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Bobbi Wegner Psy.D.

Monster Slippers, Minecraft, and Porn

The average age of first exposure to porn is 11.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“Good morning, Cam,” I say to my 11-year-old son as he bumbles down the hallway, a little sleepy, so cute in his flannel pajama bottoms, walking wobbly, half-awake, wearing oversized monster feet slippers, and with a big, loving smile. “Good morning, Mom. Love you," he replies. This is Cam. This is 11. He is gaining in height and weight, but is still my young, sweet guy. My baby, always.

“Mom, what does it mean to not drop the soap in jail?” Also, “Why did that rapper, Tekashi69, name himself that? It’s kinda inappropriate.” And, “What is a pimp? Why do people sell sex and why is it dangerous?” These are also things Cam said recently. Of course, these comments spun off into bigger conversations, including him (and his 9-year-brother) explaining to me what ‘69’ is. (I’m writing a whole book on how to have these conversations.) But the point is that our kids know a lot more at a younger age than we expect. How we see them and where they are in their normal sexual development is mismatched. This, coupled with access to technology 24:7, creates the Wild West of exploration, misinformed knowledge, and questions that parents are often ill-equipped to answer because they evoke feelings of shame and discomfort. But when conversations aren’t had at home, kids turn elsewhere, and that is not good for anybody, now or down the line.

With the advent and popularization of the internet starting in 1991, the way pornography was consumed radically changed. The biggest jump in porn consumption has been between the people born in the 1970s and the 1980s. These porn pioneers are now parents and on a new frontier. Online porn has been around for some time, and so there are new and changing parental norms without a lot of education or understanding—and people are scared to talk about it. Ask a group of adults at a dinner party who watches porn. Screech. Party over, although the largest consumers of internet porn are males age 35-49, and a third of all internet porn use is by women. Parents don’t know what to do or say.

Whether porn is healthy and ethical is a whole other conversation, but the reality is that kids are exposed early, practically in 3D, with every sexual curiosity visualized at their fingertips, and they need help understanding what they are seeing. With the advent of high-speed internet and Pornhub in 2007, with 100 million visitors per day, interests ranging from oral to My Little Pony can be found (Orenstein, 2020). Nothing is left to the imagination, and inaccurate sexual representations are being built without discussion or questioning. These early experiences shape how kids see themselves, others, and sexuality. Our children are guinea pigs in the experiment of online porn as we figure this out culturally.

And this is the kicker: The average age of first exposure to porn is 11. This is Cam. Floppy monster slippers, awkward braces, and porn? This is the reality. With 12% of all internet sites being pornographic, the probability of stumbling onto some nakedness is quite high. Pair this with developing sexual curiosity, and the internet is the new sex education class, providing unrealistic and inaccurate messages to boys and girls alike.

All of this might be alarming but the thing to remember is that sexual development begins in utero and continues throughout the lifespan. Given how natural this process is, we don’t do it well as a society. Curiosity, questioning, masturbation, and exploration are all healthy and normal parts of this developmental process. Don’t judge and shame this process for your child. Your messaging around sex will also stick with them for a lifetime. The role of the parent is to understand both the normative sexual development process, know where your child is getting information, and move toward a conversation rather than away from one. With TikTok, YouTube, and all of the other online media, expect that your child has seen something at least mildly pornographic. Ask. Be curious. Look for entry points into conversation. Expect that the conversation will not be perfect, and you will look back and wish that you said something different. The most important take-home is that your child learns that they can talk to you.

These conversations are opportunities. The more you set the tone and show your comfort (even if it's feigned), you give the green light and teach that you are a go-to resource, building future collateral for much bigger conversations in middle and high school. Prime yourself and prime your child. Be realistic. Be loving. Be available. And talk. We are all figuring this out together.

References

Orenstein, P. (2020). Boys & sex: young men on hookups, love, porn, consent, and navigating the new masculinity. New York, NY: Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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