What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn

Teens are increasingly using online porn. A recent study on the under-25s revealed teens are as likely to use porn as adults.

Straight from the new Whole30 cookbook, this post originally appeared on Time.com.

Instagram celebrities know the image that defines your childhood, and it’s not pretty. Photos of your girlfriends trying to fit into too-tiny bikinis. Gym selfies posing suggestively. Fitting your shirtless boyfriend in a chair to turn him into a t-shirt. One yearbook photo of you and your brother making out in a boat while deer-hunting. Any Instagram post of you and your friends having just settled on the bed.

As social media—as Instagram and Facebook and the other social media platforms—has transformed our kids’ horizons, so has it changed their understanding of reality. Like it or not, we’re still left to figure out the long-term implications of how this might affect our kids. And how we do that depends on our parenting styles, our values, and what role we wish to play as parents.

Take, for example, this New York Times essay that explores the harm exposure to porn has done to some teenagers’ ability to handle relationships. Or the testimony of Amelia, a 13-year-old sex educator and Instagram star who told Buzzfeed in 2015 that her young audience of sex educators often seemed to come up with “brain fart” sex topics just to force themselves to talk about something in a safe, safe way—even if the topics were “backwards, no clitoris talk” (her words).

During the class-time barrier between puberty and sexual experience, school and the internet disallow teens to explore such topics in an authentic way. But teenagers aren’t just asking, they’re seeking, so they use porn to better understand what their sex lives may be like in the future. It’s not the norm to see porn of happy, happy couples getting it on, but that’s what they’re learning—through porn, not fellow teenagers. “I think a lot of them have an understanding of what things are like,” one sex-toy entrepreneur told the Times, “because they watch it.”

This is great for the teens who love to study the mechanics of sex but who’ve been disappointed when they try to do their own. I know I was. I was thrilled to have a sexual education class my whole life, so that I could learn how to have honest and healthy conversations about sex that I hadn’t yet had with my boyfriend in person. But I only started talking about sex with him in person a few years later, and it was then that my knowledge of sex fell apart.

I often came to school with an itch to talk about sex but didn’t know how. And as I got older, I wished I had had the porn education I had in my late teens—because then I might have had the confidence to discuss whatever issue came up with my boyfriend while we weren’t in public or my parents weren’t around.

The odds are slim that you will come of age before your kids do. But in the meantime, perhaps now is the time to cover the basics of how to have the healthiest and most honest conversation with your teenager about sex. Follow this template and start this conversation by asking your kid why they like to watch porn or how they got that idea—why they wanted to. Put forth your own authentic answer—your answer you’re willing to hear, so that you don’t guilt your kids into looking away. And show your kids how it feels to share what you know with them.

“I know your friends are watching it,” you might say, “but what it would be like for you if you’re watching it, and to see that same image over and over again.” You can say this “just because” will still help your kids form a relationship with the emotion. Also, being open about it can free you up to help your kids explore other issues—like what any porn relationships are like—that they might want to explore, but fear they shouldn’t.

The chance that all of this is going to land on the roof in a snowstorm isn’t good. But even if it does, you’re likely to never see it there because your kids are making it happen. So get comfortable: remember it’s a form of self-expression, and it’s not as bad as you might imagine.

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