I received a comment from a dad who had a question about porn and the absence of realism. He writes:

I am the father of three boys, 16, 15 and 10. The older two esp. are filled with the usual crap that comes from middle school and high school boyland. The only thing I have problems dealing with with them in the area of sexuality (I hope) is realism. The ease of access to porn seems to set up bizarre expectations. I have never seen in person a man with a penis the size of a loaf of bread, or a woman who orgasms from performing fellatio.

Part of the problem is that I am their fat old dad who obviously can have no idea what I am talking about. How can I help them learn about the realities of sex?

**Spoiler Alert**

I’ll say this up front, if you want to continue living in the fantasy world that porn world is the same as the real world, do not read on.  Also, this blog is NOT anti-porn.

I think as their dad you may have an easier go of this conversation with these boys than their mom or another woman in their life would (Easier but no less important.  I do think a woman’s perspective on this is crucial too). What you said is absolutely real and an excellent thing to point out. I want to invite you to watch the following clip by Cindy Gallop (founder of MakeLoveNotPorn.com at TED2009 talk in Long Beach, CA. You are truly not alone in your concerns…

Her website touches on some of the myths of porn and attempts to balance them with reality.  Bottom line: Some people like those things, some people don’t.  And that’s OK.  I’m sure you know this already, but what your sons won’t realize is what you see in porn for the most part is only one view… and that is targeted toward men only.  And heterosexual men at that.

There is very little in adult movies that replicates real-life sex – just like movies that are based on fantasy. Have you and your sons ever watched a sci-fi movie and commented on how cool the special effects were?  Well, adult movies have special effects too in a sense.  Adult films are shot over a period of time, the guy goes soft, they bring in a fluffer to get things going again, shoot again and edited together for flow. That means that rock hard hard-on the guy sports in the video is actually a variety of scenes spliced together to make it look like he was hard for the entire sexual act.  And sometimes the moaning that you hear in the videos doesn’t match the mouths!  That’s added later for those who get turned on by auditory stimulation.

I recently rewatched the Wizard of Oz with my girls and I pointed out the scene where the scarecrow is still up on his post. You can see the fishing line just barely perceptible above him as he talks and moves. I pointed this out to my girls and now — while film buffs think I might’ve ruined the movie for my girls by telling them it was there — my girls mention it every time we watch this movie. I understand digital film editing is much more advanced than it was back in the day but that’s also how porn is sometimes able to “trick” you into thinking What You See Is What You Get.

Even regular movies have all kinds of unrealistic depictions in them, not all of them are sex related, and that might also be an easy way to ease into a conversation about sex (Don’t get me started on all of the messed up impressions your average RomCom “Hollywood Happy Ending” has on little girls…).  For example, “Wild Things” is rated R but has a pool scene between Neve Campbell and Denise Richards that I think every male over 12 years of age has seen.  It also perpetuates the male fantasy that all women are into other women, which comes from porn and is, by the way, not true.

So while I’ve talked about some of the things in Porn that aren’t real, I’ll shift now to having this conversation.  If you and your sons are relatively open about sex, a straightforward, “How do you feel about such-and-such?” would probably do the trick.

You could even go with a different direct approach and say something like, “I know this may be coming out of left field but I’m concerned about the messages you are getting about sex, sexual behaviors and what’s real or normal from the stuff that’s out there.  I may be an old guy now but I was young once too and I have probably seen a lot more than you think.”  or  “I want you to know I am here for you whenever you want to talk guy talk or whatever because I know when I was your age it was confusing for me. Given the messages I see on YouTube, TV, movies and magazines etc today I can imagine it’s confusing to you too” or whatever honest, feeling approach feels right for you.

I’m not sure how comfortable you would be approaching this topic much like the father in this quote does.  It is direct but I enjoy the lecture in particular.  This is from a book by Judith Levine called Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex.

Craig Long, a father I met in Chicago, had carried on a frank and continual conversation with his son, Henry, about sex since earliest childhood. Then, on his eleventh birthday, the boy asked shyly for a Playboy magazine. After discussing the matter with Henry’s mother, Craig gave him the magazine, accompanied by a small lecture. “I told him real women don’t look like the models in Playboy and they’re generally not splayed out for immediate consumption.” After a few weeks, Craig checked in with his son. Had he been looking at the magazine? “Hmm, not so much.” Was he enjoying it? “Hmm, not so much.” Why not? “I don’t know, Dad,” the boy finally said. “I guess I’m too young for this stuff.”
(I talk a little bit about this in an earlier blog)

If you want to approach porn and realism more slowly, you could hint at it any number of ways: perhaps send your son a link to a story involving some aspect of whatever the topic is and say you wanted to ask him what he thinks about it.  There are plenty of YouTube links that go viral in a matter of days that might offer an opportunity to talk.

In terms of some other approaches to talking that don’t involve porn, there is plenty to discuss around current movie themes as well. I don’t know what movies you allow your two older boys to see but maybe you could suggest that you watch some movie together that raises some interesting topics to discuss.  Take the new release “Hall Pass” (rated R). I have not seen it yet but if the trailer is any indication (Hall Pass, n.- A week off from marriage to do whatever you want without consequences.) then it is going to raise discussions for lots of couples.  If your boys are dating this movie may raise questions for them about marriage and/or long term commitments. Be there for them but make sure when you discuss it to give them facts and point out what your own values are around the topic.

There are opportunities everywhere to discuss this topic.  Next time you see something together, like a billboard or an ad, ask them what they think.  If there is a subtle joke of some sort ask them if they get it.  If YOU don’t get it ask them.  Chances are they may have been “enlightened” by a peer at some point.

Finding time to have these discussions can be tricky.  I’m not sure if you are able to have these one-on-one or if your opportunities are more for the 4 of you together.  Be aware to do this in a time when you have no other agenda.  If you are able to do personal chats then you could start laying the foundation for starting these talks by going out for a burger or someplace he likes away from his brothers and other distractions – just the two of you – to talk once in a while but be sure to schedule them regularly.

When you do talk, give facts but also talk about your own experiences and values.  Talk about the situations where you made mistakes and what you learned from the experience.  Try to keep it relevant to what they are experiencing at this age (more can come later).  Talk about how and why you made the decisions you did about sex. Own it. Talk about what your parents told you when you were your sons’ ages.  It’s even valuable to say what your parents didn’t say and what that meant to you too.  Your older boys are presumably mature enough to hear some of this at this time. In general, I think kids are able to understand a lot more information than we give them credit.

Be aware too that he may not be ready to talk about anything the first time out.  He may want to make sure it’s safe telling you or asking you something, especially if this is all new for you guys.  Try to gauge your son’s interest in talking about these things.  Once you two are talking ask him what he already knows.  That’s also a good way to correct any misinformation.  But be ready to listen – really listen – and don’t be surprised if you get a bit shocked by what they have to say.  Remember to breathe.

There’s a lot here but I hope I answered your question.  If I had one thing to say about having these conversations with your sons it would be to reassure you that you have a lot more expertise to share then you are probably willing to admit.  Just by virtue of your own life experiences, you do know what’s real and what isn’t, and that will be of immense value to them as well.  But the fact that you are asking these questions tells me that you love your boys and you want them to have realistic views about sex and ultimately have a healthy adult sex life as well.  Hang in there!

p.s., After i finished this blog I came across Realistic Sex Scene.  It’s like the cherry on top.

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  1. LOVE this article and your writing, Mama S. We discuss porn with our adolescent boy because, as the Super Dad in the letter points out, it’s abundantly available and in some ways difficult to avoid.

    What we’ve shared with our son? We don’t want him watching for many reasons:
    –He’ll feel insecure about his penile dimensions.
    –He’ll learn all manner of inaccuracies about female desire and response.
    –He’ll be exposed to all manner of other inaccuracies about how his body should perform and respond.
    –Before the age of 25, we’re all more susceptible to developing false beliefs, poor body image, sexual stereotypes, etc., than after (that’s due to a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which isn’t done cooking ’til that age. But I digress.).

    In other words, Mama S., my husband and I both discuss porn with our son. It’s pretty easy to do at this point because of our “talk early, talk often” policy regarding sexuality. But even for parents who are new to sex talks, it’s important to go there. And I like your advice for doing so.

    Thanks for an informative and helpful post.

    Cheers,
    Duana

  2. Very well done. A hard topic to demolish some of those unrealistic fantasy’s, but it needs to happen.

    -Haven

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