Talk About Porn? – Parenting Advice from Cindy Gallop

Photo by A. FerraroAccording to Cindy Gallop, “You cannot begin talking about sex too early,” and porn must be part of that discussion. She offered this bit of unexpected parenting advice while speaking to Julie Scelfo, author of The Women Who Made New York at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Gallop is the Founder of Make Love Not Porn TV, a sort of Facebook for real world sex. Fans of Gallop know she is a wealth of insight on gender and diversity—well loved for her frequent challenges to the “closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys” that is the corporate hive-mind. Speaking to Scelfo, the sex tech founder illuminated the issues that drove her to create a hub for what she refers to as the Social Sex Revolution, which gave rise to a discussion about children inadvertently accessing porn online. Scelfo revealed that her own young sons accidentally glimpsed porn online during a play date. It was the kind of awkward situation that parents dread, but Gallop realizes is inevitable. Cindy Gallop feels parents must proactively address the issue of porn.

If this is news to you, you’re not alone. The thought of speaking to my children about porn had never crossed my mind! But Gallop made the compelling argument that viewing porn, “Can’t be stopped. They stumble upon it!” To combat the prevalence of online porn Gallop simply recommends one micro-action—”Start talking about sex!” Like alternative facts, porn is not going away, so parents have to debunk it for young minds. After all, porn is fake sex.

So I decided to put this micro-action to work by asking moms about porn throughout my ordinary social interactions. I’d ask them at playdates, online parenting groups, after-school pick up and it was just the epic PR failure I expected. I casually asked a kindergarten mom when she planned to discuss porn, she jumped back and quickly responded, “NEVER!” This topic can’t be discussed casually. People need context for such an inherently disturbing question, especially for parents of small children. However, I managed to save the conversation, when I mentioned seeing the stuff was inevitable. The parent rethought her response. She knew porn was distorting young male perspectives and wished there were more depictions of “real sex.” That’s when I told her about Make Love Not Porn TV.

Many know about Make Love Not Porn TV from Cindy Gallop’s popular TED Talk in which she discusses what drove her to disrupt porn. She tends to date younger men and quickly realized all their sexual knowledge came from porn. One reason this is problematic is that porn largely reinforces rape culture down to the language. Terms like “gang bang” and “finger blasting” are derived from a male lens, yet it takes two to tango. Gallop points out that someone on the receiving end of a “finger blasting” would probably not find that enjoyable. Yet millennials are taking what they hear and see in porn literally because porn has replaced sex ed. MLNPTV counters this by using terms born of a female lens (words like succulent) and shows real people having sex.

However, Gallop doesn’t blame hardcore pornography for today’s sexual dysfunction.

“Porn is default sex education today because we are reluctant to talk about it. Everyone wants to be good in bed, but no one knows what that means. Great sex is born of communication.”

Gallop feels that we will only end rape culture, both sexual violence and harassment, when we normalize talking about positive sexual behavior with our children. She promotes the idea of a “Gold Standard” of sexual mores. She was vague on the specifics of her values in bed philosophy, but clear that parental communication was a first line of defense against the ubiquity of porn.

That ubiquity is the reason children as young as 6 are stumbling on porn, though there is little research on this age group and much of it is questionable. In 2009, Symantec, a security software firm, claimed that “porn” was the 4th most-sought search term by children 7 and younger, where as “sex” wasn’t even 25th. Interestingly this statistic was referenced by Covenant Eyes, a company that sells internet usage monitoring software. In 2007, it was one of the Best Christian Places to Work and ironically agrees with Cindy Gallop! They feel a child’s first introduction to sex should not come from pornography, stating,

“Remember, if you make it shameful or hush, hush, your child will likely have more interest. One of the most exciting things about pornography is the secrecy. Let them know they can talk to you about anything.”

Covenant Eyes is one source for an often cited statistic that the average age of first exposure to porn is age 11. In 2005, Forbes argued a similar statistic from a different online security firm was overstated and dubious, but that hasn’t stopped politicians from using it to propose legislation. Also in 2005, a study done by the University of New Hampshire revealed that 42% of kids ages 10-17 had been exposed to porn. However, taking a glass half-full view, this means the majority of adolescents had no exposure.

Nevertheless, research does confirm Gallop’s observation that online porn is default sex ed and may back up her parenting advice. In a review of studies conducted between 2005-2012 on the impact of porn on adolescents, Owens et al.* cite 5 studies that support the finding that adolescents believe porn is a source of knowledge, but “distorts their images of sexuality.” The review also cites significant agreement that viewing internet porn leads to unrealistic expectations, female objectification, earlier and risky sexual activity. Kids with “higher degrees of social interaction and bonding” were less likely to consume sexually explicit material.

And nothing says bonding like appropriately talking to your kids about porn, right? Putting statistics and business interests aside, the reality is mobile phones and iPads mean kids are increasingly tech literate, so I felt I had to check in with my own kids about porn. And guess what?! I found that as soon as a kid can spell they are one whimsical google search away from a world of sexual distortion. I assumed my 13 year old son would be the one who had viewed porn. I was wrong. It was my 9 year old daughter! She wanted to draw someone in a bed. So she googled “girl in bed,” and the rest is, well, inappropriate.

Adjusting my tactic, I had better luck discussing the issue of parenting in the age of online porn with close friends. And these parents are as blindsided by the topic as I initially was. An old college roommate regaled me with a tale of how she caught her pre-teen and her oldest nephew watching it. She was forced to discuss it with him and is now better prepared to discuss it with her younger son in the future. Her plan is to, “loop it right into the sex talk.”

Addressing the unrealistic expectations porn creates, another mom offered this solution.

“I wish I could walk him through the women’s changing room at the Y and say ‘That’s what women’s bodies look like.’ But for all the obvious reasons that is never going to happen.”

Parents in New Jersey, realized the limits of internet safeguards when their 11 year old got his first phone in the fall. She and her husband were not thorough when they installed parental controls and found he was searching for porn. The parents installed controls and initiated a conversation about the responsibility of creating one’s digital footprint—mentioning that every online action creates a digital foot print that schools and employers might one day see. Undeterred, a few weeks later, he googled “arousing images” in an attempt to circumvent the safeguards. The parents took the phone away. Then the boy searched “how to disable parental controls” on his little brother’s iPad. Dumfounded the parents removed all the devices from the bedroom at night and offered to buy the boy an issue of Maxim—to his TOTAL EMBARRASSMENT!

The issue is still unresolved for these parents. They are left wondering,

“How do you get ahead of this stuff? How much control should you relinquish as kids age? Porn can be damaging! I don’t want him to see gang rapes and snuff films and who knows what else? That stuff just wasn’t accessible when I was teen.”

Listening to moms on porn, I heard an acknowledgment that it’s out there, but little consensus on what to do. What’s the solution? Hope your kid’s a bad speller? Looking over their shoulder constantly is not realistic and parental controls are a mere challenge. Talking to your kids about porn may seem daunting, but Cindy Gallop offers this advice.

“Never get embarrassed or angry. You are opening up a channel of communication that will be open for life. Explain that porn exists and encourage them to talk to you about it.”

Armed with this advice, I attempted a discussion about sexual values through vagaries and the Golden Rule. I told my 9 year old if she comes across porn again, “Please come tell me because online sex can be violent and I know you don’t like scary movies.” She agreed. As for my 13 year old son, I told him porn can warp his view of real relationships and everything he does in life should be guided by, do on to others as you would have them do on to you.

Based on my unscientific street-level poll, I conclude that talking to kids about porn is not on parents’ radar! It’s a parental blind spot. They know that there will one day be a sex talk, but they haven’t considered discussing online porn. When the issue catches us off guard, we don’t know how to appropriately address it. Parents of young children can’t even conceive the idea. But when you explain that parents need a game plan for the future because our reluctance to discuss porn is creating a sex ed vacuum that can lead to uninformed and risky sexual behavior, parents think again. When Cindy Gallop and a 2007 Best Christian Place to Work agree that parents should talk to kids about online porn, that’s a rare moment of bi-partisan support we simply can’t ignore.

*The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research by Eric W. Owens, Richard J. Behun, Jill C. Manning, and Rory C. Reid, Pages 99-122 Published online: 09 Apr 2012

  3 comments for “Talk About Porn? – Parenting Advice from Cindy Gallop

  1. March 22, 2017 at 1:51 am

    Yes! After reading your questions I was intrigued as to how this would flow….well written and highly informative! Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  2. Pablo Dobner
    March 23, 2017 at 5:59 am

    Also take a look at thepornconversation.org

    • momtropolis
      March 24, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      Thanks so much for sending your link! This is a fantastic resource! And thanks for reading!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: