How to Educate Kids About Porn

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Does society need a more open conversation about porn? Public Domain

As someone who realized years ago through personal experience dating younger men that porn was becoming default sex education, and launched my site makelovenotporn.com specifically to combat this, I welcome the world finally waking up to the fact that today we must educate children about both sex and porn. On Tuesday, for example, a committee of British MPs published a report recommending that pornography should be taught as part of sex and relationships education in schools.

That said, the issue isn’t porn, but the lack in our society of an open, healthy, honest conversation around sex in the real world. If we had that, children and adults alike would be able to bring a real world mindset and context to the viewing of artificial entertainment. Here’s what needs to happen.

Sex education must start in the home.

Parents, if you want your children to have happy, fulfilling relationships and sex lives, please don’t leave sex education to school. You can’t begin having this conversation too early. I don’t necessarily mean you need to have the “big full-on conversation,” but more consider what you will do the very first time your child asks where babies come from, touches themselves or does something else sex-related.

The most important thing isn’t even what you say as much as how you say it. Never get visibly flustered or embarrassed; never get irritated or angry; don’t shut them up, close the conversation down or leave the room. Instead, respond to them openly, honestly and straightforwardly. By doing that, you open up a channel of communication between you that will always be there for them, and trust me — no matter how much they might appear to squirm when you talk to them frankly about sex and how to have a rewarding, healthy sex life, they will be secretly grateful to you for doing so.

Today, you can’t educate about sex without educating about porn.

The average age today at which a child first views hardcore porn online is eight—a Bitdefender survey conducted three years ago indicates that age could be as low as six. This isn’t because 8 year olds and 6 year olds go looking for porn. It's a function of what in today’s digital world is inevitable and cannot be prevented, no matter how hard you try—they stumble across it.

And so, just as you can’t talk about sex too early to your child, you can’t talk about porn too early.

It’s easier than you might think. When you talk to children about sex, just say (dialed up or down depending on age), “You know when we watch movies and TV together, we see things that aren’t real, or things that are exaggerated and extreme? Well, that happens with sex too. People make movies and videos for entertainment that aren’t real. These can be quite confusing and so it’s a good idea not to watch them till you’re older—but if you come across these or anyone shows you anything that confuses you, tell me/us and we can talk about it.”

Be explicit.

Obviously, the degree of explicitness will vary with age, but parents need to be aware that however explicit they’re being, kids are encountering far worse explicitness in the things they see online and being passed around by their friends. The most helpful thing you can do for your children is to be uncompromisingly straightforward. A friend of mine with three teenagers who has educated them thoroughly about sex said to me, “I know what kind of misinformation gets disseminated in the playground. I’m making sure my kids are the source of accurate information for all their friends.”

Parents and teachers, start with values.

For parents and teachers, I recommend approaching the conversation in this way: everything in life starts with you and your values. I regularly ask people, “What are your sexual values?” and no one can ever answer, because we’re not brought up to think that way.

Many of us, if we’re fortunate, are born into families and environments where our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic, a sense of responsibility, accountability.  Nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed. They should—because empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honesty are as important there, as they are in every other area of our lives and work.

So for parents, this is simply a matter of translating the values you set out to bring your children up with into how you educate them on expectations of behavior around sex. In the same way you teach them to do the right thing generally, teach them the same in a sexual context. I recommend teachers do too, not least because this approach cuts across gender bias in the way we educate children about sex. The opposite of what society thinks is true: girls enjoy sex just as much as boys, and boys are just as romantic as girls.

Use outside prompts and the excellent resources that already exist.

It’s difficult for parents to embark on this dialogue out of nowhere; they need jumping off points. That can be anything—something that happens in a TV program or a movie, or something that comes up with one of your kids’ friends. Use it as a springboard for discussion.

Parents already use makelovenotporn.com and my TED talk in this way. A mother wrote, “My teenage son had a bunch of friends round last night. I made them all sit down and watch your TED talk. There was lots of squirming and wriggling around to begin with, but it gave rise to two hours of fantastic discussion.” But that’s not enough. Parents and teachers write to us all the time asking for help, which is why at MakeLoveNotPorn we want to build what I call “ the Khan Academy of sex education,” MakeLoveNotPorn.Academy

There’s no need for teachers and schools to reinvent the wheel. All around the world there are amazing sex educators, some of them my friends; Justin Hancock of Bish, Dr Jill McDevitt, Al Vernacchio. Yet they struggle to make a living, because of society’s closed-mindedness around sex despite the huge need for their services.

Right now nobody goes into sex education to make money. I want to change that, because it’s extremely valuable work. So MakeLoveNotPorn.Academy will work on the same principles as MakeLoveNotPorn.tv: crowdsourced, curated, revenue-sharing. We want to open up our platform to sex educators from all around the world to submit their work—videos, articles, coursework, books, papers, tools, comicstrips, whatever it may be. We’ll curate, as we do with our #socialsex videos, because we only publish what is MLNP-endorsed.

For example, we would not publish “abstinence-only” sex education, because we don’t endorse the approach that says “Don’t do it.” We’ll publish segmented by age-appropriateness. We’ll charge to subscribe/download/bulk buy for schools, and we will split the revenue with creators just as we do currently with our “MakeLoveNotPornstars,” because I want sex educators everywhere in the world to make the large amounts of money they deserve to.

So why doesn’t MakeLoveNotPorn.Academy exist yet? Because I’ve been trying for the past two years to find investors and funding—and failing. Which brings me to my final point.

Everybody, everywherestop shutting down. Open up.

I conceived MLNP to be huge, because I knew that to counter the impact of porn as default sex ed, I had to create something with the potential to one day be just as mass, mainstream and all-pervasive in society as porn currently is. We’re building a new category online—social sex—to socialize and normalize sex and talking about it, because every other social media platform doesn’t. We’re building a community around shared sexual values, in order to inculcate those everywhere in the world. Yet we fight a battle every day—because every piece of business infrastructure other startups can take for granted, we can’t: the small print says “No adult content.” We struggle to find investors because of their “fear of what other people will think,” which operates around sex more than anything else.

The answer to everything that worries people about porn—rape culture, sexual harassment, abuse and violence—is not to censor, block, shut down, but to open up. Open up the dialogue. Open up to welcoming, supporting and funding sextech entrepreneurs like me, sex educators like my friends, who want to change all of this for the better. And open up to enabling us to do business in the same way everyone else does. When you open up, you help your children, you help yourselves, and you help design a different and far better future for humanity.

Cindy Gallop is the founder and CEO of makelovenotporn.com.