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Seven things I’ve told my sons about porn

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when you had to go out into public to get porn, usually to places where you wouldn’t want to be seen. But as I transitioned into adulthood, the Internet broke into the mainstream, and porn exploded. For going on a quarter century now, anyone with an Internet connection has an unlimited supply in full privacy. Nobody has to know.

That’s the world my sons were born into. They Google anything that interests them — and at some point, women’s bodies began to interest them. And so I’ve had a conversation with each of them about porn. Here’s what I told them:

Do not be ashamed, as you are made to be naturally curious about sex. You are hardwired to be interested and that is a very, very good thing about being human. Porn is so incredibly available, and you are so incredibly naturally curious, that it was just a matter of time before you found it. Every man with an Internet connection has to decide what he’s going to do about porn. Even me. I wish I could say I’ve had a clean history with it but I haven’t.

But shame should not be a part of your sexual experience. It will inhibit you and interfere with your full enjoyment of it — needlessly!

A very real challenge in life is figuring out what to do with your sex drive. Your desire for sex is 100% legit. But our faith asks for abstinence until marriage. And today most men are pushing 30 before they get married. That’s a super long time to wait! And look: here’s all the porn you could want in the meantime! It’s enormously tempting. (So is being involved with someone primarily because you get sex.)

This is a twisty road, and I have no map to give you. You’ll have to figure out for yourself what’s healthy and right for you. You’re likely to try some things along the way that, upon reflection, you won’t feel good about. That’s part of being human. But be sure to do that reflection and pay attention to how you feel and what you think. Let that guide your future behavior.

You need sensuality and intimacy, not just sex. Porn is just sex. Here’s a rule of thumb: do sexual things with someone you love. Sex in that context is likely to draw the two of you closer and deepen your connection — which, plus making babies, is the real purpose of sex.

That’s not to say solo sex is out. I think it’s part of healthy sexuality. But I don’t think it’s healthy when the only thing that fuels it is porn.

Porn is not real. Because you have little or no experience with real sex, and because your mind is not done forming, your brain wants to make porn into what it thinks normal sex is. Trust me on this: porn has as much to do with real sex as an action movie has to do with real life.

Some men find that letting porn imprint on their brains interferes with loving sex with a partner. They expect it to be like porn, and it’s just not. They have to unlearn what they learned from porn to be able to connect well with their partner. What an unfortunate thing to put a partner through.

There’s some seriously disturbing porn out there. When you search for porn online, you will stumble upon all kinds of things that you didn’t even know were things. Some of them will deeply disturb you, guaranteed. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it.

Porn takes away the actors’ dignity. That disturbing porn — how can the people that perform in it feel good about themselves for doing it? Even the tamer porn is just actors engaging in a physical show for money. There’s no love and connection in it. None of it builds anybody up or creates intimacy — which is where the full humanity and dignity of sex lives.

What’s even more disturbing is some evidence that the porn industry is linked to sex trafficking, a form of slavery that forces people into sex beyond their will. There are some disagreeing views about how true this is, and porn certainly didn’t create this evil trade, which has sadly existed throughout history. But I’d sure hate to fuel it in any way.

You can become addicted to porn. I’m not saying you will become addicted, but that it’s possible. Anything that stimulates your brain’s pleasure centers and that you do excessively can become an addiction.

One clue you are in danger is when you find that basic porn doesn’t work for you, and that you need increasingly serious porn until the only porn that works is that stuff that used to disturb you and that you wished you could un-see. The other clue is when you feel deeply compelled to use porn, using it even when you don’t want to.

For all of these reasons, I have to try to protect you from porn. It’s why I insist you use your Internet devices in places around the house where the screen is in full view. It’s why I sometimes check where you’ve been on the Internet. (And because I’m a geek and work in software development, I know what I’m doing, and even incognito mode can’t shield you.) If I find you’re using porn, I’ll block your Internet access, period.

But again, do not feel ashamed. The very interest that leads you look at porn is a good thing about living. I ask you to try to be patient and look for positive, affirming, intimacy-creating, relationship-building ways to be sexual.