Health

Porn Stars Are Helping Parents Talk to Kids About Sex

The closest thing to a "talk" I got was the time my mom gifted me a book that detailed the ins and outs of reproductive organs.

by Allison Ramirez
Jul 14 2017, 12:00pm

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One of my first encounters with sex that I can remember happened when I called a hotline my ten-year-old neighbor gave me. I was eight years old and she, I thought, was wise beyond her years. It went like this: Two girlfriends and I holed up in a corner of my parents' house, whisper-giggled and proceeded to call the 1-900 number. We listened to prompts, pressed a few buttons and hung up when we realized what we'd signed up for. We didn't consider the repercussions.

A month or so later, the phone bill came. And what do you say as a kid when your parents ask, "Did you do this?" You lie, obviously. But unlike my accomplices, I didn't have an older sibling to blame and so I was grounded for 1) lying and 2) engaging in behavior I was much too young for. This could've been a teachable moment for my parents, but they didn't see it that way at the time.

My second brush was on an overnight field trip, an educational tour of St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city. I was in the fifth grade and my mother was chaperoning a group of girls as we were schooled on the history of Florida and the ghosts of colonial America's past. We had adjoining hotel rooms and as my mom slept next door, we four pre-teen girls turned on the TV, made sure the sound was on mute and flipped to the dirtiest channel we could find, for an "educational tour" of the skeeviest and most taboo subject on the tube. It was innocent enough, but if my mom had awakened, I would've been in deep shit… again.

Often the sex conversation occurs in the teenage years when it's too late, says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist in Denver who created a mother/daughter class for pre-tween and tween girls called "Start with the Talk." Ziegler believes that the best time to start talking to children about sex is as soon as possible—and in an honest, open way. "Sexuality conversations and sex development can start as early as kindergarten, from labeling body parts to talking about how babies really are conceived to not having nicknames for things," she says.

A Cuban, Catholic, and culturally conservative parent, my mom was super pro-abstinence back then. And though my curiosity could've turned into multiple learning opportunities, my parents (as intelligent as they are/were) probably didn't have the resources to give the most effective talk. The closest thing to a "talk" I got was the time my mom gifted me a Christian book that detailed the scientific ins and outs (har har) of reproductive organs.

This book—I can't remember the name—stated that sex was wonderful, but only acceptable between a married man and woman. The idea of waiting until marriage for sex didn't interest me and the book didn't curb my desire to know more. I wanted the truth about sex and figured out pretty early on that I wasn't going to get it from my parents, or my Sunday School teacher.

Young kids are being exposed to porn every day—and chances are, porn is one of the only places they're getting any kind of sex ed. And here's a big one: The porn industry earns more, yearly, than every pro sports league in the United States. This means more Americans are watching porn than professional basketball, football, baseball and soccer, combined. Surprised?

Two LA women, Celine Faledam and Rachel Guest, were. So they decided they wanted to change the dynamic, using that stat as an advantage. The duo launched a campaign called "Give the Talk," that includes a sex ed PSA for parents. With the help of a few people in the porn industry, the video points parents to resources they can use to talk to their kids about sex, in hopes of normalizing the conversation and making it a little less embarrassing for everyone involved.

Though this is something that affects both boys and girls, let's talk about girls for a moment, because I was one. The Good Men Project states that parents often put pressure on girls to wait for marriage (which is what my parents—and if that's not enough, also my grandparents—did), but that doing so "creates distance from needed support groups, potentially compromising girls and leading them to make ungrounded choices."

Much of my sex ed lessons as a pre-teen didn't come from porn, but from my friends' older sisters, who delighted in sharing all the details—real and made up, too, I'm sure—about their sex lives. To be fair, they were probably embellishing the details form things they'd seen in porns. I learned about tampons (though not how to properly insert them), blow jobs (though not really how to give them) and anal from girls who were as clueless as I was.

And from what felt like one day to the next, I had friends who were engaging in these acts, uninformed and unprotected. I followed suit. No one gave me condoms. And no one briefed me on the "what ifs" of pregnancy, STDs, birth control, premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. The list goes on. Now, STI rates are at an all-time high and this could be because Americans aren't getting the preventative care or the information they need.

Academic research from the '90s (it may be old, but still feels relevant) states that, "even parents who attempt to teach their children about sex may do so through general and diffused admonitions that do not recognize or end their child's interest in sex, but rather contribute to concealment and subsequent guilt… Guilty knowledge develops and children learn to keep sexuality a secret, especially from those they love, thus perpetuating the cycle."

I was 17 years old when I took myself to the gynecologist for the first time. I was lucky, I guess, and maybe just fearful enough to question my own naïveté. And while parents these days are much more open with their kids and vice versa (I think), we still live in a society that's very confused, at any age, about sexual health and what is and isn't okay to say, do and think.

Ziegler says that a lack of education may cause girls to fear their own bodies and that parents not having the talk with their children can make dating confusing. Then there's the gender disparity. Sexually active boys are seen as "cool" and girls are given talks which include messages that they should behave, dress or look a certain way so they don't come across as "slutty" and so they aren't raped. Ziegler tells me that one in four girls are sexually abused as children.

When girls are sex shamed, or worse—when sexual assault or an uncomfortable sex situation occurs—they sometimes feel they're to blame. Ziegler has patients who bring up the idea in therapy that they may be damaged or impure because they have thoughts about, or have acted upon, sexual feelings.

Because kids are innately curious, hormonal, horny little nymphs, they're most likely going to have sex before you want them to, and a lot of what impacts their experiences positively or negatively is the knowledge (or lack thereof) that'll shape their decisions. Having the conversation—and acknowledging that purpose of porn when necessary—could change a vicious cycle of silence and half-truths about sex.

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