Family Online Safety Institute Conference

That’s where I’m at, in Washington D.C.  I’ll let you know what I find out! So far, it’s just nice being reminded that the Internet is safer than the headlines make it sound.  You know — same as the real world. Virtually.

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83 Responses to Family Online Safety Institute Conference

  1. Jan S November 5, 2009 at 11:50 pm #

    The internet has quite a bit of easily accessible pornography on it, that’s it’s main danger. We have a whole generation of young men with serious pornography addictions started at very young ages.

  2. catseyepi November 6, 2009 at 12:19 am #

    You’ve got to wonder why this is such an issue…what has changed over the last decade to make young men so much more prone to pornography?

  3. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    I believe it is accessibility. Pornography has become more and more accessible with each passing year. Youngsters, during their formative years, are being exposed to hardcore porn and becoming hardwired to it. Their neurocircuitry becomes programmed at a young age making it very difficult to ever reprogram.

  4. Brian November 6, 2009 at 1:39 am #

    Jan, that statement sounds an awful lot like “with the ever increasing danger of child predators” which sounds really nice, but not based in any fact. Sex crimes and such have been going down over the years. (and there I go, jumping from looking at boobies to sex crimes!).

  5. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 1:53 am #

    I never said anything about sex crimes did I?

    I’m speaking of the moral degradation of society, damage to relationships, and sexual objectifying of women. It’s becoming more and more difficult for parents to raise their sons to be strong husbands and fathers, between our squelching of their ability engage in free-range, risk taking physical activities, then consigning them to hours of ‘safe’ indoor time in front of a computer.

    Is it any surprise that they turn to pornography to vent their frustrations. They become masturbation addicts, with hours alone online viewing denigrating materials , often snacking on junkfood all the while.

    Is it any wonder they grow up unready for healthy relationships?

  6. Jenne Heise November 6, 2009 at 2:41 am #

    Hm. the boys who grew up to think rape was ok and sexual objectification of women was da bomb in the 1950s and 1960s lived in a free range society. I don’t think you can connect free range or lack thereof with sexual mores.

  7. Rich Wilson November 6, 2009 at 3:16 am #

    Jan S: You had me until: “They become masturbation addicts, with hours alone online viewing denigrating materials , often snacking on junkfood all the while.”

    I agree that pornography is probably easier to get at an earlier age and in a wider variety. But boys have always been masturbation addicts. And this isn’t pot, it doesn’t give you the munchies.

    Seriously, I think you may have a valid point, and I’d hate to see it diluted by hyperbole.

  8. charles November 6, 2009 at 3:19 am #

    @Jan s

    “Is it any surprise that they turn to pornography to vent their frustrations. They become masturbation addicts, with hours alone online viewing denigrating materials”

    I do not think it is frustration they are often venting.

    But enough joking.

    As to: “moral degradation of society, damage to relationships, and sexual objectifying of women.”

    Pornography does not degrade society, society has demonized pornography. Like with anything if you make it illicit it becomes something that only those who are willing to push the envelope are willing to be apart of.

    Pornography does not damage relationships. What damages the relationship is when one person keeps hidden the fact that they enjoy it.

    It objectifies women. It objectifies men as well. There is a different kind of pornography for everyone’s taste. I will admit that probably the majority of porno is made to show off the female cast member but also that is majority is not inherently degrading to women.

    “It’s becoming more and more difficult for parents to raise their sons to be strong husbands and fathers”

    Although not as socially acceptable or expected Women like porno as well. Does porn make women less able to be mother and wives? Liking to watch other people do things of a pornographic nature does not impede on ones ability to love their spouse or children.

  9. Brian November 6, 2009 at 3:36 am #

    The reality is that porn is readily available to pretty much anyone who has an internet connection. It is also true that young boys and girls are now able to see video of practices, on the computer, in the privacy of their own bedrooms, that I didn’t even know were possible when I was a kid.

    I’m not sure how to deal with that. I’d like to tell my kids how to process this new information that they will surely see, but I don’t know what to tell them.

    The closest thing I can think of is modern commercial hip hop. It’s full of not only “bad” words, but horrible ideas. I tell my kids the difference between “adult” words and “kid” words, but frankly I don’t think that letting them hear an occasional f-bomb is going to damage their delicate psyches. Letting them hear repeated examples of how women are “bi***es” and that date rape can be “blamed on the alcohol” seems to be dangerous. So I tell them that the reason I don’t listen to that stuff is because it is full of bad ideas. My hope is that they will remember that when they hear some of these ideas and they don’t fit with the moral upbringing that they’ve had.

    As for how to prepare them for the fact that they will see “adult” images… I have no idea. Please help.

  10. Renee November 6, 2009 at 4:00 am #

    I will agree with Jen S.

    Sex stimulates the brain, it turns you on. That is what sex is suppose to do. But because you’re always pushing the ‘stimulant button’ with images, such images indeed desensitized from one having a healthy sexual relationship with one’s spouse.

    Orgasms stimulate the hormone, oxytocin, aka the bonding hormone. Basically you’re bonding to false imaginary images, not real people. It does impede one’s ability to have a relationship with family.

    I say this with personal experience. I use to think ‘all guys looked at porn’ and masturbated. I never liked it as a teenager, but I accepted it because I didn’t want to be a prude. I wanted to be liked and accepted by my boyfriend. Deep down I was constantly compared to ‘those women’ all my boyfriends wanted me to be like them and do what they did.

    They would make the same arguments charles made, that it was my fault to feel hurt.

    I came to my sense at a rather early age, I only dated men with had real hobbies and interests and respect for women.

    I’m grateful to learn how our bodies react to sexual images, so I can better explain why it hurts so much. Porn is like a drug, and men have to keep pushing for more exploitative images to maintain a high.

    I wish sex ed, could focus more the anatomy of sex, how the hormones really do indeed affect and put that in context of relationship. Sex education debate has to be more then ‘safe-sex’ or ‘abstinence’.

    All the science of human biology points to Jen S’ point of view.

    argh… too upsetting staying out of this thread.

  11. Banshee November 6, 2009 at 4:35 am #

    *rolls eyes*

  12. blotzphoto November 6, 2009 at 4:40 am #

    “Porn is like a drug, and men have to keep pushing for more exploitative images to maintain a high. ”

    Wow… the sexism inherent in this statement astounds me.

    Bullshit is all I have to say. Absolute bullshit. The same kind of bullshit that brands all guys as sexual predators.

  13. blotzphoto November 6, 2009 at 4:46 am #

    On a lighter note, what if pornography is one of my hobbies?

  14. Charles November 6, 2009 at 5:09 am #

    “They would make the same arguments charles made, that it was my fault to feel hurt. ”

    I am sorry you have had bad experiences. But I stand by what I said. It is unfortunate that some people will do bad things and not see the wonder and beauty in front of them.

    One of the main themes that courses through much of the discussion on this website is the fact that the majority are often limited in what they can do because of what has happened to the minority.

    I am not saying that all pornography is 100% blameless. There is some very violent stuff out there that may or may not contribute to abusive behavior by one person against another. There have been studies that show that violent pornography makes some people want to go out and try it and there are other studies that show that it gives violent offenders a way to work out their kink in private.

    Pornography is like guns, drugs, fast-food, salads, rain, puppies and really anything else in the world. In the wrong hands or at the wrong time it can be bad but given the right hands and right time there is nothing dangerous about it.

    Guns + hunter looking for food = good
    Drugs + patient in pain = good
    fast food + person at severe risk for MI = Bad
    fast food + starving kid = good
    rain + drought ridden country =good
    rain + flooded city = bad
    Porn + people who would abuse it by using it to make their significant other feel bad about themselves or use it as an excuse to do things to people they do not want = bad
    Porn + people who use it to enhance their relationships because they are able to use to enhance stimulation once it is turned off it is done = good

  15. Stacy November 6, 2009 at 5:10 am #

    “what has changed over the last decade to make young men so much more prone to pornography?”

    Ease of access. There’s no worrying about what the guy behind the counter will say or tell your parents, or which neighbor/church member/teacher will see you buying it… Much like America’s increasing average weight is often linked to the increasingly available/inexpensive junk food, the same can be said about porn. There’s nothing wrong with junk food or porn in moderation. It’s only problematic when it’s enjoyed in excess, and increased availability makes it easier to overindulge.

  16. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 5:21 am #

    Renee explains well the neuro-chemical realities of porn. It stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, which can be addicting. Eventually, these centers become desensitized to previously arousing stimuli, and will require a larger dose, so to speak, in order to obtain the same high. That often comes in the form of kinkier porn. It becomes a conditioned response, and yes, it can easily damage ones real life relationships.

    Stacy explains so well how the increased availability affects boys and men.

  17. Christie November 6, 2009 at 5:32 am #

    okay, I can’t get over the image of a teen masturbating with one hand and stuffing Cheetos in his mouth with the other.

  18. Charles November 6, 2009 at 5:42 am #

    “Stacy explains so well how the increased availability affects boys and men”

    but not girls and women?

  19. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 6:13 am #

    Women are less affected by porn because we are wired differently. Yes, there is biological difference between men and women, with men being much more sexually aroused by visual stimuli.

    But you knew that already, I’m sure I’m sure.

  20. Melissa November 6, 2009 at 6:43 am #

    Thank you Jen S. for stating this. Porn use and addiction may not lead to sex crimes, but I don’t know any women who truly enjoy “using” it to help their relationships. I do know a number of women who tolerate it though, because it seems like a losing battle with the man in their relationship. At best it is a crutch, and at worst it destroys trust and erodes relationships.

    Easy access has made porn an entirely different animal than it used to be. And whether Charles and blotz-whatever like it or not, both men and women suffer in their relationships because of porn, especially when it becomes the ‘third wheel’ ,so to speak, in a relationship.

    It’s not the demonizing of porn that’s the problem, it’s the porn itself. It is not something beautiful, only the shadow of it. It doesn’t enhance sexual arousal with a companion, it competes with it.

    And Charles, thanks for pointing out the effects on girls and women, as there are many: objectificaion, exploitation, denigration…..the gap between males and females widens everytime a pornographic image gets between them.

  21. Charles November 6, 2009 at 6:43 am #

    Yes the brain chemistry is sometimes different in men and women. Hormone levels in women differ from that is men and therefor there may be differences in the level of arousal. However there are also differences from one woman to another based on individual levels. A study from the Kinsey Institute showed:

    “The eye-tracking data suggested what women paid most attention to was dependent upon their hormonal state. Women using hormonal contraceptives looked more at the genitals, while women who were not using hormonal contraceptives paid more attention to contextual elements of the photographs”

    and

    “Men looked at the female face much more than women, and both looked at the genitals comparably”

    Should be get rid of faces because men like to focus on them?

    Another study at UNLV in 2008 showed that there was no statistical difference in how 20 men and 20 women responded to image of either an erotic or non-erotic nature. Both the men and the women focused the same amount on the same aspects of whatever picture.

    From the articles I have read I would not say that Men and Women react to pornography differently. I would say that each individual person may have a different response regardless of gender.

    Also let us consider that men and women lie differently about different things. Women lie about pornography and men lie about washing their hands (a CDC study on hand washing showed that 40% of men lied about washing their hands after using the restroom and 10-15% of women lied about it)

    [I think] Women have been also socially conditioned to lie about porn habits as our culture (the US) for so long has made it much less acceptable for a woman to admit to liking porn. It is a shame that for so long a man who likes porn is often classified as “just a guy” but a woman who admits it is often viewed as “a slut.”

  22. Matt November 6, 2009 at 6:47 am #

    Lenore,

    Please do post more on this online safety institute conference.

    (Not that this thread on porn isn’t compelling . . . )

  23. Charles November 6, 2009 at 6:53 am #

    melissa:
    My point was that girls and women can get just as turned on by porn as men can.

    As to the “objectificaion, exploitation, denigration”
    There is more porn out there than men using women. What about the pornography that shows men being dominated by women? What about homosexual pornography (male and female)? Anyone can be objectified/exploited by porn IF that is what is happening. Porn in and of itself is not inherently evil.

    As to: “like it or not, both men and women suffer in their relationships because of porn, especially when it becomes the ‘third wheel’ ,so to speak, in a relationship” Are you serious? I personally know 6 couples that would argue with you about that. One couple has been together well over 20 years and they still enjoy watching pornographic images TOGETHER.

  24. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 7:02 am #

    I have viewed porn and did not find it sexually stimulating. The movies have extremely weak and idiotic plot lines, and the sex depicted is absurd, with bright lights, horse-sized penises, slutty women in ridiculous positions, ad nauseum. The whole genre is basically hedonistic nonsense.

  25. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 7:04 am #

    Very well said, Melissa.

  26. charles November 6, 2009 at 7:48 am #

    Jan S,
    And that is how you, one person view it. I know men who do not like pornography as well (well one man that I can name). My argument, as with most things boils down to the notion that everyone is entitled to their opinions. Just because something offends you does not make it bad. I do not like “gangster rap” music but if other people enjoy it, far be it from me to denigrate it.

  27. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 7:51 am #

    And I don’t believe in female circumcision, but what the heck, if others believe it’s ok, then that’s their choice.

  28. Rich Wilson November 6, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    How did we get from ‘porn’ (never mind the massive variety that constitutes ‘porn’) to female circumcision?

    I don’t have a problem with two men or two women getting married, but I’m in a minority, so it must be bad.

    Our society if full of examples where the minority does and does not have the freedom to do something the majority find objectionable. Examples don’t prove anything.

  29. charles November 6, 2009 at 8:14 am #

    fair enough, my last comment deserved that.

    However, if a woman, after doing all the research she could about the topic [female circumcision] and then by herself decided that she wanted to have it done to herself, is that ok? I would say yes. Choice is the direction I am coming from.

  30. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 8:22 am #

    Ah, but female circumcision is done to helpless babies. Online porn, also, affects children, which was my original point. Early exposure to porn alters brain chemistry permanently. The easy availability of porn is harmful to developing young people, who are only naturally attracted to it. In legal terms that would be considered an “attractive nuisance”, similar to an unsecured abandoned building or an unfenced swimming pool.

  31. Nicola November 6, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    I don’t think porn is the downfall of society at all. I am a married woman who has two children and has been with my husband for 16 years. During our college years, we’d rent all the hokey porn movies – laugh at the plot lines, crack up over the moronic writing, oddly enough get turned on, turn off the TV, repeat some of the idiotic lines to one another, laugh, and hump like bunnies.

    Now – I love having porn around because, guess what… sometimes I don’t feel like doing it at all and my husband is horny. He gets to take care of himself (though he much prefers the real thing and will really try hard to get me in the mood) – but porn is my fallback.

    The trouble I see as far as relationships go is that women don’t feel secure in themselves or their men. Yes – there are women skinner than I am with bigger breasts and butts that look like they’re ready to have sex at the drop of the word, “baby,” but I have so much more to me AND I am flesh and blood where she is an image on a screen (or paper). My husband is honest with me and our relationship is built on trusting one another and treating one another as we both wish to be treated. After 16 years, he’s still my best friend and the most wonderful father to my children… porn and all.

    With teens… it’s accessibility. The trouble is they’re not getting the positive messages outside of watching porn. The message that says, porn is fantasy and it’s ok to have fantasy – but it’s not reality. Just like video games are fantasy and that’s ok – but we can’t act it out in real life. No one seems to want to look at the surrounding circumstances, or admit that there will ALWAYS be a bad apple but that one bad apple does NOT spoil the bunch.

  32. Nicola November 6, 2009 at 8:36 am #

    And Jan… male circumcision is done on helpless babies too. We practice that all the time in this country. Why not vouch for those infants as well?

    Porn isn’t genital mutilation – I’m sorry. Nor is it some mind-altering drug. It can lead to destructive behavior if there is no surrounding structure to teach right and wrong outside of fantasy.

    Sex is not bad. Boys masturbating is not bad… I’d rather have my son watching porn and spewing into a sock than having sex with as many teen girls as possible and knocking them up. Sorry.

  33. Krolik November 6, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    Nicola, thanks for sharing!

    I also have to agree with Charles. I am a woman who enjoys porn on occasion. I also found that inexperienced young men who have perused porn are better lovers than inexperienced young men who have not. But maybe this is just a reflection of my personal preferences. I spend my days downplaying my sexuality as someone’s mother and someone’s co-worker. At night, I *want* to be a sexual object.

    Jan S, it is true that much of the porn out there has “extremely weak and idiotic plot lines”, “horse-sized penises” and “slutty women in ridiculous positions”. But there is better stuff out there, including many films made by women for women and even some very entertaining amateur videos that break these ridiculous “conventions” and make fun of them.

  34. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 9:27 am #

    Male circumcision doesn’t deprive men of the ability to have sexual pleasure. For the record, however, my sons are uncircumcised.

    Porn on the internet is available to youngsters, and parents have a right to worry about that. Not everyone has liberal attitudes towards porn, and many want their children to be able to browse the internet without having access to its depraving influence. It’s a valid concern.

  35. Dot Khan November 6, 2009 at 9:56 am #

    Sex is the most powerful emotion. It is what has driven many new trends and forms of entertainment. Videotape made it easier for people to watch porn at home instead of some seedy movie house. The internet allows one to do so at home without anyone else knowing.

    It is not just guys that watch it. I’ve met and had to get away from women that started showing pictures of male nudes after showing off her other movies. Creepy and not good long term relationship material. I have no interest in porn or even a real person that can not have an intellectual conversation without talking dirty. And I resent that if I look at someone or their kid the wrong way, I get that look that I may be a threat. Never mind that I ride a bike as therapy for some physical limitations.

  36. Rich Wilson November 6, 2009 at 1:15 pm #

    I do agree with Jan S that there’s stuff on the Internet, porn and otherwise, that I’d rather my son not see until I think he’s better able to handle it. And not to be sexist, I just don’t have a daughter.

    Heck, at age 8 I was free ranging through the wax museum and accidentally went through the chamber of horrors detour. I can remember running in a panic back the way I came through the entrance, stopping for nothing. I don’t remember the bus trip home, but I do remember getting physically ill at home.

    So how do we let our kids experience the good of what the Internet has to offer, and shield them from the bad, whatever we as parents deem ‘bad’?

    Filtering software?

    Secret monitoring?

    Monitor and let them know we’re monitoring?

    Computer only in the family room?

    Don’t let them on the Internet?

  37. Zie November 6, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    I am startled and saddened by the amount of sex-negative vitriol being spewed on here. FRK is about arming our children with knowledge and letting them explore their own personalities while being capable of dealing with risk.. I would sincerely hope that would include how they explore their sexual selves, as well.

    You can count me in with the many women who enjoy some porn, have enjoyed using it in a relationship, and do not at all feel threatened by my partners watching it without me.

    Yes, porn can become a problem for some people. So can TV, exercising, soda, and shopping and just about any other thing a person can consume or do. This does not mean that the kinds of things people get addicted to are inherently bad. Some porn outfitters exploit and objectify women and men. I try to not watch those. There is also a great deal of woman-friendly, sex-and-body positive porn and production companies that treat their talent very well, as well as a derth of amateur material with genuine couples or women and men enjoying themselves fully. As with any topic, it’s all about making informed decisions about what is available, and understanding the risks. (Though I rate the risk of damage from porn as being incredibly low).

    I also have to agree that lovers who have explored their sensuality and sexuality through porn if they could not through a partner are indeed better lovers as a general thing. Viewing videos that range from informative to instructional to erotic are totally valid ways for people to explore their own sexual lives while minimizing risks to themselves or when they do not have a partner they feel comfortable with. Restricting or banishing information does not seem very free-range to me at all.

    Nor does it seem free-range to fear monger about sex and pornography. Everyone is sexual, and sex and porn are no more inherently dangerous or damaging to a person than striking up a conversation with a new neighbor is. It’s not until you label it “bad” and “dangerous” and make it shameful and something to be anxious and scared of that people being to have hangups or problems. And the restriction of information about sex makes it even harder to learn to make healthy choices for oneself. Yes, there are a few bad people out there that can use sex to hurt others, but while they seem to be more common than stranger abductions, they still are not the norm. Fear-mongering about about sex is just as, if not more, insidious than it is with stranger-danger.

  38. Nicola November 6, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    Jan, I will give you that for sure – it’s a valid concern. I do not, however think that porn needs to be done away with. I really believe that people need to work around what is there.

    I have two eight year olds and I’m not liberal enough to show them porn or share that kind of sexuality with them – as it should be! They know that animals have sex to make babies – through that they figured out people must do that too – have I explained how? Heck no. Not yet and they’re fine with that. They know a man and a woman need to be together to make a baby – that’s all they need for now.

    It’s just a matter of what surrounds the kids that *do* get hold of porn. That’s all I’m saying. A teenager isn’t an 8 -year-old, they know what is what – they need to be talked to, not hidden away from the fact that some people use sex for fantasy and pleasure… but that it isn’t the way people are in their relationships with people they love for life.

    And many men would disagree with you on the sexual pleasure thing. I’m not a man, I can’t argue the point – but genital mutilation is genital mutilation. My son, too, is circumsized – and no, I don’t approve of female genital mutilation because of how brutal it is. However… porn is not genital mutilation. There’s no correlation in my eyes.

  39. Nicola November 6, 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    Zie… very – very – very well put.

  40. Nicola November 6, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    And forgive my spelling errors… for some reason my fingers are doing different things than my brain. :o)

  41. Heather K November 6, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    I am cracking myself up picturing Lenore getting back from the conference, opening her laptop, and stumbling onto these comments.

    Sounds like a nerve was touched here – or maybe lots of things are being touched. :) Care to devote a whole blog post on the topic, Lenore? You know, with research and facts? “America’s Worst Mom” moderates porn debate!

  42. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    I’m sure those in favor of porn wouldn’t mind your daughters and sons becoming stars in this fine industry…

  43. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    My sons are NOT circumcised, btw. I reportedly does decrease male sensitivity. But it doesn’t totally remove the organ of pleasure like most forms of female circumcision do.

    Best not to enter into the male circumcision debate though. I’ve seen that one become very heated in other discussion sites online. Penises are an extremely touchy subject… 😉

  44. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm #

    ‘it reportedly’ I meant to say… 😆

  45. Zie November 6, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    If my children reached an adult age, had researched and considered all the pros/cons and felt comfortable and took reasonable precautions, sure, it would be ok with me if they worked in the industry. I want my children to do what would make them happy. I probably would not want to see the end result of their work, but I would want them to be successful at whatever they felt was right for them to do.

    I could also point out that if my child made such a choice responsibly, they would feel supported and loved instead of shunned and shamed. People who feel supported and empowered are very unlikely to let themselves be exploited.

  46. Rich Wilson November 6, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    My son was playing at the Train Table at the local Barnes and Noble a while back, along with a little boy his age, who had a sister who was still not even crawling. The little girl had pierced ears, and somehow I got discussing it with the dad, and he said some people chastised them for putting their daughter through the pain. I foolishly said something about that being noting to circumcising a boy- which got a little uncomfortable, because they did that too.

  47. Jan S November 6, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    Didn’t your mom teach you to avoid discussing religion, politics and circumcision Rich? Also, never ask a woman when her baby is due… 😉

  48. Randy November 6, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    Ahh, now we’re protecting the sweet, innocent, teenagers from pornography through a public policy initiative? As someone from a state with some of the worst public schools in the country / world, rampant violence (respectively; not fear mongering), and other far less laughable social ills, let me chime in with my two-cents: “Hahahahahahaha.”

    Some of the same issues are being raised in another blog I read regularly, The Last Psychiatrist: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2009/11/gossip_girl_is_going_to_corrup.html
    Specifically, the CW television network’s decision to air a 3-some on their show Gossip Girl. Personally I’ve never seen it and don’t remember ever having watched anything from that particular network, but now I find myself interested in tuning in. The show still looks pathetic, but if it gets people like the Parents Television Council up in arms I might have to tune in on general principle.

    For starters, in terms of the types and severity of risk taking behaviors many teens and tweens engage in, exposure to internet pornography ought to fall somewhere on the list right behind inappropriate fruit roll-up use. That is, it should, in a society that isn’t already dangerously obsessed with teens and sex and already providing all kinds of mixed signals about it. But this is the land of jail terms for sexting teenagers, after all. America has some wicked fascination with glamorizing teen sex and punishing it severely at the same time; it’s no surprise kids are caught in the middle of our crazy little one-man-show.

    Instead of shoving it all in the closet (literal and metaphorical), why not take the opportunity to turn it into a teaching experience? I’d like to think that most reasonably intelligent people would understand that pre- and early adolescents typically start showing some interest in sex and the opposite sex… they’re not blank slates for us to live out our own pristine fantasies of a sexless utopia upon. I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to take advantage of that fact, even if it means discussing mainstream porn (and laughing about most of it, warning about some of it, and reinforcing notions of realistic relationships).

    I’m actually kind of surprised at the reactions around here… Especially since it’s obvious that the status quo of keeping sexuality, even the dirty underbelly of repressed porn and sexual aggression in America, in the closet is NOT working. We’re giving it power by doing that. Instead of growing up to laugh at stupid porn antics, we grow up obsessed and terrified by them. Find me a pornography addict that has open and honest discussions about pornography with their spouse, and had healthy sex-ed discussions with their parents and I’ll gladly eat my own hat.

  49. charles November 6, 2009 at 9:19 pm #

    Thank you nicola for taking over the debate for me. I like and agree with what you say.

    I would like to take a step back and respond to what Jan said:

    “Early exposure to porn alters brain chemistry permanently”

    can you please show me your evidence for this?

  50. K November 6, 2009 at 9:41 pm #

    Frankly, most pornography bothers me less than violence.

    Having my children see adults performing adult behaviors that I fully expect them to participate in (in healthy relationships, as adults) is an entirely different ballgame than having my children desensitized to violent acts that I never even want them to witness in real life. While I am not in a hurry to have them watch pornography, naked images and mild erotic acts in a movie don’t bother me even with fairly young children, because these are a normal part of the human experience.

    Violence is almost impossible to avoid in movies, television, and elsewhere. And, we know that they become insensitive to others’ suffering with too much exposure to this.

    Ironically, beautiful bodies and adult sexual encounters are treated as though they are more dangerous than bloody disturbing violent images.

    Of course, both violence and sexual encounters vary along a wide continuum. But, in general, I’d rather my kids appreciate the full range of the normal human experience than watch violent acts.

    Maybe the solution is to know our children, talk with our children, and have a sense of what they are doing? That may be a more measured (and useful) approach than paranoia.

  51. Krolik November 6, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    K and Randy, thank you for wonderful posts. I agree fully with both of you. This country’s puritanical background has resulted in a very unhealthy attitude towards sex. I have seen PG-rated movies and even Nickelodeon cartoons that I would never want my children to watch because of the pointless, gratuitous violence, and R-rated movies that I would have no problem with – they already know the F-word is not to be used in polite company and that all women have boobies.

  52. Helen November 6, 2009 at 10:33 pm #

    Come, come people. Procrastination is clearly the most dangerous thing about the Internet.

    Imagine what we could get done if we just stopped reading and posting to these blogs :-)

  53. Krolik November 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm #

    Helen,

    Amen!

  54. Krolik November 6, 2009 at 10:40 pm #

    My mother’s name is Helen. You’re not her by any chance are you? I have some code compiling in the background. Honest!

  55. Rich Wilson November 6, 2009 at 11:52 pm #

    Seems like several debates going on here.

    Morality in America:
    Anyone know the difference between the North American and other releases of “Eyes Wide Shut”?

    A full frontal of Tom. They both have full frontals of Nicole, but heaven forbid we see a male penis here in America.

    Saving our children:
    Hey, I wish I had never seen goat.cx. And it looks like whitehouse.com is safe again, but I’m not sure when since I learned a long time ago that it wasn’t SFW. It’s all about introducing the world at an appropriate rate. The Internet gives us the best and the worst all in one fire hose shot. It’s not hard to pick an age that my son can walk to school on his own. It’s a lot harder to pick an age that he learn what teabagging really is.

    I’m sure most of us learned about sex before our parents really wanted us to, but the internet is hiding a lot more than Playboy. It’s also hiding video of people being decapitated and stoned to death.

  56. Helen November 6, 2009 at 11:55 pm #

    Krolik – my kids are a little too young to be coding just yet so your goofing off secret is safe :-)

    On a more serious note though I’m not particularly paranoid about the Internet but I am wondering about how we can let them gain their independence online in a responsible way. My kids are completely fascinated by computers and both their parents are CompSci majors and very pro-technology so I expect they’ll be pretty immersed fairly early on. With the real world I can introduce them to it myself – go places with them show them how to navigate, let them go places with slightly older kids or as long as they are together, give them boundaries for independent roaming and then extend those boundaries.

    How do people do this sort of thing with the virtual world. When they’re really young I can go online with them, and I can let them use certain sites on their own, but as they get older it gets trickier. Setting boundaries for independent browsing doesn’t seem appropriate for the Internet – if they have to check with me every time they go to a new site they won’t be on their own at all. I haven’t seen any filtering software I like.

    I’d be really interested to hear what other parents have done/plan to do to for that in-between stage when they need some freedom but they’re still learning to handle themselves.

  57. K November 7, 2009 at 12:03 am #

    Helen,

    Our kids have full access to the internet – in a public part of the house. I can see them in the dining room on the computers while I am in the kitchen. Or, I am on my computer right next to them. They will not have either televisions or pcs in their room (which they all three share). My boys may eventually have some secrets from us – but, not from each other.

    We also talk – a lot. Family dinner every night and lots of together time means we are better connected (though lacking adult time more) than many families. I realize, however, that this is not possible for everyone.

  58. Randy November 7, 2009 at 12:27 am #

    Helen:

    I have to echo K here… Having the computer (or computers) in a publicly accessible part of the house, especially the living room or den is about the best way I’ve seen to discourage inappropriate behavior. By the time they’re old enough to be terribly irritated by the lack of privacy they’ll be old enough to work a summer job and purchase their own computer…

    At which point they learn the most valuable lesson of all… The reason why mom / dad gets ticked off when they eat and drink at the computer.

    Just as a side note, most routers these days have a pretty easy-to-use control system built into the setup page. (generally 192.168.0.1, but it’s in the router booklet). These things are awfully nifty for only allowing internet access at certain times of the day for specific computers on the network and establishing time limits. I’m not a big supporter of iron-clad control freakishness, but the average FRK parent is probably less likely to be hovering over the computer with a stopwatch, so it’s nice to have some built in controls (especially if, god forbid, you have to run to the grocery store or something and leave the kids at home!).

    You can also use that same page to restrict or deny specific sites that teens love but are probably not all that wonderful (4chan, etc).

  59. Heidi November 7, 2009 at 12:36 am #

    K – I totally agree with no computers in bedrooms. Its such an easy fix. One computer for the family to share (and of course, mom and dad’s own laptops, right?? :) ) But monitoring computer use in a teens bedroom is impossible. Monitoring it in the family room, much easier. Of course, that means you have to be home when they are using it, but its always easy to check the computer history to know where they’ve been, and take computer privileges away if they are on sites that have been discussed to be off limits? I don’t know. I don’t know have teens yet, but it seems like that is something more along the lines of what I would do.

    I love what Zie and K have said. Very well thought out replies, thank you for your rationality. :)

  60. Karl November 7, 2009 at 12:55 am #

    Used to be to view porn you had to sneak off to a dirty book store or one of those little movie houses. Now, it’s all over the ‘net. The thrill is gone.

    Porn has become somewhat mainstream. I get the feeling that the first generation growing up with this will soon look at porn as a yawner. As my momma used to say, “It’s a lot more fun to be there”. :)

    Interesting that some of the first images carved in to cave walls were dirty pics. For some reason, humans have always enjoyed making and viewing dirty pictures.

  61. Helen November 7, 2009 at 1:01 am #

    K, randy, Heidi

    Thanks for the thoughts. It’s interesting to see such agreement on this after the huge divergence on porn at the beginning of this thread!

    I had hoped to let them be more immersed very early on. It hadn’t occurred to me not to let them have computers in their rooms. I had one from the age of 13 (saved up my pocket money and birthday and Christmas presents for two years!) and it was formative for me. But that was way back when the Internet was a military and academic network and the web didn’t even exist. New times new strategies I guess.

  62. Uly November 7, 2009 at 3:35 am #

    I have viewed porn and did not find it sexually stimulating. The movies have extremely weak and idiotic plot lines, and the sex depicted is absurd, with bright lights, horse-sized penises, slutty women in ridiculous positions, ad nauseum. The whole genre is basically hedonistic nonsense.

    Sounds like you only saw bad porn. The fact is that pornography encompasses just as many variations as other genres.

    I will readily agree that much porn has nothing to do but to reinforce harmful ideas about sexuality (and that goes both for porn aimed at men and porn aimed at women), but that’s not inherent to it, it’s just a side-effect of, well, being in this society.

  63. Heidi November 7, 2009 at 3:40 am #

    Helen,
    Or, you could have a non-internet computer in the teens room so they can work on homework (word processing, power points, etc.), but have any and all internet use on the family computer. Thats what I was used to growing up (and the internet wasn’t quite what it is today then, either). The computer with internet was in the living room, and the computer in my room was just for word processing. I spent many hours writing books (for fun), and writing papers and essays (for school) on the computer in my room. And if something needs to be sent via email (school related), you know how easy it is to take a flash drive of the document from one computer to the other with internet so the document can be sent. I know a lot of my former students (retired teacher to be a SAHM) , and my husbands students have set ups like this.
    Overall, I do think kids spend too much time on the internet these days. I’m not against things like facebook/myspace in theory (not scared of it, etc.), but they spend SO much time in front of the computer “social networking” instead of doing other, more productive things. At the same time, if they’re spending all their time in front of the computer, they can’t be out having sex (at least with someone else! muauahahah) or getting into other kinds of trouble, right? haha No really, too much computer/internet time. Even for me!

  64. Karen November 7, 2009 at 4:01 am #

    Unfortunately, with the advent of internet-connected iphones, etc., the ‘fix’ of not letting the kid have a computer in their own room is over. Pretty soon, if they have a cell phone, they’ll have web access. Now, I have heard of families that have a rule that at bedtime everyone puts their cell phones in a basket on the kitchen table and doesn’t pick them up again till time to leave for work/school the next morning.

  65. Helen November 7, 2009 at 4:38 am #

    Heidi – I don’t really see much point to an Internet-free computer nowadays. Technology skills today are so tied up in searching for and using information that (to me) it seems like an Internet-free computer is fatally crippled in many ways. I hear you about too much computer time, I’m not keen on too much screen time of any sort. Networking online seems better than passive TV, but I hope we can manage to encourage more active and varied engagement in life.

    Karen – good point on how phones change things. And by the time mine are ready to get some online freedom things could all be different again!

  66. Lola November 7, 2009 at 4:45 am #

    When I was little, the advent of democracy in my country came with the abolition of censorship on press, radio and, of course, TV. Now the debate was opened about how pernicious TV was for young minds. The answer my dad gave in conferences was that TV was just a window open to the world. As in real life, there are safe streets and those alleyways you would never enter without a bodyguard. The question is not whether TV (or the Internet, for that matter) is safe for children to watch, but rather how can we teach them how to roam the virtual streets safely.
    Now, IMO, the first step is to teach them critical thinking. Not everything on Internet is truthful, not everything is an example you should follow. So, as with real streets, you navigate them with your kids, then you “let them drive” and watch over their shoulders, then you gradually let go and learn to trust them.

  67. Jeremy Smith November 7, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    So unfortunately there are four of five pieces of the “kids on the internet” puzzle here. Unfortunately, people tend to conflate all of them, and it leads to panic and stupidity.

    1. Kids (usually teenagers) accessing porn they _want_ to access.
    2. Kids accidentally accessing porn they aren’t interested in.
    3. Kids being solicited by adults (online predators)
    4. Kids talking to and being involved with adults _knowing_ what they are doing.
    5. Child pornography.

    The first one is what the discussion has been largely about. My feeling here is “whatever.” I had access to all kinds of porn as a teenager–I even sold it to classmates on occasion–and frankly it was the real girls who sat in front of me in 8th grade that were most frequently in my head whilst, well, you know.
    I don’t think we have any evidence of long-term damage. If there is,, it would only come from the _violence_ associated with certain types of pornography rather than the _sex_ associated with it. But violence is always OK here.

    I have some sympathy for #2. My 8-year-old wanted to look for pictures of kids doing horrible things to their parent’s houses, and so he was trying to search for “naughty girls.” Oops. I have no problem with warning-only content filters, google safesearch, etc. Technology can solve this problem.

    Few kids are actually solicited by online predators. Wasn’t there just a story where both ends of one of these conversations turned out to be undercover agents? I’m not sure what the numbers here are but I imagine they’re exaggerated nearly as much as “real life” solicitations.

    Four is the troubling one. For kids who have emotional issues, are the victims of abuse, or who just think they’re much more mature than they are, the internet does become a vector for that kind of communication. But these things are not new. I, sadly, knew several girls in my mid-teens (pre-internet) who’d had sex with multiple adults through their life at varying levels of “consensual.” I’d be very interested in what we could do as a society to find these kids and intervene, both with penalties for the adults and counseling for the kids.

    Number five is something that everyone with a conscience is trying to rid the world of and continues to fight the good fight.

  68. Heidi November 7, 2009 at 8:09 am #

    Karen, true, good point about the phones. I never even thought of that since we don’t have those kinds of phones in our house (and the only way we’ll get them is if they are a “free upgrade” with our phone service). I like the solution of phones in the basket at night.
    And its true Helen, an internet free computer is so outdated it would be impossible to implement I’m sure. My husband pointed out that nowadays with wireless internet all computers are really internet capable, and I’m sure our kids could figure out how to hook up any computer they wanted to the internet. And it is a bit daunting to think about what we’ll be having to deal with technology wise once they get to be teens (another 12 years for me, so a lot of room for major advances).
    I wholeheartedly agree Lola, it all is about teaching them critical thinking, whats safe, what’s not, how to keep your reputation in tact (like Lenore just mentioned), etc. It very much is a the same with the real world, and how we give our kids freedoms and eventually, once we know they are capable, let them wander on their own. Good analogy!

  69. Stacy November 7, 2009 at 10:13 am #

    Jan S –

    Living in Los Angeles, more specifically the San Fernando Valley, I’ve had several contacts/affiliations with the porn industry. Those actors work damn hard for their money (which is not as big as one might hope), and their work ethic can be more demanding than those of others I know in this town. I’d be proud to have my child be part of it if that’s what they wanted. At least then I know they’d be open, well educated, and frequently tested! (Huzzah for Adult Industry Medicine – I’ve used them myself when my local doc was too behind times to know how to test HPVI and HPVII separately)

    And as for its ease of availability which I mentioned before, I’m not against it, really. Like with all other enjoyable things that can become addicting (gambling, junk food, alcohol) the more open our society is about, the less likely folk will suffer addictive behavior patterns around it. If I make my hormonally/age appropriate child aware of the kinds of erotic materials available, and how to carefully choose for varieties that aren’t denigrating to other humans, and when it’s socially appropriate to partake of them, I have significant doubts a pathological situation will result. It’s all about preparing my kids to be able to navigate these things with open eyes instead of waiting for them to be blindsided by it when they’re buddy down the street “exposes” them to it.

  70. Jan S November 7, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    Stacy, I’m sorry you live in Los Angeles in the San Fernando (cough cough) valley and have contacts and affiliation with ‘hard’ working porn stars. That’s a sad environment to raise kids in, between the smog and the debauchery.

  71. Dragonwolf November 7, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    Jan S — Aside from the fact that it’s quite obvious you don’t know anyone that works in any flavor of the adult industries (be it dancing or all-out porn), it seems to me that you have not only a moral objection to porn, but also look down upon those who choose to work in those professions.

    Tell me, then, what would you do if:

    a) you caught your teen (male OR female, since it’s been clearly established that porn is not just a male thing) watching porn?
    b) you caught your teen (again, male OR female) masturbating?
    c) your grown son or daughter came to you and said they wanted to work in [insert adult industry here]?

  72. Nicola November 7, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    Jan simply sounds like a moral minority in this country that holds puritanical values. Whether you find that sad or not… meh.

    I’m not going to tell my child they cannot be in the porn industry if they are ADULTS that are making their own choices. I would warn them, I’d hope to educate them… but just the same as if they told me they were gay or wanted to be a trash collector for life… I’d love them all the same, respect them as human beings with the capacity for choice, and let them live their lives as they saw fit.

    I don’t find porn as some nasty degrading hole people fall into- either. These are choices some people have made – and it’s the choice to use their bodies in ways to act out fantasies that other people have but cannot act out. I’m not going to say it’s wrong. Child porn? Absolutely wrong. Force to do porn? Absolutely wrong. Consenting adult porn by adults getting paid for adults wanting to pay to watch? Nope. Not wrong.

    And I totally agree on the public area for kids to get online. Granted – they might just go to a friends house that has a computer in their room – but that’s when you hope your job as a parent has been done well enough that even when they see the nasty stuff, they don’t take it as reality.

  73. charles November 7, 2009 at 9:47 pm #

    Our great free-range leader once appeared on show called Penn & Teller’s Bullshit. The episode was on Stranger Danger.

    For anyone who has not seen the show (that episode or others) I would highly recommend it.

    How that fits in with this discussion: Episode One of season six was about America’s War on Pornography. Great Episode, great show.

  74. Katie November 8, 2009 at 2:55 am #

    K, while I agree wholeheartedly that it’s much healthier for kids to watch “adult” themed media that is sexual in nature than the stuff that is violent, I find it odd that you are characterizing violence as something outside of the normal range of human experience. Are violent situations desirable? No. Are they a normal part of human life? Yes.

  75. LJM November 8, 2009 at 2:59 am #

    Jan S., I would appreciate a link of a peer-reviewed study which demonstrates that “Early exposure to porn alters brain chemistry permanently.” Thanks.

  76. Christina November 8, 2009 at 4:08 am #

    If porn had the morally degrading effects Jan S claims, then wouldn’t sex crimes be going up?

  77. LindaLou November 8, 2009 at 5:01 am #

    I feel sorry that there are children growing up in such a sex-negative atmosphere they’re being programmed to believe that something an universally human as masturbation is somehow perverse. Personally, I’d rather raise my kids in the San Fernando Valley, smog and all, than someplace overrun by judgmental, puritanical twits. Everyone have a nice afternoon. :)

  78. Margo November 8, 2009 at 11:45 pm #

    I’m a bit late to this conversation BUT…. throughout the history of communication technology, starting with the aforementioned cave paintings – new methods of communication have almost immediately been widely used for the purposes of creating and sharing sexual images – the printing press (yeah – lots of porn in addition to the Gutenberg Bible!), photography, film, video, internet – no big change there over hundreds of years. Probably parents have been freaking out about it for the same amount of time…

    As for my approach with my daughter (who will be 9 in a month). As she has asked for information or expressed curiosity about reproduction and sexuality, I have discussed it honestly with her, so she is already aware of the mechanics of reproduction and has an emerging awareness of sexuality (one that I think is developmentally appropriate, but which seems a bit premature to some of the parents of her friends.) Despite being knowledgeable for her age, I have noticed that she is quite sensible about protecting her status as a child.

    About a year ago she told me that she would maybe like to marry her best friend (another girl) when they grew up because that’s who she loved the most. (We have family and close friends in same-sex marriages, so this is, as far as she is concerned, a viable option.) I replied that this would be fine with me, but that marriage isn’t just about who we love (because we love lots of different people), but also who we feel romantic with – want to kiss etc.

    Her very sensible reply to that was “I am 8 years old … I don’t want to kiss ANYBODY yet”

    Now that she is getting older and showing the early signs of physical development, I can see her also beginning the process of developing awareness as a sensual/sexual person and I want to both protect her from content that she is not mature enough to manage and also promote healthy sexual development – in the hopes that she will be assertive, confident and able to decide in her own time (and when she is older) when, how, and with whom she chooses to share this important (and really lovely) part of adult life.

    To that end, the computers are in public areas of the home and I keep a casual eye on what she is up to – so that I can check in with her and satisfy myself that she is safe and age-appropriate when online… and talk with her about it if I have a concern. (For other reasons entirely – like the expectation that she read, go outside to play with friends etc. her total screen time per day is also limited.)

    I don’t doubt that at some point she will be looking for some racier stuff when I am not watching what she is doing- and that I will worry about this as some of what’s out there goes quite a bit beyond “racy” …

    …but have noticed in the meantime that her friends – who are very protected and whose parents do not believe in sex education beyond bare-bones reproductive information (i.e. no sexuality education) – seem to be much more driven to search on-line for pics of naked people etc. My own daughter has had her curiosity satisfied for the time being and just can’t be bothered.

    So I STILL believe that giving my daughter the tools (accurate information, positive self-image, self-confidence, age appropriate messages about sexuality and sexual safety, the knowledge that as her mother I am an ally in helping her to be and feel safe) will help her safely negotiate the internet – in the same way that the same tools help her to negotiate the playground – as a free-range kid!

  79. Margo November 8, 2009 at 11:48 pm #

    P.S. I am a social worker who has worked a lot with families around sexual education and sexual safety for kids and I highly recommend the book “From Diapers to Dating” as providing good information about talking to kids about sex and sexuality….

  80. Dragonwolf November 9, 2009 at 12:29 am #

    Margo — It seems to me that your daughter is lucky to have you as her mom. It seems like a rare thing to find parents who are willing to talk to their kids openly about such things as sex and sexuality, even before they become teenagers. So many people seem to feel that it’s “too mature” of a subject to be talking to a 9 year old about, but what they seem to forget is that things like puberty can start as early as 9 or 10, and even if they haven’t quite started puberty, they are probably starting to get curious.

  81. Zie November 9, 2009 at 12:57 am #

    Margo – incredibly well-put. I’m trying to do the same kind of thing with my son (currently 8). I try to offer him information as he becomes curious about it in an open, matter-of-fact way that doesn’t give him too much information for his developmental stage.

    I firmly believe that being open as a source of useful information means that both that children who have been given such knowledge will be less inclined to seek out information blindly on their own or be duped by myths and misconceptions perpetuated by less-informed peers, and that when they do go out seeking things in an erotic fashion, they will be better able to make wise choices about what they see and feel is right for them. Just like any other issue in free-ranging, offering children the information they need to make sound decisions for themselves is key. It also means that they know they can come to a reliable adult source for accurate, un-hysterical and nonjudgmental information if they need help.

    I’ll have to check out that book – although I’ve covered the basics of reproduction and touched lightly on sensuality, the day for a more in-depth talk is definitely getting closer. Thanks for the recommendation!

  82. Charles November 9, 2009 at 8:16 am #

    great note margo.

    What you said about how media technology is used to promote pornography was spot on. What some people might not be aware of is also how pornography steers technology. An interesting bit of trivia is that at some point in time there was a battle between VHS and Betamax (some of us may remember) the story is that Betamax refused to publish pornographic movies but VHS did and thus before DVD we were all using VHS.

  83. Krolik November 9, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

    A great comic on the subject of “altering brain chemistry”:

    http://xkcd.com/598/

    P.S. Jay S., I do think people acquiring weird fetishes by seeking out kinkier porn is a valid concern. But while some of their potential future girl/boy friends may run off in horror, others will embrace their fetish. End results – a) everyone on the planet, on average, having more interesting sex b) Dan Savage never running out of disgusting fetishes to write about.