Internet

Internet porn means birds 'n' bees talk comes earlier, says expert

March 10, 2013 at 7:01 PM ET

A boy works on a laptop.
Scott Griessel / Featurepics.com
A boy works on a laptop.

A father recently sat down to have "the talk" with his 10-year-old son. After he got through the basics on the birds and the bees, the boy asked, "Why do men wear masks when they're having sex?"

Though the father said he had parental controls engaged on his iPad, the son managed to find a fetish site depicting men in masks.

As the anecdote told by sex educator Cindy Gallop so plainly illustrates, kids look at porn. Kids look at porn on the Internet. And yes, let's go further: Your kids look at porn on the Internet. Gross? Probably, yes. But it's reality.

Keeping your kids from Internet porn is practically impossible, experts agree. Whether kids under 18 deliberately searched out sexually explicit sites, or stumbled upon them accidentally, approximately 40 percent see Internet porn every year, the study found. And yes, all that exposure does leave a mark: "Although research is scarce, investigators see links between young people who access Web porn and unhealthy attitudes toward sex," the American Psychological Association noted in 2007.

But parents don't have to be powerless. Explaining to your kids that difference between pornography and what goes on between consenting adults in real life is key, say some sex educators. You won't want to do it. Your kid won't want to hear it. And unfortunately, because of the Internet, that conversation has to come sooner rather than later. But it may make all the difference to kids when they're grown.

"This is not because 8-year-olds go looking for porn, it's a function of what they're shown on someone's cellphone on the playground, what happens when they go out to the neighbor's house," said Gallop, a fervent proponent of reality-based sex education. Preparing kids for a healthy sex life as adults was part of her message Saturday at "The Future of Porn" talk at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin.

Gallop is CEO and founder of Make Love Not Porn, a website dedicated to correcting sexual misconceptions picked up by viewers of professional for-profit pornography. The Internet venture does this, in part, by curating videos of "real sex" uploaded to the platform by "real people" — not "porn stars." (Obviously, the video portion of the website is for adults only.) But as Gallop emphasized, the misconceptions picked up through pornography can start at a very young age.

"It doesn't matter what parental controls you put in place, kids live their lives in other places ... or an 8-year-old does something really cute and innocent. They discover a new naughty word and they Google it." Next thing you know, Gallop pointed out, that curious boy or girl is one or two clicks away from something he or she is too young to understand.

The exposure may result in relationships that lack scope and communication. "Too many young people start their sexual careers attempting to duplicate porn, not realizing that this model lacks so much," noted sex educator and author Dr. Marty Klein recently wrote in the Huffington Post.

"With valuable face-to-face communication increasingly replaced by brief digital syllables ... young adults' ability to simply talk about what goes on in bed ... is lagging further and further behind the needs of their sexual encounters — whether hookup or more intimate."

Kids don't want to hear a lot of things. They don't want to hear that they shouldn't drive too fast or date the mean hot person or eat fast food all the time. But if the Internet is going to put your kids in the path of a virtual tsunami of porn, the least you can do is warn them about it.

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitterand/or Facebook.

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