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My 13-year-old son is being exposed to porn – how can I protect him? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri


I have a 13-year-old boy who has just started going through puberty, and is becoming more exposed to the topic of pornography and harmful language about women.

I understand his curiosity, and that an interest in porn is natural, but, apart from discussing it with him, how can I ensure that when he eventually goes looking for porn, the porn he is exposed to is safe and not using “dangerous” language towards women? Are there any safe spaces or sites I can show him to prevent this from happening?

He is a lovely boy and I’d hate to see him affected by what he finds, simply because of society’s inability to tackle this subject appropriately.

Where is he being exposed to this? At school? With friends? It may be worth talking to the school if that’s where he’s viewing it. Incredibly, there isn’t a law about the minimum age someone can watch legal porn. (It’s a criminal offence for an adult to expose someone under 18 to porn and an offence for anyone to have extreme porn in their possession, or anything involving children.)

When I started doing this column I resolved to give realistic rather than facile advice, so one has to be realistic: porn exists and education is key. It’s great you are so alert to this. So many parents think it’s only other people’s children who access porn, but research shows otherwise. I think porn should be talked about as part of sex education and these conversations should start, in an age-appropriate way, at home.

I consulted accredited (UKCP and COSRT) sexual and relationship psychotherapist Silva Neves, who advised you to “focus on porn literacy rather than what’s bad or wrong, healthy or unhealthy. Not being pro or anti-porn has been shown to be the best stance to have for young people, so you don’t encourage them, nor shame them. Young people are always curious because there’s not enough sex education, so their inclination can be to go to porn to find out about sex.” Neither of us recommends you provide your son with material, though.

Neves also advised talking to your son only if you felt able; if you get embarrassed, he will pick up on this, then may never ask you again. We’ve come up with some sites, below, that may help facilitate the conversation.

“Porn,” says Neves, “is adult entertainment designed for people mature enough to watch it [18 plus] as an aid to masturbation. Porn isn’t education – it’s about making profit.”

Neves adds you could also emphasise that porn is not real life. It’s important that boys understand that if they see violence and coercion towards women in porn, that is led by the men filming it, not the women themselves.

If you respond to these queries calmly and factually, hopefully your son will know he can revisit them if he sees something which confuses him. It sounds like you have a good relationship, but a time may come when he is more comfortable talking to his dad or another male figure.

“The porn that’s freely available,” says Neves, “is often about what men do to women, and how long penetration lasts. It’s all fake. It’s unlikely to be ethical porn, or porn in which different body types are shown. There are also conversations to be had about consent.”

If your son sees anything he doesn’t like, remind him that he doesn’t have to watch it. That’s being responsible about what feeds into your brain. Read more at bishuk.com or sites.bu.edu.

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Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice on a family matter, please email ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. See gu.com/letters-terms for terms and conditions.

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Conversations With Annalisa Barbieri, series 2, is available here.



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