A mother recently asked me if teenage boys need pornography – whether that visual stimulation is really, really important to them and their sexual development. My answer? No. Teenage boys do not need porn. They may want porn. They may seek out porn. They may be fascinated by porn. All of these things are really, really normal.  But that does not mean that they need it.

Three decades ago the porn that was available to teenage boys was their father’s Playboy stash in his closet.  The current situation is much more problematic, because now the porn that is available to teenage boys is essentially limitless and includes every kink possible (without the cold-shower-effect of suggesting their father is into it as well).

So what to do when you, as a parent, find the paper or electronic trail your teenager leaves that ends in pornography?

Well, first you get really, really clear with yourself about how you feel about pornography. Then you talk with your teenager about it. “It” being porn.

And what to do if you never find that trail? Well, you have to assume it’s just because your teenager is better than others at concealing what they’ve seen. And that includes girls.

Every person, by the time they are 16, has seen some kind of pornography. Most have seen it much, much earlier. So you need not fear that you are introducing something that they have not seen or thought about privately. Rather, you need to fear that they have seen something they don’t know how to talk about.

Conversation about pornography with an adult (parent or non-parent) who is very, very clear about their own perception of pornography and can still talk openly and draw out the teenager’s perception pornography is the most effective route to supporting teenagers in navigating these tricky areas.

Boys need to know that girls often feel insecure around pornography. Girls need to know that boys are often curious about pornography. And everyone needs to know that (a) the bodies shown in pornography are extremely unusual and (b) it’s important to talk about and ask questions about the visual images they find, strewn carelessly about on the Internet.

What do you think?  What kinds of conversations about porn have you had with your children?  What kinds of conversation did you have with your parents?