The talk that comes after the birds and bees - (11/3/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Ms. Rollins knew she could confide in the pharmacist. Since her husband died, she was left to raise her 13-year old daughter, Colette, by herself. “I was surprised to see that my daughter was looking at internet porn!” she said. “What did you say to her?” the pharmacist asked. “I didn’t know what to say,” said the shaken mother. “We had the sex talk last year. Why would she be curious about pornography?”

While the internet is one of the greatest innovations in our lifetime, no one can deny that it is also a cesspool for porn. Long gone is the age of innocence. People now consider X-rated movies from the 1960s and 1970s – such as Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris – quaint if not comparatively wholesome. Your dad’s Playboy? Positively prehistoric. With the advent of the internet, our culture has become “pornified.” Studies show that the average age of initial exposure to porn is age 10, while 90% of 8- to 16-year olds have viewed porn online. The introduction to sexually explicit content can occur easily through a fumbled Google search using an innocent word such as "toy," a misspelled name, or a website address typo. And it’s not just boys. While hard-core porn users are typically male, use among younger females is increasing. Teen girls, like Colette, are significantly more likely to seek out porn than do women 25 years old and above.
Whichever way kids stumble into hard-core erotica, the practice can soon turn into an addiction, like alcoholism or gambling. A national survey found that 64% of young people, ages 13–24, actively seek out porn at least once weekly. Research has also shown that XXX-viewing by children also transcends so-dubbed “vanilla sex.” Your precious Jimmy or Joanie may be exposed to more deviant activities. Like whips, chains, and leather gear that would normally launch many questions. “Is that what sex really is?”  

Frequent viewing of pornographic images is associated with sexual activity at a younger age, a higher number of sexual partners, a proclivity to find casual partners, and a higher incidence of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. And substance abuse? Sociologists have observed a higher consumption of liquor and marijuana by the young porn watcher. The very nature of sex can be distorted through pornography. For example, the more young people frequent pornographic sites, the more likely they perceive sex as a purely physical function. Loveless, violent, one-sided. Sudden, broken, forgotten. These aberrations can derail the elements of a healthy relationship as the child matures. 

Let’s pull the child’s parents into this conundrum. Studies show that parents who are authoritative and truly loving in their rearing style are more likely to limit their child's contact with internet porn than indulgent or neglectful parents are. If they discover that the child is watching pornography, an educational rather than a punitive approach is more successful, particularly as the hormones begin to rage and secrecy becomes the child’s mantra. Ms. Rollins agreed with the pharmacist on this point. 

So, the talk that comes after the birds and bees – and some psychologists say the child can be as young as eight – should be about what they may see on their computer. Hypersexualized imagery in advertising and entertainment makes it increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to live a porn-free life. Parents can better tackle this situation by educating kids on what defines a good relationship and by installing parental control software. And even if their children accidentally stumble upon pornography, they will be better prepared to handle seeing inappropriate material without it having a strong effect. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.


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