The Porn Discussion Redux

Porn for SaleI’ve already danced around the pornography discussion with my son more than once, most notably as it relates to the increasingly pornographic “swimsuit edition” issue of Sports Illustrated. Here, go back and read my original post and the zillions of comments it garnered: Why I Censored My Son’s Sports Illustrated Subscription.

Back? Good. So there are a lot of facets to pornography and while that article talked about my belief that titillating pictures of almost naked women are not appropriate for 12 year old boys, I want to come back to the bigger topic because in a Facebook group for Dads, there’s a major conflagration over porn that started with the assertion by Baptist Minister Jay Dennis that “up to 80% of men struggle with pornography“.

Predictably, the discussion devolved into a furious argument about what porn actually is, and yeah, we’ve been around this block at least a few thousand times since the beginning of mankind. Should women be objectified? Is it healthy for men to see women as sexual objects? Are women more than just a collection of potentially sexually arousing body parts? And, for that matter, should men be objectified? Is it healthy for women — or other men — to see men as sexual objects?  Etc etc.

It’s easy to just say “of course not!” to every one of those questions, but the basic absurdity of the argument was captured when one of the Facebook commentators stated that “if you wouldn’t [view porn] in front of your children, if you wouldn’t do it in front of your grandmother, then it’s your conscience telling you that you shouldn’t do it at all.”

And that’s where I want to focus this discussion, because there are a lot of things I wouldn’t do in front of my children or my parents, things that are unquestionably normal, healthy and appropriate for an adult. Like, well, go to the bathroom. Or have an intimate moment with a partner. Or even read a particularly racy email or watch a steamy love scene in an “R” movie. Or shower. Or scratch myself in places that, well, people really don’t want to see me scratch myself.

For perspective, I know of a number of men who were so far down the (cough) rabbit hole of pornography that they destroyed their marriages and really hurt not just their now-ex spouses, but their children too. It can be an addiction, it can definitely have the lure of a perfect in-your-head fantasy, but that’s not an argument against pornography. It’s an argument for learning how to identify and treat addictions.

I have daughters and hope that they’ll grow up with a healthy and appropriate sense of their own inner beauty, and that they’ll believe in their innermost self that they have great value and are worthy of adoration and honest, mature, honorable love from a man (or woman) who can also be a fun playmate too. However that looks. Behind closed doors, please, as just as my Dad is surely uninterested in seeing me being intimate with my partner, I definitely want that to be away from my own awareness. 🙂

And I have a son. And he already likes (invariably touched up and edited) photographs of beautiful women, typically in suggestive poses and with less clothing on than, well, all the women around him wear. At his young age he’s probably not entirely sure why he finds these women appealing, but he’s 13, it won’t be long. I hope that he too grows up with respect for women and that he recognizes that a healthy, happy, sustainable relationship is based on so, so much more than just their physical appearance.

But if my daughters gravitate towards someone they find “hot” or attractive? If my son seeks a “cute” or “beautiful” girl, and that proves to be one of the ways they assess a potential partner? Well, then they’re growing up just like me, because I too consider physical attraction an important part of the journey towards a strong relationship. If I don’t feel a surge of happiness and desire when my partner walks in the room, there’s something wrong with that equation.

Which brings us inevitably back to porn.

We are taught through enculturalization to find some people more attractive than others. But I think we’re also wired that way. In fact, I’ll boldly state that men who look most like they can protect us and women who look most like they can bear healthy children are at the deep biological roots of what we find attractive. Then marketing and all the layers of our culture — including social proof of the “red carpet” and celebrity appearance — fine tune that to where we think someone like, say, Kate Upton (the gal on the Sports Illustrated cover) or Angelina Jolie is more physically attractive than, say, Hillary Clinton. Is she? That’s up to you and the way your brain is wired.

Angelina Jolie - Photoshop before and afterMy point is that it’s really hard to define pornography in a way that’s useful for this kind of discussion. If pictures of naked and barely-clad women are all inappropriate, what about classical paintings? What about a photo my lover might give me to “remind me of her” while I’m on a trip?

If it’s about intent, well, it’s easy to focus on the few bad stories about women forced into making pornography, but there are also plenty of women who reacted to adverse circumstances with other solutions, ones that didn’t involve taking their clothes off. If it’s about the money trail, well, if a DVD producer loses money on a stupid adult movie, is that still a problem?

I am most assuredly a visual person and expect my children are too. My solution is to share the business of creating beauty with my children as they become old enough to understand it, then have additional discussions as appropriate and necessary.

With my 16yo we share YouTube videos about how photographs can be touched up to make women unrealistically perfect (see Angelina’s photograph pre- and post-Photoshop that I’ve included as an example) and she gets it. She’s also a member of our contemporary culture and is aware of our shared values and views on physical attractiveness, so the clothes she wears, the exercises she opts to do, the food she eats, and the boys she finds cute are all subtly skewed by this culture, and that’s okay.

My son? He’s just coming into this world at 13 so we mostly just talk about the what’s and the why’s for now. I do expect he’ll have a secret stash of ‘sexy’ images (thanks to the Internet) on his iPod Touch and that’s okay. A boy’s drives as he heads into manhood? That’s far more complex than we can discuss here. Let’s just agree that the Web has definitely replaced National Geographic in often astounding ways for an entire generation of adolescent boys. 🙂

But the criterion of “don’t do things in private you wouldn’t do in public”? I just don’t see that as useful.

And how about you? Do you just tell your children “it’s bad” and you’re done with the entire pornography discussion, or do you have a more thoughtful and educated approach? I’d love to hear about it…

One comment on “The Porn Discussion Redux

  1. That will be a tough/needed conversation when we have it. Ours are about 10 years younger than yours and the technology, studies and so forth will hopefully teach us lots about the effects of online porn. “Effects”, it’s so simple now, when you and I grew up it was much more difficult, required going to the store, using your own money and was more difficult.
    It’s simple now and the mindset that it builds in young people will certainly alter/change or cause some behavior.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.