had this type of talk previously. I also understand that most teen's response will be, “I’m not talking about this with you!” Below are some ideas that might help.

Conversation Tips

Talking about pornography with your teen can be awkward! Here are some tips that might make it easier.

  • Be real: “I am as uncomfortable as you having this conversation, but I think it’s really important.”
  • Print this blog post and leave it somewhere private for your child to read. Check in at a later time.
  • Start the conversation in the car, some kids find it less threatening/ horrifying when they don’t have to make eye contact.

Give your child the choice of discussing with another trusted adult who they would be more comfortable with. Pass the information along to that adult.

No matter what works for you, good luck! In my experience adolescents are seeking knowledge, be the one who provides it to them.

Let us know how it goes!

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.

*Fight the New Drug. (2018). How Porn Affects the Brain Like A Drug. [online] Available here [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019]

**Luscombe, B. (2016). http://time.com. [online] Time. Available here [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019]