Dear MKE SEX,

I have a 15 year old step daughter who is exceptionally sweet and smart and just such a good girl. I’ve discovered that she’s been watching porn pretty frequently. My personal feelings towards porn are indifferent. I worry about the impacts because of her age and I want her to have a healthy perspective on self image and sex. What’s the healthiest way to handle this? None of my business? Talk with her? I’m feeling so lost.

🙁
Struggling StepMom

Dear Struggling,

I can understand why this is a daunting situation for any parent today. Porn is readily available to anyone with an internet connection and a mobile device, and age barriers do little to prevent young people from accessing it. Add to that our culture’s love/hate (and a little more hate) relationship with pornography, and our feelings about the burgeoning sexuality of adolescence, and you’ve got a lot to wade through. Each family has to deal with these questions in the way that works best for them, taking into consideration their religious/spiritual beliefs, cultural heritage, personal morals, and more. I’m happy to share what I would do in your situation. It’ll be up to you to adapt this advice to your family. And of course, a lot of how you handle this depends on the relationship with your stepdaughter. Obviously, if she lives with you all or most of the time, then you have more room to dig in and handle this. If she mostly lives with her other parent and is with you all every other weekend or something similar, there’ll be some limits to what you can do.

It’s also important to emphasize that your stepdaughter is most certainly “sweet and smart and just such a good girl” exactly as you say, and that she’s probably a lot of other things that round her out into a whole person as well. Most likely, one of those other things is a sexual being who longs for intimacy, pleasure, and connection. In the larger sense, it’s important to take a look at why teenagers watch porn because it will likely shape your overall response. Yes, teens definitely watch porn because it turns them on. That’s a given for anyone who remembers those steamy years from 12 to 20.

But lots of them also watch because they’re not getting real sex ed at home, in school, or through church.  At puberty, their bodies have started to physically mature, and with that comes a rush of hormones and changes that typically awaken desires for sexual exploration. Without solid sex ed, many teens have all kinds of feelings and urges, and no knowledge of what to do with them. Not surprisingly, they might want to learn everything they can about sex, and often the only consistently available resource they know about is porn. But like I always say, “Porn is for titillation, not education!”

If this were me, I’d make sure my teen had good access to other sources of learning. Scarleteen is a wonderful website that is loaded with sex ed info for folks her age. There’s also a book by those same folks called S.E.X. that is a great read for her age group. (Both of those resources are great for parents who also want to learn what the youth are talking about these days.) Maybe also consider a gift subscription to Teen Vogue. The paper version comes out quarterly, but you get an email newsletter with great articles every day. Teen Vogue is doing an incredible job of writing sex ed articles that are heavy on themes of consent, inclusion, body positivity, and STI prevention.

If she’s going to keep watching porn (which she probably is, let’s be honest), you should make sure that your teenager understands how it differs from consensual sex between two average people. It’s a lot like watching Grey’s Anatomy instead of going to med school. Even porn stars (or especially porn stars!) will tell you up and down that porn is unrealistic; they aren’t are having porn-style sex when they’re not working. They are literally athletes who train for their work every day, and use more lube than you can imagine (you just don’t see them apply it). Most are negotiating their scenes before they start, so even though you don’t see the conversation, it’s still happening. And a lot of the people who have been doing porn for the bigger studios know each other socially.

Finally, as parents and step-parents, we frequently say things like, “You can ask me anything,” or “We can talk about anything.” But I’ve found that the best way to get teens to open up is to share more about our own experiences at their age or in early adulthood. Be vulnerable, let them know the things you experienced: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then you can get into a space of soul sharing, instead of the conversation being like a trip to the confessional.

Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at mkesex@gmail.com and she’ll get back to you with an answer.

About The Author

Lucky Tomaszek
Contributor

Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee's only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Most mornings you can find her balancing her cat and her keyboard in her lap, working to make the world a smarter, safer place for people of all genders and orientations.

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