Illustartion by via Jim Cooke/GMG.

I’m old. So old that my introduction to “porn” was hardcover books in my parent’s den. When I was a teenager, Judy Blume’s Wifey was hardcore imagery for me. Eventually, I was an adult and I could order OnDemand movies from Comcast. Then I got semi-knowledgeable about porn and what I liked. While I understood the concept, it was never a go-to way for me to stimulate myself. I was more used to using thoughts and images from my own mind over external images.

Good thing I didn’t grow up in sex-on-demand porn culture. I think my entire sexual identity would be different if I had access to things like RedTube and PornHub. It changes everything if you can scroll through the most obscure thoughts and realize that millions of people are into them too. In a way, I can imagine it can be normalizing and maybe even a relief to know that tons of folks like random stuff like ear penetration. But at the same time, I feel like 24/7, 365 access to porn—at the comfort of your phone and tablet—can’t be healthy.

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My stepdaughter Lauren agrees. Recently we talked about how, despite some preconceptions, cis hetero women actually are into porn, why it’s so important to talk about it early on with kids—and why Lauren had to stop watching porn altogether.

I feel like this topic has threaded through almost all of our previous topics—from body mods to kink shaming.

Yeah, it’s come up a lot. Makes sense to tackle it.

Like other topics, this begins with me feeling I may have failed you on dealing with it.

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I don’t think we ever talked about it.

I don’t think so either. UGH. I’m going to keep this plain and simple—while I’m dying inside. When were you first introduced to pornography? And how?

I was about 7 or 8. I think I may have seriously looked up “sex” on a laptop with no filters. I ended up on Google images and seeing something crazy. I don’t remember too much about it but later on, my older guy cousins reintroduced me. Not on purpose. But any time I used their electronics, the suggestions were crowded with sex stuff.

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How did it affect you?

I already knew this is sex and this is how this works. But seeing it in that way was very different. I was struggling to process it. I was definitely interested and moved by it but not damaged. It didn’t really affect me until I was going through puberty at the same time I could see porn whenever I wanted.

Right. So, the summer before sixth grade, your dad and I got you a Macbook. This is the computer where you began to watch porn more regularly.

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Yes.

WHY ON EARTH DID IT NOT HAVE PARENTAL CONTROLS?

You and dad tried to. You don’t remember? Filters were not as nuanced as they are now. It was impossible.

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I think I remember this. It was like, look up the word ovary and you were blocked.

It was worse than that. I could literally not get to anything I needed as a sixth grader. So you guys just left the filters off.

Bad call. Really bad call.

But seriously? If you had put filters on, I was the kind of kid to say, well if that’s not what I’m supposed to see, I need to see it!

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Nah, we failed. You being able to watch porn on your own computer in the sixth grade was a fail.

Eh, I learned some stuff. I figured out early on that porn has that copy-paste formula and how it might or might not match what I liked. Having the ability to explore those kinds of things… I just don’t think it’s necessarily The Worst Thing Ever.

But didn’t you mention in a previous conversation that you felt like you eventually had a porn addiction at one time?

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I don’t know. Kinda? I feel like I started watching porn because it was working for me. But then it stopped working for me. And I amped up the aggressiveness or watched more of it and then watched stuff I didn’t even like.

This is hard to hear.

Well, what was your experience with porn?

Mmmm. Well, my parents had a wall of books in the den. I would randomly read them from time to time. When I was in about seventh grade, I discovered racy stuff like Sidney Sheldon and more hardcore stuff too. Me and that den couch became well acquainted. Then one day, out of nowhere, I saw my parents carting up the books and donating them. I was so embarrassed. I heard them whispering about how they didn’t think I was reading “those” books yet. Mortified.

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Well, that’s why what we said in an earlier column—the conversations about masturbation and orgasms and explaining that it’s healthy is so critical. If and when you talk about masturbation, I kind of think that may include a conversation about porn.

So for you, pornography became a distraction. From what I hear it doesn’t necessarily sound like an addiction.

Yeah, it was just a lot.

A lot for who?

A lot for me. I was mirroring what I saw online and not realizing that it didn’t work for me in real life.

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So what did you do?

I just stopped watching it. It was hard to do. It’s still hard to figure out how to take care of my needs without that.

What’s going on with your peer group as it pertains to porn?

Not much. But I really wouldn’t know for sure. We talk about self-love but not about porn intake. We talk about our introduction to porn and masturbation. But we don’t get into how we use it now—if at all. These days we talk about sex toys folks are using. Most of my cis hetero woman friends don’t seem to watch much porn like that.

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Would you say that porn is something that some of grow out of?

I don’t know about that. I know people who watch a lot. My guy friends haven’t stopped. They’re still at it. A LOT. They ask how I stopped and they want to stop.

The theory has been that men are visual creatures—which is why they watch more porn. And that when we watch we want an emotional narrative.

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That’s been true for me. My fantasies when I was watching porn were sentimental plots. And many times my fantasies were about this specific person or the person I was with. There was this woman I read about who started a porn site that was literally all user-submitted videos of women having sex with their partners—natural and real.

I honestly think we all have the same porn consumption these days. It’s like, maybe women are less visual creatures. But give us porn that speaks to us—and make it super available—and we’re there. The valve has been opened.

That makes sense

Is porn harmful?

Just like all media, specifically internet, it can be handled responsibly. Porn is not harmful inherently.

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So your 10-year-old sister…

Well that’s different….

Is it?

You’re not supposed to watch until 18. But porn on it’s own is not inherently harmful. Instagram can be harmful—my 10-year-old sister shouldn’t necessarily be on there.

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No. IG can be a safe feed for her. Porn can’t.

Well, I would never introduce it to a 10-year-old and say watch this—continue to do this! But hiding it doesn’t work—in my opinion.

I think I’m going to lock down your sister’s iPad a bit more. You can’t un-see porn. And I don’t want her to stumble on to something that freaks her out.

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I really feel like it depends on the kid. She’s not the kind of kid to go searching for porn the way I did.

Or so we think. I had no idea you were watching porn.

I mean like, is an R-rated movie inherently harmful? I loved scary movies.

I know, I wasn’t really comfortable with people taking you to see them. But I let it go.

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So you want to keep her from stumbling on to porn. Would you say they same thing if she were a boy?

Absolutely.

Are you sure about that?

Absolutely! Look, cis hetero men have just as many hang-ups from porn... Porn can be misleading for everyone with a sex drive. I would need my son to be unafraid of what he sees and how it makes him feel.

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That’s really cool.

So, time for your favorite part of this column.

Okay, You find hardcore porn on my 10-year-old sisters iPad. You ask me what you should do.

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Yes.

I think you use it as a way to have a conversation about what it’s made for and how it may or may not be useful. And to say it’s okay? I guess? Acknowledge that it reflects reality.

Hmmmm…

Look, if you find it, you can’t un-find it. It’s now a Thing. So you have to be as non-overwhelming as possible.

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So if it’s a bestiality video…

Wait. That’s lack of consent—you have to say in real life this is not okay at all. Animals are not consenting. Wait. This is all getting uncomfortable.

I’m there with you. Is there such thing as too much sex talk? I feel like while trying to be sex positive I’m just overwhelming her and myself. It’s not like I’m like SEXY THINGS every day or every week but still…Can it go overboard?

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Sometimes, my mom says stuff and I’m like, okay, I’ll walk over here now. Please stop. But it’s still good to know she can do that with me. Because I know I can do that with her.

That makes sense. I feel like the keyword with kids and sex is normalize as best you can.

Yes. Dad would always joke about it. He would sometimes say things like oh, are you going upstairs to watch The Porns?

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I saw it in real time and it was totally fine. But in this column it sounds really really bad.

It was hilarious. But he would normalize it and it was jokey and uncomfortable. But I totally got what he was trying to say: It might be happening. I can’t stop it from happening. I’m not sure how I feel about it happening. But it’s not abnormal or wrong—necessarily.

So, he says that. And you go upstairs and watch The Porns?

Never! If he ever said it, I wouldn’t do it then. Too weird.

This is perfect! I’m going to say that to your sister every single night. Good night honey!

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Stop it.

Are you going to watch The Porns tonight? No? I just want you to know it’s safe, natural and normal. Good night!!


I decided to broach the topic of porn with my 10-year-old the next day.

Me: Have you ever heard of the word porn?

10-year-old: corn?

Me: Porn. With a P.

10-year-old: No.

Me: I wanted to let you know what it is. It’s sex-related, which can be a sensitive topic at times. But there are things I want you to at least know the definition of. Even if it doesn’t necessarily relate to you right now like other things we’ve talked about.

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10-year-old: Okay.

Me: I’m giving you a super simplified definition. It’s pretty much sex that’s visible in other formats besides in person. So people watch people having sex. People record having sex for others to watch. It gets way more complicated than that. But that’s the super basic version.

10-year-old: Hmmmmm. Okay.

Me: Got questions for me?

10-year-old: Yeah. Is this another one of those things that kids my age don’t usually hear about from their parents?

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Me: Absolutely.

10-year-old: Do some people do both things. Look at it and make it?

Me: Yes, they do.

10-year-old: Okay.

Me: Anything else?

10-year-old: Isn’t that enough?

Indeed.

Devin Anderson has written professionally since 1998 and currently works as a full-time freelance writer for various outlets. She’s also written five books, three non-fiction and two novels. The name Devin Anderson is a pseudonym. The writer is changing her name to protect the innocent, the guilty—and her mom.