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3 Things I’ll Teach My Kid about Porn: Former Addicted Dad Speaks Up

I have a 10-month-old son, so fatherhood is still new to me. What isn’t new to me is the online world that he will grow up in.

In 2001, author Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native” to refer to children who have grown up with the internet. That same year, I was a middle-school kid who was spending most of my time online chatting with friends, playing video games, and watching hardcore porn. 

My parents knew I was on AOL Instant Messenger and playing online video games, but they had no idea I regularly watched porn (despite the constant viruses on the family computer–sorry Dad!) 

Sure, they could have done a better job limiting and monitoring my screen time, but it’s also true that parents back then were blindsided by how quickly internet porn became ubiquitous. They had no idea they needed to teach their kids about pornography. Today, we parents no longer have that excuse. 

Why we need to teach kids about pornography

The first generation of young minds that had easy access to internet porn are now adults. We are acutely aware of how prevalent porn is. Many of us saw porn before we were in high-school and that was before most kids owned smartphones. 

And I do mean “most” kids. A 2019 nationally representative survey found that 53% of kids have their own smartphone by age 11, which is also (surprise surprise) the average age kids first see porn. 

Research shows that childhood porn use is linked to myriad negative effects, including 

  • increased risk of depression, anxiety, addiction and sexual dysfunction,
  • poorer body image and 
  • decreased academic performance. 

I experienced many of these negative effects myself. I was first exposed to porn when I was 8.

In 2011, when I was an otherwise healthy 23-year-old, I reached a point where I became dependent on porn to feel any sexual arousal. What I thought would “make me good at sex” ended up doing the complete opposite, leaving me impotent and addicted.

Related: Porn Addiction and Kids–Neuropsychologist Reveals Who Is Most Vulnerable: An Interview with Dr. Gola

When I realized porn was the cause of my erectile dysfunction, I quit. Today, I’m recovered, happily married, and on a mission to help the next generation avoid the porn pitfall.

I believe educating youth on the harmful effects of porn is essential to accomplishing that. Here are three things I’m going to teach my son about porn that I wish I’d known when I was a kid.

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3 things to teach kids about pornography

#1 Porn can harm you physically

Nothing helped me more during my recovery than learning how porn can physically change the brain. Yes, I said physically. No, porn will not have the same additional toxic effects on the brain and body as many addictive substances do, but it can physically change the structure and impair the function of the brain. 

And as someone who regularly speaks with teens about porn’s potential negative effects, I can tell you that nothing captures their attention and removes any awkwardness like talking about the most important sex organ – the brain.

Neuroscientists and addiction experts now know that behaviors like gambling, eating junk-food, and watching porn can lead to some of the same fundamental physiological brain changes found in substance addictions. 

In 2014, a team of researchers at the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany scanned the brains of porn users and found that those who viewed more porn had a smaller striatum, an important part of the reward system in the brain. Lead author Simone Kuhn said, “That could mean that regular consumption of pornography more or less wears out your reward system.”

A more recent study in 2020 compared the brains of alcoholics, gambling addicts, and porn addicts with a healthy control group. The researchers found that addicts to both substances and behaviors had reduced gray matter (nerve connections) in the prefrontal cortex, the “decision making” part of the brain involved in controlling behavior.

Related: How Porn Corrupts the Brain’s Reward System: Neurosurgeon Explains

The read-aloud book Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids does a great job of explaining pornography’s affect on the brain in age-appropriate ways that kids can understand. 

Physical changes in the brain may also cause problems below the belt. In fact, a Cambridge University study found porn addicts’ brains react to cues like cocaine addicts. It also reported that a majority of the porn addicts said they experienced trouble getting an erection or maintaining arousal during sex. 

Related: How Porn Hijacks Young Brains and 3 Effective Ways to Defend Your Kids (Part 1)

#2 Porn can harm you mentally

When I embarked on my recovery journey, I was hoping to regain my ability to function sexually. What I didn’t expect were the cognitive benefits I experienced, such as improved concentration and memory. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as my porn use increased, my motivation and focus drastically decreased, especially for things like school, sports, and work. Research backs up my experience.

One study on boys (average age 14) found that increased porn use decreased academic performance over time. In a more recent study, researchers observed poorer working memory performance in porn addicts compared to controls. The researchers said this could be a result of the brain “learning” to prioritize porn over other things. 

#3 Porn can harm you emotionally

Research has shown a significant association between porn use and poorer emotional and mental health. For example, a survey on children and adolescents aged 10-17 found that those who sought porn online were more likely to report clinical levels of depression. A young man in a 2020 study shared how porn affected him:

“It has caused me to be lonely, depressed, and decreased my motivation to try and do things I care about.” 

The researchers said the porn use of the participants seemed to have a negative effect on their willingness to engage with social activities and their significant others. In fact, many studies link porn use to lower relationship satisfaction.

Related: Healthy Sex vs. Porn Sex: 7 Crucial Comparisons to Teach Your Kid (Before XXX Hijacks Their Future)

Teaching kids about porn increases their chances to form healthy loving relationships in the future

I believe all parents want their children to grow up and form healthy, loving relationships. Yet if our first generation of digital natives has learned anything, it’s that the more “connected” we become online, the more we struggle to feel connected in real life. 

Many of us learned that turning to porn for intimacy created emotional distance from real people. Using porn for sexual pleasure left us numb, unable to feel any pleasure at all.  We learned that no matter how many videos we clicked on to quench our desire, we were always left craving more. 

I had to learn these lessons the hard way, but my son won’t have to. I’m going to teach him so that he'll understand why it's so important to reject pornography and its lies.

Good Pictures Bad Pictures

Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids

"I really like the no-shame approach the author takes. It's so much more than just "don't watch or look at porn." It gave my children a real understanding about the brain and its natural response to pornography, how it can affect you if you look at it, and how to be prepared when you do come across it (since, let's face it... it's gonna happen at some point)." -Amazon Review by D.O.

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