"I Caught My Teen with Porn"

How should parents react when they catch their child with Internet and magazine pornography?

Q. I discovered my 14-year-old son with porn on the computer and magazines. How should I handle this?

A. It would be alarming for any parent to discover that their child is logging on to pornography sites on the Internet and buying pornographic magazines. Your teen's interest in pornography is disconcerting because he's viewing sexually explicit material that's designed to arouse. Pornography depicts sex without affection, commitment, respect, or consequences, yet your son's interest is not unusual for a child his age.

Saying -- and Enforcing -- "No"

That being said, it's your role to control the use of the computer and what kind of magazines are around your house. Tell your son, "It's not okay to go to pornography sites on the Internet. I can't allow it in this house." Tell him outright that you will be checking to see that he's not violating this household rule. If a computer with Internet service is in his bedroom, you might need to remove it and put it in the living room where all can see what he's viewing. You can even block such sites from his computer.

Also tell him that you can't allow pornographic magazines. Tell him that you will be looking for them and if you find them, you'll rip them up and throw them out. You'll need to decide whether you'll go through his backpack and dresser drawers. Some parents feel perfectly justified in doing so; others allow their children the privacy of these personal spaces.

In addition, you'll need to tell your son of the impropriety of pornography. He is not an adult, and he should not be buying such magazines or logging on to such Internet sites. He definitely should not be taking porn magazines to school or logging on to porn Web sites at school or at any public place such as libraries.

The Root of Your Findings

Once you've asserted your position, keep a watchful eye on him and his behavior. You need to understand that although by societies' standards your son is still a child, by his biological body, he's a fully developed sexual male. He most likely masturbates and fantasizes about sexual activity.

His sexual side is not going away. He needs to manage it appropriately, therefore, you need to open up a conversation that fits with your values and that will help him develop a healthy approach to sexuality. It's important to point out that what he sees at a pornographic Internet site or in a magazine is a skewed vision of sexual behavior and an unrealistic idea of responsible relationships, body types, and intimate activities.

You might fear that your son will become a pornography addict. While this is unlikely, if you suspect this is the case, you'll need to direct him to professional help.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, January 2006.

Healthy Kid

1 Comment

  1. While I’m sure that this article by Ms. Faull is well-intentioned, I personally find it flawed in several ways. As a man, I am going to provide a male perspective on some of the topics I found to be particularly noteworthy.

    Along with this article, I’ve seen many others that address this issue - ironically, most are written by women and have a similar agenda or tone to them. I’d suggest that because all men have masturbated at some point in their lives, they are fully aware of the general behavior accompanying it and the normality of it, and hence wouldn’t consider talking to their own son(s) about it since they would understand there’s no need to do so. Which leads me to believe that in most cases, it’s the mother that that these articles are aimed at, which leads them to develop this misguided belief that their son needs to be “educated”, “instructed”, “guided”, or “governed” in his masturbatory activities. Here are a few critical things to consider:

    1) Most boys do not naturally have or independently develop any emotional or psychological struggles with masturbation. Those are generally imposed or caused by some form of oppression in the home environment – for example, parents discouraging masturbation because of religious and/or moral beliefs, which can lead boys to have feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and/or lack of self-esteem.

    2) It is also common that at some point, most boys (if not all) will view some form of pornography as a stimulus while masturbating. This may be a difficult fact to accept, particularly for mothers. However, that does not mean your son will develop an addiction to pornography, nor is he likely to evolve into a chauvinist or misogynist as a result of doing so, despite what many websites or blogs suggest. In general, boys/men view pornography only as a stimulus while masturbating, not as a recreational activity unto itself. This means they are only viewing it for a very limited amount of time and for a specific purpose. Clearly, this issue is extremely polarizing and hotly debated, but the statistics in most published professional studies indicate that although men can develop problems associated with frequent “over-consumption” of pornography, the vast majority of boys/men do not have or develop any identifiable social or sexual dysfunction from moderate viewing of pornography.

    3) As a corollary to #3, it is worth mentioning that despite what most peoples’ ideas of pornography are, the reality is that most mainstream pornography (on-line or otherwise) is not offensive, abusive, or lewd in nature. Rather, oftentimes it is filmed sex between consenting adults or actors, engaging in sexual activities that are no more explicit or erotic than what most consenting adults do in their own bedrooms. And therefore it mirrors the same sexual activities that many loving couples (married or otherwise) engage in within their own bedrooms. Thus, it does not generally depict or project a false or distorted image of what typically occurs between couples sexually, contrary to what many people have been led to believe or what many websites and blogs claim. Obviously, there are other more “niche” forms of pornography that fall into the “offensive” category, which most reasonable people would deem inappropriate or unacceptable for anyone to be viewing. But again, this is not what falls into the bell curve of temperate pornography. Frequently, the message broadcast on many websites and blogs regarding pornography is that there is zero distinction – that all pornography is destructive or damaging and your son or daughter will be seduced to the “dark side” if they ever view it. While I am not suggesting to any parent that they should encourage their son or daughter to view pornography, the vast majority will eventually see it, either on their own device or a friend’s device – and the vast majority never develop any addiction or dysfunction(s) as a result, simply because most humans have an inherent wiring that causes them not to become addicted, excited, or aroused by seeing offensive acts (sexual or otherwise). For the same reason that the majority of people that drink alcohol do not become alcoholics, the vast majority of people (especially boys and men) that have viewed pornography do not evolve into addicts, misogynists, or sexual deviants. Of course, it would be a simple solution to say to a young boy that if you never drink alcohol, you’ll never have to worry about becoming an alcoholic. But is that realistic? It’s more reasonable to tell them to use alcohol in moderation (if they choose to drink alcohol). There are some people that have a pre-disposition to these addictive behaviors and dysfunctions - so it's not the pornography that caused the behavior, it’s the inherent pre-disposition. I am also aware that boys under 18 years-old should not be viewing online pornography or purchasing graphic magazines. But again, is it realistic to expect that those restrictions will prevent them from doing so? Just as age restrictions on alcohol or cigarette consumption have never been successful in stemming teenagers from engaging in those behaviors, expecting teenage boys to refrain from looking at pornography is unrealistic.

    With the above points in mind, some mothers might ask why viewing pornography is necessary. The answer is that it’s not. Can boys/men masturbate without viewing it? Of course they can. There are probably plenty of studies that address this behavior or desire, but in layman’s terms it’s desirable to do so because men respond to visual cues to become sexually aroused – not exclusively, of course, but visual stimulation is a compelling factor in that regard. It’s in our d.n.a. and we cannot alter that fact. It’s that simple. I’m not suggesting boys/men are animals and can’t control their behavior or act civilized, but there are some things that are natural to the male species, regardless of how far civilized society has evolved over the last 10,000+ years. And generally speaking, most boys/men are moderately viewing pornography and masturbating in the privacy of their bedroom or house, which is completely civilized, normal, and acceptable. Are there “outliers” to this? Certainly, but again, they are in the minority and statistically less significant than the average boy’s/man’s behavior. It’s convenient to use some anecdotal stories of bizarre or unacceptable male behavior to infer that boys or men are evolving into boorish, uncouth brutes as a result of viewing (online) pornography – but even if those select stories are true, the facts are that the vast majority of boys and men do not exhibit that behavior as a result of viewing pornography, online or otherwise. Please note that pornography is not a recent product of modern civilized society and culture – it’s been present for at least the last century, and certainly prevalent and available for the last 60+ years with the advent of Playboy magazine, which was followed by other similar magazines, strip clubs, cable television, satellite television, and then the internet. In my teenage years back in the 70’s, it was rare if a boy had not seen a Playboy magazine at least a few times (or had a few of his own). It was just as taboo of a “thing” then as viewing online pornography is now to teenage boys. But did teenagers back then become so obsessed or addicted that they accumulated and stockpiled boxes of Playboy (or other) magazines? Probably not very often, and those magazines were readily available or obtainable, just as online pornography is now. Not quite as available, considering it was 30-50 years ago, but it wasn’t a quantum difference in availability, relatively speaking. My point is that it was just as possible to spend two hours flipping through a stack of Playboy magazines back in the 70’s as it is to look at online pornography now for two hours. But just as most boys didn’t do that back in the 70’s, most boys don’t do it now. Of course, online pornography now is much more graphic than still shots of nude women in Playboy – nonetheless, watching a couple engage in sex or look at a Playboy pictorial (while he masturbates) is not going to warp a boy’s mind and cause him to develop sociological or sexual dysfunctions. And it’s much more likely that boys and men that do develop aberrant behavior and character do so from more critical influences, such as physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse versus moderate viewing of pornography. In cases such as those, published professional studies have indicated that viewing of pornography was a correlated factor versus a causal factor. My intent isn’t to normalize viewing of pornography 100%, but to put it into perspective as generally non-threatening and a relatively risk-free activity by the vast majority of boys and men.
    Furthermore, no matter how gently or compassionately they approach it, mothers that speak to their sons with a deterring or critical attitude towards pornography will likely cause their son to feel embarrassed and ashamed of his natural desires, and thus he will be reluctant to share anything in the future with his mother related to sex or sexual attraction. Furthermore, regardless how open a mother is to her son about sharing questions, thoughts, or feelings, no teenage boy is going to want or be able to muster the candor and nerve to tell his mother that he has an uncontrollable daily urge to masturbate, and looking at naked women (i.e., pornography) while doing so is incredibly arousing, exciting, and erotic to him. I would be surprised if any mother has ever heard that from her 12-18 year-old son. Yet that is almost a universal truth amongst boys that age. And frankly, most mothers wouldn’t want to hear that from their son. Also, consider this – even if your son isn’t actually looking at a magazine pictorial or viewing online pornography while he’s masturbating, I can guarantee he’s thinking about it or fantasizing about something sexually erotic in his mind. But for some absurd reason, his mother is sending the tacit message that it’s acceptable to have endless sexually graphic thoughts about girls or women while masturbating, versus looking at a magazine pictorial or viewing a video of consenting adults having sex. Which is precisely why mothers shouldn’t try to intervene or govern that behavior (masturbation) from their sons. It’s not something that requires their guidance or education. And it’s not something that they can truly understand or internalize. Furthermore, a mother trying to inhibit or limit their son’s masturbatory activities is highly likely to cause him feelings of shame, along with manufacturing a barrier between her and her son since he will probably develop feelings of spite and anger towards his mother for doing so. Ms Faull wrote the following:

    “His sexual side is not going away. He needs to manage it appropriately, therefore, you need to open up a conversation that fits with your values and that will help him develop a healthy approach to sexuality.”

    OK, but what exactly is “managing it appropriately”? My takeaway from this article is that phrase means it’s acceptable to masturbate, but your son won’t be allowed to have so much as a Playboy magazine in his bedroom? I understand the reluctance to allow online pornography viewing, since that has the potential to introduce computer viruses. But not so much as a Playboy pictorial? In my opinion, that’s a tyrannical and one-sided approach to your son’s blossoming sexuality, which is incredibly powerful and for a teenage boy, impossible to ignore or suppress, no matter what “values” you attempt to thrust on him. And the closing phrase, “help him develop a healthy approach to sexuality”, is almost laughable since after all the banning of pornography, the threats of ripping up any magazines, and the inspections of his backpack and bedroom, he’s likely going to rebel against any of his mother’s teachings. What that phrase is really saying is that the mother wants her son to have her approach to sexuality, versus his own.
    Regarding these issues, the best websites or blogs that I’ve seen had comments from mothers that said “I don’t want to know what I don’t need to know”, or “what he does in his bedroom behind a closed door is his business”, or “it’s his body and it’s none of my business”. All excellent and appropriate, since taking the opposite approach is laden with risk to their future relationship with their son, perhaps for the rest of their lives. I know because that happened to me, and it created a lifelong rift between me and my mother. I’ve often pondered how strange it is that 10-15 minutes of lecturing or scolding could lead to that. A terrible price to pay and all because of a silly notion that looking at an illicit magazine was sinful, dirty, and perverted. It was the invasion of my privacy and the scolding, not looking at pornography (which I never had much of an affectation for then or since), which inflicted lifelong damage towards my ability to trust others and creating a painful memory that I was never able to forgive her for. So my question to any mother is simply, why take that risk when it isn’t essential? I’m sure the resounding reply would be something like “it is essential, I’m protecting him from the dangers of pornography!”. Yet there’s rarely (if ever) any specifics given regarding what those alleged “dangers” are, or any references to epidemiological studies that detail the deleterious effects from moderate viewing of pornography. Sure, there’s plenty of rhetoric or hyperbole about it, but in all the blogs or websites I’ve happened across, I cannot recall a single instance where the writer provided any such empirical data. In the piece above by Ms. Faull, there was also nothing listed or referenced in this regard, only the following:

    “It's important to point out that what he sees at a pornographic Internet site or in a magazine is a skewed vision of sexual behavior and an unrealistic idea of responsible relationships, body types, and intimate activities.”

    Has Ms. Faull actually viewed a variety of online pornography in the last 5-10 years? I’ve mentioned in the paragraphs above that most mainstream online pornography is the exact opposite of what she claims in this statement (i.e., “a skewed vision of sexual behavior”). Regardless of what some people may want to believe, it actually mirrors what many couples (married or otherwise) are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms. Is it an accurate depiction of responsible relationships? I agree that part is unclear, but since most online pornography pieces probably average ten minutes or less, how on earth are they going to depict the interactions in a relationship in that amount of time? And frankly, they aren’t attempting to do that. All that most of these video recordings do is show sexual activity between two people, not the prelude leading up to it or the “denouement”. As I said above, many of these filmed pieces are actually created by couples filming themselves having sex – how can that possibly be any more true-to-life? And since it’s actual couples, how can it be depicting unrealistic body types and/or intimate activities? It begs the question, have these critics actually watched online pornography lately? Or if they have, how much have they watched? Because I can guarantee if they looked at a reasonable variety of it from some of the more well-known websites, they would see what I just described.

    In closing, it’s extremely unlikely that if your son does view pornography (online or otherwise), he will develop any problems or dysfunctions as a result. If you’ve instilled good values and been a positive role model in his life (along with your spouse), he will heed those lessons and examples and have a good foundation to build his life on. In closing, there are numerous other areas that need your guidance, but your son’s masturbatory life is not one of them.


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