When I was first exposed to pornography in elementary school, I was both fascinated and terrified. Pornography had this magnetic allure that greatly attracted me, but something in me knew that it wasn’t right for me to be looking at it. The first iPhone came out in 2007, when I was in middle school. I don’t recall getting an iPhone until my sophomore or junior year of high school, which would have been around the same time I got my first laptop computer.
The Threat Of Internet Pornography To Children
However, I remember I had a friend in 5th grade who would bring magazines to schools with explicit content on a number of pages. Soon after that, I learned that you could access sexual content online. I must have been 11 or 12 when my parents found out that I had been looking at semi-nude images of women on the family computer. Our computer settings were such that you could not clear the browser history without the administrative password. Woops. My nominally conservative father was furious. I was grounded from using the internet indefinitely, which ended up being around three months. My parents never explained to me why looking at pornography was wrong, but lack of easy accessibility, and fear of my father, kept me from going back with any regularity for years.
I can’t tell you how many people I personally know, and people whose stories I have read on the internet, who got hooked on pornography at a very young age. Routine early exposure almost always owes to two factors: ease of accessibility, and lack of parental oversight. Luckily for me, due to technological constraints and some parental oversight, my serious battle for sexual integrity did not begin until high school and beyond. Maybe if my parents had a conversation with me on why pornography was wrong, and inspired me to police myself, it wouldn’t have become a serious issue down the road. However, my heart goes out to young people who had even less oversight than did, coupled with easier access to pornography in the form of a smart phone or computer.
Gabrielle was exposed in elementary school. Cassidy was exposed at age 12. Alex was exposed at 7 or 8. Noah was exposed at 11 or 12. Aaron was exposed in junior high. Evidently, none of the adults in their life made an attempt to prepare them for what they would see on screen. Fortunately, they all ended up getting the help they needed, but not before suffering in their mental health and relationships. For every success story that we read of people who broke an early pornography habit or addiction, there are countless people who remain hooked.
Celebrities, including Billie Eilish, Kanye West, and Kirk Franklin have shared their heart-breaking stories about the devastating impact early pornography exposure had on their lives (see here, here, and here, respectively):
“As a woman, I think porn is a disgrace. I used to watch a lot of porn, to be honest. I started watching porn when I was like 11. . . I think it really destroyed my brain and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn. . . I’m so angry that porn is so loved, and I’m so angry at myself for thinking that it was okay.Billie Eilish
Like, for me, Playboy was my gateway into full-on pornography addiction. My dad had a Playboy left out at age 5, and it’s affected almost every choice I made for the rest of my life. From age 5, until now having to kick the habit. And it just presents itself in the open, like it’s OK. And I stand up and say, “You know. It’s not OK.”Kanye West
I remember about the age of 8. So from the age of 8 to about the age of 29, you know, I struggled with that—not only pornography, but also being very promiscuous. I got into a lot of trouble.Kirk Franklin
How To Protect Children From Internet Pornography
If you are a parent and don’t know where to start, I recommend checking out How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn (Dr. Trish Leigh). Dr. Leigh is a mother of multiple children and an expert on pornography:
Number one is to talk to them. That’s the hard one. Parents don’t do that. . . Talk to them not once. Talk to them all the time. About sex, about watching pornography, about the dangers. . . But then, at the same time, not allowing your kids to have free reign of their electronics, which a lot of parents do. . . Ask your kids what they know about it. . . Don’t tell them anything until you know what they know.Dr. Trish Leigh
In any case, what do people think the alternative is? Any vacuum left by parents will get filled by someone. As I wrote before, “When parents don’t talk to their kids, somebody else gets to control the narrative, whether that’s friends, teachers, music, movies, or other media.” Sometimes the choice is to embrace a little discomfort and do the right thing, or cross our fingers and hope everything turns out for the best (spoiler: it typically doesn’t).
When parents don’t talk to their kids, somebody else gets to control the narrative, whether that’s friends, teachers, music, movies, or other media.
Many people regret the fact that their parents never once talked to them about the dangers of pornography or the beauty of sexuality in the right context. The message they got from friends, culture and society was that pornography was no big deal. It was natural, normal–even healthy! Yet, after years of consumption, and the sexual, relational, and psychological damage that resulted, it became abundantly clear that was not the case.
A simple conversation with a trusted person, with some constructive follow-up action, can change the course of a life for the better.
For more on the allure of pornography, see statistics on pornography consumption. For more on the dangers of pornography, click here for research studies on the mental, physical, emotional, and sexual effects of pornography consumption. Also, check out Opinion: Showing pornography to minors is child abuse, and letting them watch it is child neglect.