Caught your kid looking at porn? How we shame children

caught

Anyone who has heard me lecture or has been a client of my practice knows how concerned I am about how our culture shames sex and sexuality. The sex addicts I work with have such an enormous sense of shame about their addiction. Their partners have their own sense of shame about being in a relationship with a sex addict. Our culture shames sexuality all the time.

I have become more and more uncomfortable about how the media is handling the topic of pornography use among adolescents. If you do a Google search about kids looking at pornography the predominant language is “caught.” “Caught” your child looking at pornography?” “What to do if you catch your child watching porn.” Implied in the word “catch” in this context is the idea that someone is doing something wrong or deceptive. Some might say that I am being overly sensitive to the use of this word, but I don’t think that I am. Here’s why.

When working with my sexually addicted clients, we always talk about what happened if anyone (mostly parents) ever found them looking at pornography or masturbating. The language of “caught” always comes up. Mom caught me masturbating. Dad caught me looking at pornography. The act of being “caught” produced shame and embarrassment in the majority of my clients. The next thing we always talk about is the reaction of the person who “caught” them. Most of the time the “catcher” was reactive, said something negative or did not respond well. My clients frequently garnered one message from this interaction. Sex is shameful and embarrassing. There must be something wrong with me if I am engaging in this behavior. From that point on, shame has entered their sense of sexuality. If I am ashamed of something, I will keep it secret. Shame and secrets are two of the hallmarks of sexual addiction.

In today’s digital world, if we “catch” a teen looking at pornography online, we are “catching” a normative behavior. Viewing pornography for many adolescents is a part of their sexual exploration. Access and availability have made online pornography a venue for sexual exploration and sex education. If we use shaming language with our children or shame them for engaging in something normative, we are fusing sex and shame together. This fusion has the potential to lead to trouble in the future.

Just because online pornography viewing is a normative adolescent behavior does not mean that it is not without problems. It is not the best venue for sex education. It is often in conflict with a family’s religious or moral beliefs. Frequent consumption can also alter beliefs about sex, objectification of women and ideas about consent.

My hope is that when a parent discovers that his or her child has viewed online pornography, they not view the incident as “caught.” My hope is that they can understand that this is a normative behavior and talk to their child in that context. Discuss how the behavior is, perhaps, in direct conflict with the family religious beliefs. Discuss how pornography can distort ideas about healthy sexuality and connection. Discuss sex education in an open way. This can all be done in a manner that does not make the child feel wrong, sinful, dirty or perverted for having watched pornography.

The work of not shaming sexuality in teens is the work of the parents. This is prevention. Where there is no shame, there are no secrets.

For more information check out our websites at Sexual Addiction Treatment Services and The New Age of Sex Education

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