Do I really need to talk to my son? It seems like viewing porn is just a normal part of being male these days. Isn’t this just a phase most boys go through?
Yes, the male brain is wired for visual stimulation. So, yes, it is normal for boys (and men) to be aroused by and interested in the sexual imagery available through pornography. Dr. William Struthers’ book “Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain” offers a fantastic explanation of how the male brain is designed to be captivated by the site of the female’s body, without the typical “boys will be boys” (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) excuse-making our society condones. 1
That said, although it is normal to be curious and interested, the average young male today will not “casually” view pornography without being seriously impacted by what he consumes. There are several reasons for this:
- The adolescent brain is in a critical stage of development. Extensive literature points to the negative impact pornography has on young people, developmentally.
- The brain stores our first sexual experiences with a chemical stamp that makes them incredibly powerful. For example, most people can easily recall (in vivid detail) their “first love,” their first encounter with pornography, or their first sexual experience. This serves us well, where our first experiences are healthy, and where our first sexual relationship is with our spouse – bonding us to that person with a powerful chemical attachment. It creates difficulty where our first experiences are unhealthy or harmful.
- The arousal template (what a person finds arousing) is significantly impacted by and strengthened by early sexual experiences. So, whatever a young person is experiencing sexually (whether it is healthy or unhealthy) – when that experience is paired with sexual arousal, the brain easily grows attached to that stimulus, thus shaping what a young person will tend to desire. Repetition will reinforce these patterns of arousal.
- Advanced brain imaging scans now show us that viewing pornography creates a neurochemical high in the brain that compares closest to the high of using Heroin. The pleasure centers of the brain are impacted, neurochemicals are firing (ie., norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, testosterone, endogenous opiates), and connections are made that reinforce the desire to repeat the behavior.4
The chemical high of arousal, pleasure, and euphoria serves to reinforce the false message that porn is an easy escape from anything dull, boring, or unwanted. Porn temporarily masks the pain of loneliness, rejection, fear, worry, loss, stress, or anxiety. This neurochemical reward cycle makes it easy to create a life-dominating habit.
- Professionals in the field of sexual addiction explain how today’s pornography is very, very different from the images created thirty or forty years ago. The pornography that is accessible today to any child with internet access is incredibly violent, degrading, and destructive. The accurate name for today’s pornography is actually “gonzo” or “gorno” – it is a combination of gore and pornography – and it champions and celebrates brutal sexual violence. Even if an individual does not initially seek out this type of pornography, within approximately 8 minutes of first exposure, gonzo porn will likely be viewed, even if accidentally. However, addictions, by nature, create tolerance, and demand something new, more graphic, and more intense to produce the same high. A common refrain among porn viewers is that they find themselves aroused by imagery they never would have imagined enjoying when they first began consuming porn. If you need further information about just how destructive and horrendous the content of pornography is today, there are informational resources we can share if you’d like to contact us. Unfortunately, it is impossible to grasp the extreme nature of the sexual violence without feeling somewhat emotionally violated yourself, so we are hesitant to post those resources here.
- Once interest is piqued, it’s difficult to stop viewing because Internet pornography offers unlimited access to sexually stimulating content, within the context of an anonymous and affordable environment.2 In fact, in our current age of constant access to wireless technology, where the Internet is increasingly porn-saturated, in order to not view sexually explicit content, deliberate protective measures must be taken. It’s no longer necessary for a person to intentionally seek out pornography; nowadays, pornography will come to you. “One study reports that 93% of boys are exposed to Internet porn before the age of 18.”3 The accessibility, affordability, and anonymity of Internet porn, combined with the reward cycle, make it the perfect storm for creating a powerful addiction.
Our favorite books that address the above themes more thoroughly are:
- Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Mail Brain by Dr. William Struthers
- The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography by Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz
- Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe S. McIlhaney Jr. and Freda McKissic Bush
Our favorite free Downloads:
- Covenant Eyes: “Your Brain on Porn”
- Covenant Eyes: “Parenting the Internet Generation”
- Covenant Eyes: “Protecting Your Family Online: A How-To Guide for Parents”
I don’t get it at all – porn is so repulsive! I feel completely disgusted. There’s no way I could talk to my son about this.
What if we told you it’s not really about the porn? Yes, porn is arousing and accessible. It’s also easy for young people to think they’re not hurting anyone by watching it and they won’t get caught. Of course there are a host of problems connected with viewing pornography.
But really, if we look beyond the behavior and explore what keeps someone ensnared in viewing porn, you might be surprised. Sometimes, it starts innocently with an accidental viewing. Or a young person is seeking sexual information, so as not to appear ignorant or inexperienced with their peers. Or a friend sends a link, which leads to further interest. Often times, there are unmet relational needs, an inability to connect deeply and authentically with others, or some painful feelings or uncomfortable situation that makes pornography the easy answer.
It is important to distinguish between your feelings toward your child and your feelings toward pornography. While pornography is repulsive and it is problematic that your child is viewing it – your child is not repulsive. You will want to proceed with caution when addressing this topic. Young people tend to personalize any conflict; so your outward displays of disgust will most likely be interpreted as you being disgusted not only with his behavior or the content of what he is viewing – but with him, as a person.
In the area of sexual matters, I am certainly no expert. I’m pretty sure my own list of struggles and failures disqualifies me from having anything helpful to say.
Since we are all human beings, fallen, and imperfect, this is a normal fear and area of struggle. It is important that the values you teach your children are consistent with the behaviors you are currently modeling. At the same time, your past poor choices may actually prove really valuable in your conversation with your children. Avoid offering explicit details, but do consider sharing honestly, “You know, I have not always made the best choices. I have pursued my own happiness and fulfillment outside of God’s best, and here are some of the consequences I faced as a result… I’m thankful the Lord has forgiven me, and I hope you might be able to avoid experiencing the same painful path I have travelled.”
If you are currently struggling with sexual integrity, we encourage you to seek the help of a professional counselor in navigating that complicated conversation. Some level of authenticity is critical; however, knowing what, when, and how to share is a delicate balancing act. If you have not yet actively engaged in your own healing process, your child will understandably have a difficult time receiving any wisdom from you.
My son doesn’t want to hear anything about sex from me. Period. End of discussion.
What if it’s just part of your son that doesn’t want to hear anything from you about sex? And what if there is another part of him that needs to hear from you, his parent(s), about sex? Don’t buy into the lie that says your child never hears anything you say and will never listen to you. Extensive research points to the unparalleled longing for young people to hear from their parents on important issues (even the uncomfortable ones they tend to avoid).5 Be consistent in your efforts to connect and communicate openly about difficult topics. Sure, it can be an awkward conversation – especially if your family has never really had an open dialogue about matters of a sexual nature. But there are several resources that can assist you in creating an environment where your children feel safe (and encouraged!) to ask you their tough questions:
- 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son by Vicky George
- A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey With Your Kids About Sex by Kevin Leman & Kathy Flores Bell
- Beginning the Path to Purity by Laura Gallier
- Why Wait: What Singles Need to Know About Sex & Dating by Laura Gallier
- Choosing to Wait: A Parent’s Guide to Inspiring Abstinence by Laura Gallier
Know thyself… Before taking any action steps, stop for a few minutes and pay attention to all that you are feeling. In order to avoid flipping out or a complete panic attack, let’s consider a few common inner beliefs that may be driving your response to your daughter’s/son’s behavior.
- “After all the time and energy I’ve invested in trying to raise him/her right! What a slap in the face!”
Sometimes our children’s behaviors are a cry for our attention or a power play so they can prove that we are not the boss of them. Sometimes their behaviors are about us, their parents. However, all child behavior is not directly about the parent. Sometimes they behave in certain ways because there’s something much bigger and much more powerful going on. Peer pressure, developmental stages, a lapse in judgment, the power of hormones, a spiritual battle, deeper unmet needs, etc. Let’s be careful about personalizing something that isn’t remotely intended as a slight against Mom or Dad.
- “This kind of behavior is reeeeally problematic. He’s/She’s probably ruined for life.”
There is no denying that porn-viewing and sexual acting out behaviors can create a host of negative repercussions for our children. There may be some pretty difficult discussions and days ahead, but there is always hope for restoration and healing.
- “Man, I am such a failure as a parent.”
As parents, we have a huge task: love, disciple, model, teach, encourage, provide for, discipline – plus all the other stuff like feeding, clothing, driving places, practices/games, homework, etc. We sometimes add to our To Do list, “controlling the outcome.” Is there room for improvement in your parenting? Probably so, since we’re all imperfect. But black and white thinking that brands you (or your son/daughter) as a complete failure means that your whole identity is now summed up by this set of circumstances. Such an assessment doesn’t account for all that you are as a parent, all that your daughter/son is as a child or person, or the fact that you have many responsibilities and none of them include controlling the outcome.
- “This sex-saturated, media-filled, techno-savy world we are living in is an all-powerful evil and makes me feel hopeless as a parent.”
Absolutely, much evil exists in our world. So much misinformation about sexuality; so much warring against our children. It’s very true that our battles are not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, powers and spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).
Paul’s reminder in Romans 8 seems appropriate for us today: “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us… In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31-35, 37)
Sarah Young says it so well in Jesus Calling: “When you commune with Me [the Lord]…Together we will push back the darkness, for I am the Light of the world.”1 Sometimes it’s really difficult to remember that Satan is not all powerful; only the Lord Most High is all powerful. See the Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm. (Isaiah 40:10) And, walking with Him, we are able to push back the darkness.
Find a safe person and share your thoughts… Do you feel shocked, sad, repulsed, embarrassed, disappointed (In your son/daughter? Or in yourself?), disrespected, hurt, or ill-equipped? It will be very helpful for you to find a safe, healthy place to vent and process your underlying feelings… so they don’t all come flying out like daggers when you are talking with your child.
- Not exactly sure that you have a “safe” venting place?
Deb Laaser defines safe community this way: “It is a place where you can open your heart, admit your inadequacies, own your mistakes, share your anger and grief, or just vent. You can be you, with all of your flaws, and still be accepted and encouraged and loved. In return, safe women will also share their stories, be vulnerable, and not try to fix you. They will listen to you, comfort you, and encourage you. That is safe community.”12
- Feel like you might want to talk to a professional counselor for more support or for more specific help and direction? Contact us here or check out our information on counselors here.
Spend some time praying and meditating on Truth… Here are a few Scriptures and prayers to meditate on prior to talking to your teen:
- Come to the Lord with this particular struggle and ask Him for help in trusting Him and overcoming your fears.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
- Ask for the Lord to help you see yourself, your motivations, and your actions clearly.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 22:23-24
- Pray for discernment as you begin to seek Godly counsel for your next steps. Pray that He would give you wisdom to know when, how, and with whom to share. Also ask for discernment regarding your son/daughter, for insight regarding his/her world, experience, heart, and how he/she thinks.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11
- Ask the Lord to give you the courage to have difficult conversations or to set difficult boundaries, and to follow through with consequences.
“With Your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall… It is God who arms me with strength…” 2 Samuel 22:30, 33
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 5:9
- Ask the Lord to help you find the right help for you and your family. We are often reminded that we were made to be in meaningful community; pray for the Lord to help you find at least one person to walk with you in this journey.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:11
“Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.” Proverbs 24:6
Be intentional about relational connection.
Will your child share honestly with you about relational, sexual, peer struggles? Do your very best to connect and prove that you are available and willing to listen and dialogue (not to be confused with preaching and lecturing). Ask your child if there is anything you do that causes him/her to feel unable to share honest fears and concerns with you. We noted this above, but it’s worth repeating: don’t buy into the lie that says your child never hears anything you say and will never listen to you. Extensive research points to the unparalleled longing for young people to hear from their parents on important issues (even the uncomfortable ones they tend to avoid).5 You can’t necessarily measure the input you are having on your child’s life by his/her current response to you or even by his/her current choices. Be consistent in your efforts to connect and communicate openly about difficult topics.
Can we talk?
Everyone will say, “Sit down and talk to your child about the harm of pornography.” True. By all means, do that. Just don’t forget to take time to prepare yourself for the conversation. (See above)
You don’t want to miss this opportunity to try a more meaningful (less shaming) conversation. Talk with your child about what it feels like to be him or her right now. What led to him/her viewing porn? Sure, “everyone’s doing it…” But, really. When he/she compares him/herself to peers, how does he/she feel? (Less sexually experienced?) What does he think girls want (or vice versa)? What makes him/her think that? How would it feel to fight against the sexual tidal wave that is upon us all? How can you help empower him/her? How connected does he/she feel to quality friends and to other members of the family? What does he/she view as his/her best strengths and assets? Try to help him/her look at what was fueling his/her behaviors. Chances are – your child is not even aware of deeper motivations. What does he/she like about viewing porn?
Talk again, and again, and again…
Addressing pornography or other sexual matters is not a one-time conversation. We don’t have a one-time chat with our kids about mathematics, the English language, sports, or history and assume that they have absorbed all they need to know. Ask if you can have a weekly time to check in about real-life issues – including pornography and other sexual matters.
Bring in the reinforcements.
While your voice cannot be replaced in your child’s life, it can be silenced (by cultural influences that shout way-too-loudly, particularly on topics where we remain silent) or enhanced (by an additional wise and loving “voice of reason” that happens to be endorsing the same messages you express). Increasing relational supports and accountability may prove beneficial. Consider finding a counselor, mentor, small group leader, a mature (but youthful) adult – who can listen, support, and be a supplemental voice of truth. Make sure this person shares your values!
Increase monitoring and filtering.
Change settings and install software on computers, phones, and gaming devices (see our page on software resources). Covenant Eyes is a great tool and offers a free one month trial, but there are others. Here’s a website that offers reviews of several phone monitoring software options: http://cell-phone-parental-control-software-review.toptenreviews.com/. Just to give you a taste of all that can be monitored, filtered, limited, or “controlled” on phones and computers… Options include 1) report and logging of: call history/details, texts, emails, GPS, pictures, internet use, videos, calendar updates, bookmarks; 2) a range of features: application blocking, keyword alerts, ability to filter, web blocking, time blocking, restricting numbers, contact blocking or flagging; and 3) security and tracking: encrypted communication, SIM change, remote wipe, remote lock, and GPS fencing.
- Make sure computers and game systems are used in common areas of the home (not in bedrooms), where you can have easy visual access to your child’s online behaviors.
- Consider putting limits on how often your child can be on his/her computer or phone. You can change settings to put limits on devices. We also know a family that keeps a basket by the front door. All phones go into the basket upon entering the house. This promotes actual relational interaction when at home. If your child’s phone is a permanent appendage to the body, you might want to moderate that a bit. (But you might have to model this change yourself!) How about a family conversation about pros and cons of always being on the phone or online and changes the family might want to commit to making together?
- Establish an accountability plan. We encourage having passwords to all your child’s online accounts, monitoring them, and then having open conversations about the content. Some parents have their child “turn their phone in” to Mom and Dad every night and review the child’s daily activity. You pay for the electronics and the wireless plans. Checking out what is on the laptop, tablet, phone, Ipod touch, DS, etc. is your parental responsibility. The intent is not necessarily to “catch” wrongdoing, but to offer accountability and to generate conversations as our youth learn how to navigate these complex, hormone-laden years.
Here are several books that might be helpful:
5 Conversations You Must Have with your Daughter by Vicky George
5 Conversations You Must Have with your Son by Vicky Veorge
Beginning the Path to Purity by Laura Gallier
Choosing To Wait (for Parents) by Laura Gallier
Why Wait? (for Teens) by Laura Gallier
The Naked Truth by Laura Gallier
Resources Recommended by Focus on the Family
Protecting Your Teen from Disturbing Behaviors: Helping Your Teen Overcome Today’s Issues (book)
Plugged-in Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids with Love, Not War (book)
From Santa to Sexting: Keeping Kids Safe, Strong and Secure in Middle School (book)
Protecting Your Tech-Savvy Teen from Pornography (broadcast)
Parenting an Online Generation (broadcast)
Find a Counselor.
If you need additional direction or support, or if you are interesting in finding a counselor for your unique situation, check out our list of recommended counselors, or contact us directly. We would be happy to answer any questions.