Archive for Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Double Take: When it comes to sex ed, don’t let Internet do the talking

September 10, 2013


Wes: A vast array of explicit online content (EOC) is available right now for your teen to view. It’s three clicks away. And it’s free.

I’m not letting any cats out of any bags here. In their infinite Internet wisdom, kids are well aware of this material. For most teen boys and a fair number of girls, it’s a primary source of sexual information.

I don’t need to tell you that’s a bad idea. But I do need to tell you why.

Inaccuracy. Learning about sex from pornography is like learning about animals from watching The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. EOC offers a cartoon of human sexuality; visually interesting for the camera, but emphasizing the most mechanical and stimulating aspects of sexuality. It lacks context, storyline and relationship between the parties and provides no illustration of safe sex. Yet these scenes are increasingly what teens emulate in sexual practice, including a lot of situations most parents haven’t thought to discuss with their teens.

On the air

Join Dr. Wes at 11 a.m. Monday for Up to Date with Steve Kraske on KCUR FM 89.3. They’ll be discussing the history of explicit content and its current impact on teens.

Degradation. Traditional pornography was once seen as degrading and exploitative of women. I know women who still feel that way, but many others consume explicit material. “Fifty Shades of Grey” was widely read. I’ve yet to meet a man who’s picked it up, but I know many teen girls who’ve read it cover-to-cover. Similarly, a body of EOC is overtly designed to portray degrading sex acts. In fact, some sites are branded with language about humiliation.

Violence. There’s a virtually unlimited genre of free EOC portraying staged sexual violence, which teens, and most certainly pre-teens, are in no psychological or neurological position to contextualize as role-play between consenting adults because it’s shot not to look that way.

I can barely scratch the surface of this serious topic in a column. So I’ve written 12 pages of details and suggestions in a white paper as a companion to next week’s KCUR broadcast. While I used clinical language to explain the current situation with EOC and the history of how we got here, it’s still pretty graphic. Please don’t download it if that offends you.

But if you want to understand this situation and have a serious conversation with your teen about it, you can find that paper in PDF form at

Kendra: The moment teens open their computers and log onto the Internet, they can be exposed to sexually explicit content. Even without visiting a pornography site, ads pop up advertising them, with scantily clad models and suggestive language. Wes is right — only by giving teens real sex education can parents hope to compete with these messages.

Thanks to raging hormones, questions about sex are bound to emerge in the minds of teens as soon as they hit puberty. And as awkward as this conversation may seem, parents, not the Internet, are the best source. Before teens make those few clicks to get online, it’s crucial that parents build a trusting relationship with them.

Parents, showing teens you trust their judgment and sharing your own experiences as a teen, makes it far more likely they will share their own feelings about a potential partner or ask you critical questions.

If your teen still ends up exploring EOC, it’s important that you explain the difference between porn and the real world. When parents teach sexual values, even if they have to do it alongside a vast body of explicit content, they make it known that sex isn’t about unexpected locations, strangers and strange practices. A teen’s sexuality can develop much more healthfully.

Another necessary talk is about the portrayal of women in pornography. Teens must realize that in many videos, disrespect toward women and their depiction as brainless, is inaccurate and not how anyone deserves to be treated. Additionally, parents can actually use these misguided ideas to teach their daughters to demand greater respect.

No matter what parents do, teens will have access to explicit content, but it’s your job to show your kids the distinction between sex and love.

— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his new practice Family Psychological Services at Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.


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