Born in the age of porn: why I'm teaching my children about all aspects of sex 1 month ago

Born in the age of porn: why I'm teaching my children about all aspects of sex

"It is much easier to have conversations about porn with your kids if you've already had open and honest conversations about sex with them."

Porn is back in the news again, with the release of a new study led by Dr Kate Dawson, of the School of Psychology in NUI Galway. Dr Dawson's research found that porn use amongst teenage boys, "is associated with sexual aggression over time ONLY when people report a pre-disposition to aggression. In isolation porn use does not lead to sexual aggression."

Ireland has high porn viewing rates, and researchers like Dr Dawson suggest this is linked to the poor sexual education offered in Irish schools. Essentially Irish teenagers are teaching themselves – and doing it via porn.

This is the consequence of denying children information about their bodies. In countries with excellent sex education there are fewer teen pregnancies, lower rates of STIs, and teenagers wait longer before having penetrative sex.

All the reasonable, rational arguments for good sex ed are backed by numerous studies from around the world. Because here in Ireland we've been so woeful at educating young people about what is essentially a very normal part of most people's lives, we now have high numbers of teens turning to porn to get their information.

And it's not just teens, children as young as 10 are viewing porn online.

An NUI Galway study from 2018 found that more than 53 percent of boys in Ireland first watched porn under the age of 13. And 23 percent of girls first encountered pornography aged between the ages of 10 and 13.

The scary part is that porn is generally not very reflective of most people's sexual experiences, and so can mould teenagers ideas about what sex is "supposed to be like". There is a plethora of porn available online, and a lot of it does not focus on consent or mutual pleasure so it's worrying that some teenagers are getting their sexual education from potentially violent and abusive content.

Dr Dawson agrees, saying porn, "can mislead some people on what they think is expected during sex".

Dr Kate Dawson

The Sex Ed Bill that passed through the Dáil in 2018 has stalled. Until the Government provides the money to implement it, we're stuck with the old (and rather hopeless) sex ed – or lack thereof. So it's up to those of us who are parents to step up and start educating our kids.

What I said to my children when they first started online was: "If you ever see anything online that frightens you or makes you feel weird or uncomfortable, then come and talk to me about it. You won't be in trouble. I don't want you feeling sad or scared about something on your own, so come and chat to me."

This worked and my kids do come and talk to me when they see anything that distresses them. In one case my child was at a friend's house and a porn pop up came on. They closed the window quickly and my child talked to me about it when she came home.

My child was concerned because she thought the woman was being hurt. I explained that it was a type of movie that was all play acting and that no one was getting hurt, even though it looked like someone was. I talked about movies we watch where people get shot and how the actors act like they're being hurt but that it's just an act.

For my older kids I had frank discussions about porn and how porn (generally speaking) does not represent real life sex. I have talked to my children since they were small about analysing media critically with questions like, "How many girls were in that show?", "Why do you think they mostly have boy characters?" or "Can you think of any shows that have LGBTQI people in them? Why do you think LGBTQI people aren't in many TV shows?"

Because this critical thinking and analysing  is part of our family conversations I was able to bring these questions to conversations about porn.

It is much easier to have conversations about porn with your kids if you've already had open and honest conversations about sex with them. If a child comes across or seeks out porn and they arrive knowing that sex should be consensual and mutually pleasurable, then they will be able to tell the difference between real life sex and the make believe sex porn offers.

One of my teenagers said they found porn very odd as it didn't reflect what they believed sex to be about, so the work I did educating my children well about consent and sex made my child disinterested in viewing porn. Not that there is anything wrong with porn – it's a healthy part of lots of people's sex lives. The important thing for me as a parent, is that my kids can critically analyse the content they consume, even if that is porn.