Archive of ‘Sexual Health’ category

Talking to Adolescents About Porn

Often I am consulting clinically about how best to handle screen time expectations and tech boundaries in terms of both consumption and content. Online pornography is a subset of media that consistently comes up, not only with adults and couples I work with but also with parents and teens. Often, parents regard this topic with fear or uncertainty, so I wanted to share some resources to help create empowered and open communication around media and porn literacy. This feels ever-important during a time where curricula and state law seem to be pushing censorship or shame.

A cultural inevitability 

Our culture is still clumsily navigating the rapid proliferation of readily available and seemingly unavoidable online pornography, which now comprises approximately 1/10 of internet content. Studies show kids are exposed to online pornography at an average age of around 13, and over 40% the initial exposure was accidental. That said, exposure can happen much earlier. Generally, parents tend to address issues around puberty and sexuality around age 13. The assumption here is that sex and sexual issues do not need to be addressed until puberty. Yet, puberty happens more frequently between the ages of 10-12, and sexual consideration and curiosity do not operate like a light switch directly aligned with puberty–it’s a continuum aligned with human developmental stages and begins, in some ways as early as 4 years of age.

Why talking to your preteen or teen about porn is important

Though any sort of sex talk can feel taboo or be awkward, talking about pornography is part of a healthy sex-positive environment and creates an open field of engagement with your child. It is notable that there is a negative assumption that educating adolescents about sex might unintentionally push them to have sex earlier, yet this is statistically untrue. The earlier you can include positive and shame-free sex discussions and education in your home, the better. Based on the lack of porn literacy taught within school settings, the onus is tending to fall on parents and therapists to have these discussions when/if they arise. And knowing 70% of youth either happen upon (scrolling), or seek out online pornography (for education), this is more of a when.

Studies also indicate that, particularly for cis-hetero males, early exposure to porn may be correlated to a desire to seek power over women. Thus, having open conversations about the types of sexual engagements that are depicted in mainstream porn can impact not only a sex-positive attitude but also may deepen relational awareness and connection.

Replacement as Sex Ed

Unfortunately, only 30 states in the U.S. are required to teach sex ed at all, 13 of which are science-based. About 20 of these 30 states still operate under the outmoded abstinence-only model. Interestingly but not surprisingly, the states which lack an affirmative and science-based sexual education model, are also the states with the highest amount of teen pregnancy, and the inverse is true: sex ed that is comprehensive and empirical significantly decreases teen pregnancy.

Based on the dearth of comprehensive and media-literate education and considering the ease with which porn can be located on a device, adolescents are often attempting to educate themselves and their peers using this very easily accessible “resource.”

One of the issues with this, particularly with the absence of other forms of education, is that porn is by nature performative, and often non-consent-driven. This mainstream content easily creates the assumption that this is how sex goes. This type of pornographic content, however, excludes the awkward, messy, real, and autonomous versions of sex. It also tends to be geared more toward cis, hetoronormative, and at times violent, depictions of sex, excluding more diverse and inclusive images of sex. Finally, it outsources imagination, which is core and vital to human life, particularly at this age, to the churn of consumeristic drives of The Algorithm. 

Awareness about this stage

On top of porn’s availability and adolescents’ burgeoning sexual awareness and desire, the stage of adolescence is a marked time for black and white thinking (based on the brain’s development), and it is a wrought time for repetition-compulsion. Adolescents, our greatest nihilists, are beholden to their stage of life which is all about transformation and initiation. Richard Frankel, a Jungian psychoanalyst notes, “without guidance, left on their own, adolescents’ attempts at initiation take on an extreme character” (1999, p. 61). Frankel continues regarding adolescent exploratory methods:

Like the repetition of a symptom after the experience of trauma, the compulsion to repeat these events, be it drug and alcohol use, acts of violence, or discriminant sex, may be better understood not under the rubric of the psychology of addiction, but as failed attempts at initiation that leaves one in a state of yearning for a kind of deliverance that never seems to quite manifest itself. (p. 61)

Our culture, one without much initiation or ritual, operates via dopamine pump: check the email, check again; I liked that substance, I want more; this construct creates this emotion, repeat, repeat, repeat. Rather than allowing a substance or experiences to signify an initiation, they instead become literalized as a threshold itself, with which to carry over newly initiated vision or life stages. Herein, our culture, under which auspices our adolescents are trained, simply craves and acquires more. After the initial experience of a new substance-construct, whether it is alcohol, pornography, a violent event, or a combination, Frankel notes that the “extremity of behavior may lead an adolescent to the threshold of an initiatory door. However, without the proper structures in place, he cannot pass through it” (p. 61). 

In a word: education and cultural, or subcultural, consciousness begets awareness and can help guard against these black and white compulsions.

When/If this topic arises, here are some tips for having that conversation with your kid:

As porn is designed as a means-to-an-end, it mostly misses out on modeling consent. Consent is a must, and training around this can happen as early as 1 year of age. This begins by including permission when wanting to touch or embrace. “Let’s ask Kendell if she’d like a hug to say bye today!” And later can include teaching around body autonomy, and honoring one’s ‘gut’ feelings.

Later, teaching enthusiastic consent, about actual sexual experiences is important. This can happen in middle school if appropriate for your child.

Don’t freak out!

While I would argue pornography is not always a great first exposure to sex, it is common that it is the first brush. The more you can handle this topic with active listening, the better the setup for sex-positive communication between parent and adolescent. Also, discussing porn as a thing that exists can help your child decide how they’d like to interact (or not) with it if it comes up in a peer setting.

No shame!

Sexual curiosity and education-seeking are part of development, and as noted, made more seductive due to our cultural lack of comprehensive education. Generally speaking, when adolescents, who already naturally feel ‘on stage’ incur feelings of outer shame, they shut down. It’s on you to mitigate your fear/upset as a parent, and model and encourage an open line of conversation for your kid.

An opportunity to set boundaries and agreements

Aim for solutions rather than reactive consequences. Part of this education can be teaching kids and teens that porn exists as entertainment and is not meant to be educational. 

Within this, negotiations around screen time or media blocks, particularly for younger ages might be appropriate to help them have lesser access. Though it might feel uncomfortable, asking open-ended questions (where, how, when) rather than possibly accusatory why questions, can help aid in creating discussions that point to the purpose of the search. For instance, if your adolescent was simply curious, more education may be the key. If it was peer pressure, it’s a perfect opportunity to discuss consent (even about media consumption). And, if they accidentally were exposed and feel ashamed or traumatized, it can be a great time to normalize the instance and seek greater awareness of their tech habits, solo and in-situ.

There’s no one way to handle this intricacy-laden and, for some, discomforting topic. But hopefully, this, and the resources listed below are a helpful start!

Resources 

For parents:

Is the Porn Brain our new Sex Educator by sex educator Yana Tallon-Hicks

Sex Positive Families is a platform that offers a variety of resources to support these talks

Six Minute Sex Ed – podcast on various topucs

How to Talk to Your Kids about Pornography

For adolescents

Yes to consent– a platform offering podcasts that cover myriad topics around tech, consent and porn.

Let’s Talk About It

Wait, What?

Earlier resources for younger kids

Yes! No!: A first conversation about consent


How to Talk About “Hookup Culture” with Tweens and Teens

(AKA What the Heck is the Hot Girl Summer Challenge and why is it influencing my teen to want to “hookup”?)

If you are like me, you may have little-to-no knowledge about the Hot Girl Summer Challenge that is blowing up on tween and teen social media accounts, most notably, Tik Tok.  When I first heard about it from one of my clients, I felt totally out of the loop.  With very little research, I was able to find out that it is based on a song from last summer by Megan Thee Stallion called “Hot Girl Summer.” She says on Twitter, “Being a Hot Girl is about being unapologetically YOU, having fun, being confident, living YOUR truth, being the life of the party, etc.” What I’ve learned from talking to teens and tweens is that this message has translated very differently to different kids.  For some, it truly is about inspiration and positivity while for others, it is in inspiration to “hookup”. I’ve seen lists that include…

Hot Girl Summer Challenge – Version 1

  • Taking a bath (5 points)
  • Working out (10 points)
  • Staying up all night with your best friend (15 points)
  • Doing something nice for a friend (15 points)

Unfortunately the song and its message has also been the inspiration for lists that look like this:

Hot Girl Summer Challenge – Version 2

  • Sexting (5 points)
  • Hookup with 2 guys (10 points)
  • Ghost someone (10 points)
  • Hot tub makeout (10 points)

As a parent myself, when I hear about trends like this, I panic a little inside. Further, I feel the strong pull to get my kids in front of me and tell them about every possible danger they might face and how to protect themselves.  However, what I have learned as a therapist and Positive Discipline Trainer is that trends like this one are actually OPPORTUNITIES for us to connect with our kids. 

START HERE: Be Genuinely Curious About Their World

Start with approaching your kiddo with an attitude of curiosity.  If you are really anxious or worried when you bring this up, they will feel it and shut down or become upset. Ground yourself first by taking deep breaths or trying one of the practices in this blog by my dear colleague Julie Burke, LPC.

Conversational Curiosity Questions:

  • Can you teach me about ___?
  • What is Hot Girl Summer? Can you tell me about it?
  • Are your friends doing it?
  • What were you trying to accomplish?
  • What’s the goal of Hot Girl Summer? 
  • How do you get points? 
  • What do you think of HGS?
  • How do you feel about what happened?
  • How did you feel about your score being posted by your BFF? 
  • Are you okay?
  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • What did you learn from what happened?/What are you learning from the HGS Challenge?
  • What ideas do you have to take care of the problem now?
  • What ideas do you have to move forward with Tik Tok use in a safe way?
  • What agreements do you want to make about your phone and social media use?
  • How do you plan to address this issue with your BFF? 
  • Is there any other information you can give me to help me understand?

For counseling for your tween/teen and or for parent support, please reach out to AFC to talk to a therapist today!  [email protected]  

For more information about parenting tweens and teens, please check out the following::

By: Lora Ferguson, MA, LPC-S, AFC Founder & Co-Director


3 Things You Can Do To Encourage Your Husband/Partner To Speak Up About Their Sexual Health Without Fear

Although studies estimate that 15-20 percent of men deal with sexual issues, the overwhelming fear and shame of speaking about it continue to haunt them. In fact, shame is also a key reason behind 60 percent of men avoiding doctor visits. In a recent AARP survey, one in five men admitted they weren’t honest with their physicians, mainly due to the embarrassment of discussing certain issues, including their sexual health. However, by taking steps to encourage the man in your life to open up about their sexual health and concerns without the fear of judgment, you can begin to take the first steps in preparing for a successful marriage and lifelong relationship.

Time The Conversation, Mood And Location Well

Picking the perfect time to have a conversation about their sexual health is crucial to having a productive conversation. This is because you want to choose a time where you are both receptive and ready to listen to what each other are saying. For most couples, setting aside a time to discuss it normally helps. You can also help your partner feel more at ease by maintaining a calm and positive tone during the conversation. Efforts to help them feel more comfortable with intimacy of all levels will help them relax and be honest with you. You can do this by encouraging your husband/boyfriend, and setting aside designated time for intimacy. 

Reaffirm The Positives Of Your Relationship And Commit To Exploring Solutions Together

By focusing on the positives of your relationship, you can help your partner feel reassured in the bond that you have. Instead of focusing on the negative emotions surrounding sexual health, stick to the issues and potential solution, opting for a more positive ‘can-do’ attitude. It is also important to remain positive throughout the conversation by reassuring them that there are solutions to sexual health issues out there, and that you are committed to exploring any issues they have raised together.

This added support may turn out to be the boost they need to speak to their doctor about erectile dysfunction, performance anxiety, or any other sexual conditions that warrant medical help. There are hundreds of solutions out there for sexual issues, and they do not always include medication. In addition to a healthy diet, exercise, and couples’ mediation techniques, your partner can boost their nutrient intake to reduce nervousness. With so many studies showcasing the effects of stress and anxiety on the body, chances are that focusing on improving these can greatly help your partner with his sexual health. As a bonus, it may help them feel more comfortable, since the solution may not involve going to a doctor.

Practice Non-Judgmental Listening And Conversational Techniques

Communication is key in any relationship. However for a sensitive conversation to be truly productive, it must be free of judgment and assumptions. The alternative is that due to the fear of being judged, your partner opts to not be completely honest with you or engage in conversations about your sex life at all. This is particularly relevant if there is an issue of conflict in the bedroom. Research has shown that people avoid conflicts because it either presents a threat to their relationships, partner or themselves. However, with the use of non-judgmental listening, you can soothe those fears and encourage the man in your life to be truthful about his sexual health, shortcomings and all.

To Master Non-Judgmental Communication, Focus On Avoiding A Fault-Based Way Of Thinking

A great non-judgmental communication technique to use is the DUAL Method, penned by Leo Babauta. This recommends that you avoid passing judgment and become more self-aware before practicing empathy and understanding; accept the differences in your partner’s point of view; and embrace the good that comes with their sexual revelations. For instance, the positives of having your partner open up about performance anxiety include better communication of sexual needs and the chance to pursue a remedy as a couple. Pay attention to your non-judgmental cues in the conversation as well. These can be just as telling as your words.

Sexual health and fulfillment is a key part of satisfaction and happiness in any relationship. While men can find it difficult to open up about their sexual health, there are ways you can encourage them to do so. By creating a safe space and maintaining an emphatic and non-judgmental attitude, you can begin to build a stronger and more intimate relationship.

By: Issy Lovett

After an initial career spent as a sexual health nurse, Issy turned to writing to make a living and now pens articles on topics relating to sexual health and the anxieties it can create. She believes strongly in talking therapies as a way to help overcome issues, after experiencing her own struggles with mental health. Issy now lives with her girlfriend and their pet dog Barney.