OPINION – Donna Rice Hughes once said, “Pornography is the wallpaper of our children’s lives.” Gone are the days when parents could convince themselves that their kids won’t see pornography. Efforts to put filters, blocks, and curfews on electronic devices are only going to protect children and teenagers from the more visually explicit forms of pornography. Protecting children from pornography isn’t just about shielding their eyes from explicit images anymore. It’s about educating them about the many forms pornography takes in today’s world, what it’s trying to teach them, and how it impacts their bodies, emotions, and relationships.
Much of today’s media and celebrity culture is “pornified,” a phrase borrowed from journalist Pamela Paul. From unrealistic (not to mention unhealthy) standards for bodies to explicit “how-to” articles on bedroom behavior, mainstream media communicates a strong and persistent message that is miseducating all of us on how to see ourselves, sexuality, our bodies, our gender, and relationships.
It’s common to think that pornography is only limited to those seedy little corners of the Internet far away from home and family. In reality, the wider influence of pornography now influences fashion, music, movies, romance novels, video games, advice columns, talk shows, and mainstream magazines aimed at men, women, and teens. And, men and teenage boys aren’t the only targets and consumers of pornography.
“The reality is that women don’t need to look at pornography to be profoundly affected by it,” Gail Dines said, “because images, representations, and messages of pornography are now delivered to women via pop culture. Women today are still not major consumers of hardcore pornography; women are, however, whether they know it or not, internalizing porn ideology, an ideology that often masquerades as advice on how to be hot, rebellious, and cool in order to attract (and hopefully keep) a man.”
In the same way we protect our children from second-hand smoke, we also have to protect them from the second-hand impact of pornography. Dr. Jill Manning, author of “What’s the Big Deal About Pornography,” provided a sample of some of the main messages pushed daily in the pornified media:
• Sex is the most important part of a relationship
• Bodies that have been surgically or digitally altered are more attractive than natural, healthy bodies
• Rape and violence toward women is not a serious crime
• “No” really means “yes”
• Sex is a physical, recreational activity and nothing more
• It’s okay to act on physical impulses whenever you have them and in whatever way you want
Even though the influence of pornography has permeated every corner of our modern universe, parents can still do a lot to protect themselves and their families. Here are some things you can start doing right away:
1. Pay attention to the messages being sent by advertisers and other forms of media. Develop a critical mind by becoming more media literate. As a matter of fact, you can do a Google search for the term “media literacy” and find some great information on how to develop a more critical media mindset.
2. Limit your own consumption of media that carries harmful messages. Know what devices and apps your children are using to access content (example: Instagram and Pinterest show “pornified” bodies of women that our daughters internalize as the norm). Do you turn off media that contradicts the values you want to pass along to your children? Our children learn our values when we show them what we will and won’t watch, listen to, or read.
3. Start the conversation with your sons and daughters when you see these messages you can clearly communicate your standards. Gone are the days of “the talk” with our kids about sexuality. Now, we need to have “the talks,” even hundreds of them, woven throughout our children’s media experiences. For example, therapist Wendy Maltz created a wonderful guide to help parents talk with their children about the difference between healthy sexual intimacy as compared to the sexual messages perpetuated by pornography. You can download a free copy of her chart here: Healthy Sex Chart by Wendy Maltz.
4. Help them tune into their bodies so they can recognize when something is causing them to feel sexually aroused, uncomfortable, anxious, or disgusted no matter where it comes from (music, movies, TV, books, etc). Often children and adolescents feel things in their bodies before they’re developmentally able to make sense of them. While you want to make sure they don’t feel ashamed when their body has a natural response to the sexualized images, music, and words they’ll experience in their day-to-day lives, you do want to make sure they know how to respond in a healthy way.
5. Keep calm and carry on – That famous quote was used in England during regular air raids from Germany during World War II. We are under attack by aggressive marketers and corporations who want to bomb our eyes, ears, and other senses with messages that go against many of our values. Even though there is a blitz of information coming at us, it’s not helpful to panic. Your job is to continue talking about it without overreacting. We must keep the conversation going in a calm and consistent way.
ED. CORRECTION May 15, 2013: The first quote in this article was attributed to Dr. Jill Manning. Dr. Manning has advised that the quote, “Pornography is the wallpaper of our children’s lives,” is that of Donna Rice Hughes. Correction made.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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