What to do when an adolescent has BDSM Porn on the computer?

Today on my twitter feed I was asked for a resource to refer a parent who found BDSM porn on their 12 year old daughter’s computer. So being the dutiful sexuality researcher I am, I started digging through my archive for reference materials.
One of my favorite sexuality educators, Kirsten DeFur, wrote a great post about porn and sex education last year. You should read it! I highly recommend all of her Fearless Sexuality workshops and materials. But she doesn’t have anything about BDSM porn specifically, which matters in this case because the next couple tweets gave me more context:
“I’m concerned about kids who see BDSM porn – will it damage them? What if they think it’s real?” and “I’ve seen the topic of boys & porn covered, but not girls. How to react? What conversation should you have? Should you worry?”

Children of all genders need to be educated about pornography and sexually explicit materials. Girls are just as curious as boys. I know why that is a controversial statement to make, though I don’t agree with the controversy. We can’t let dysfunctional gender roles prevent us from educating our kids. It is not shocking or surprising to me that a 12 year old girl would be curious about pornography, nor BDSM pornography at that. Girls deserve the same education as boys. Boys deserve the same protection as girls. Girls who are curious about sexuality aren’t like extra special deviants. They aren’t acting “like boys.” They’re acting like kids.

People of all genders masturbate, children of all genders can be curious about sexually explicit materials. People of all genders can be violated and people of all genders can be predators. We may have cultural beliefs that say otherwise, but sorry, these are the facts. How does viewing pornography effect the different genders and shape their sexual identity? We can have that conversation all day. There are no universals here. There is too much variation.

So it’s up to you as the parent to know your kid. You’re going to have to ask your kid why they were watching it. You’re going to ask them what they think they’ve learned from it. You’re going to have to tell them your beliefs about pornography and explain why you hold those beliefs. If you think porn is great, but not appropriate for children, you should explain why. If you think porn is bad for everyone involved ever, say why. This matters to your child. They need to know your values. Clamming up or flipping out is the worst thing ever. I am a strong advocate for age-appropriate sexuality education. I’m also a strong advocate for age of consent laws. I absolutely believe kids should not be viewing porn. I also believe they should know it exists and that they can come to you with their questions.

So with all of this perspective, after you’ve not freaked out or shut down, you need to start asking questions and steel yourself to be ready for all of the possible answers:

Where did this porn come from? Did someone send it to you? Who? How? Why? If someone is sending these images or links to you, I need to know who it is and how you know them. (That’s when you do a thorough email and social media comb through.)  Sexual predators will use pornography to abuse kids. It’s part of their method. I’ve told my kids this. I’ve also told them that you never know who someone is in real life. As soon as someone starts referring to sex in any way to you, all your alarm bells should start ringing. But that’s the important part, right? Giving your kids those alarms.

It’s the digital era version of don’t take candy from strangers. Candy is great, it’s the strangers that are dangerous, but if you don’t tell them, then they won’t know. I’ve told my kids that it’s inappropriate to discuss sexuality online until they’re over the age of 18 and that is the standard that everyone is abiding by. Will my kids still believe this when they’re 16? Who knows. But in the adolescent/pre-teen stages they do.  If someone is sending your kid pornography, I highly recommend back up. You can report instances of online sexual abuse of children here via CyberTipLine. And then maybe it’s time to start talking to mental health professionals.

If the child says they found it themselves, ask why? If they went searching, that’s important for you to know. What search terms did they use? Where did they hear those terms? Or did they click on a link when it appeared on some random pop-up and they decided to keep clicking? Another great resource is http://www.stopitnow.org/ they have so much great information. One of their tip sheets on age-appropriate sexual behaviors states:

School-age (9-12 years)

Hormonal changes and external influences, such as peers, media and Internet, will increase sexual awareness, feelings and interest at the onset of puberty.

Common:

  • Will need knowledge and have questions about
    • Sexual materials and information,
    • Relationships and sexual behavior,
    • Using sexual words and discussing sexual acts and personal values, particularly with peers.
  • Increased experimentation with sexual behaviors and romantic relationships.
  • Self stimulation in private is expected to continue.

To me, this means kid’s sexuality should be self-contained still. They should be focussed on themselves. They need the adults in their lives to be providing information AND respecting their boundaries and privacy AND also monitoring their behavior for any harmful behavior. Not easy. But what part of parenting ever really is?

Ok, which now leads to the BDSM aspect of the question. That is some scary shit for a parent to process. Our whole goal in their life is to prevent our kids from being hurt. To think they may be fantasizing about it is just counter-intuitive… unless, of course, we are into BDSM ourselves and then we have insight into how that works. But we can’t assume that what motivates our sexuality is what motivates their sexuality. So you’re going to have to ask why they wanted to look at these particular images. What is that they are curious about and what, if anything, they like or are attracted to.

When that tweet came through I instantly flashed to my own middle school experiences. Plenty of girls my age were reading V.C. Andrews’ books. They were on the rack next to the gum at the grocery store. Those books contain some really twisted story lines, and wow did girls eat them up. I also remember a group of girls who were in the Gifted and Talented classes passing around a Marquis de Sade book. I only know that one of them was actually into kinky sex from the outset. She knew what she liked and went for it early.

We don’t really have enough unbiased information on what makes people gravitate towards BDSM. There are lots of theories, but nothing that doesn’t smack of some kind of dogma in both the too negative and too positive flavors. Some people have known their whole lives that pain gives them pleasure. For some it’s taken decades to discover that about themselves. Some people use BDSM to process painful experiences, some people try not to think that deeply about why they like what they like and practice safe, sane and consent based scenes. Again, so much variation.

In regards to the parent of the 12 year old, during the initial information gathering session, I recommend being as neutral as possible. Don’t endorse something you think is vile nor overshare about your own sexual preferences, but let her do the talking for as long as you can. You need to know what’s up and if you’re having a strong reaction in the moment, your tween is probably not going to be that forthcoming. Take in the info, and then figure out where you stand in relation to BDSM sex. Just like pornography, what are your beliefs and values and why do you have them?

And a lot of experienced BDSM practitioners are afraid that novices will see something advanced in a video and then try it out at home. This parent is going to have to address that too. Ok, so the kid is genuinely curious about BDSM. Regardless of your moral position on BDSM, the truth is that you can get seriously hurt. You do not want your kid trying to suspend another kid from the ceiling because they saw it on a video.

It’s an age of consent thing too. These are totally appropriate things to tell your adolescent: You must be of age to be able to give consent. You must be able to make an informed decision. You must be mature enough to be on equal footing with the person you are being intimate with. You can not consent to being bound and gagged if you’re under the age of 18 and everyone knows that. So if someone brings it up to you, they are already doing something wrong and they know it. As always I highly recommend sending tweens and teens to http://www.scarleteen.com/.

I hope this helps! in the book I’m writing right now I definitely address all of these issues, but this was a great opportunity for me to merge together. Which is how a lot of parenting goes, right?

******************************************************************************************************************

Like what you’re reading? You can buy my ebook, The Quick Start Guide to Sex-Positive Parenting, today! 

And show your support for The Sex-Positive Parent by grabbing your own Sex-Positive Parent gear here! We’ve got Tee’s, Baby Onesies and Laptop Stickers!

 

 

 

  • audiofox

    Age of consent should be 16. Teens are not children.

  • http://twitter.com/loveofmysterySF Loveofmystery

    If my child asked me about bdsm or sought it out, as I consider that advanced realms, I would be ultra concerned. But (age depending) I would explain that adults like to pretend to be different things and play with power over one another while having sex, to heighten their experience and that pain can be release endorphin’s that bring pleasure–as mentioned. But that it can be very intense and it is important to explore that with someone trustworthy and that you have a relationship with. And that BDSM porn or most porn for that matter doesn’t show the important subtleties in a sexual relationship. When they get to the right age, they should find out what they like, what works for them.

    I don’t know is that too much? I wouldn’t want to influence my child too much but not leave them in the dark either.

  • AirialClark

    It’s hard to talk in the hypothetical right? The last statement is the crux that most parenting occurs within: not too much, not too little. It can be paralyzing at times. Also, it’s hard to know what you’ll be able to say when it’s happening. That’s why most sexuality educators, myself included, advocate for parents to start conversations about sexuality before an incident like this one occurs. I mean, not like you’re going to want to broach the subject of BDSM without cause, but the conversation you’re describing in your comment would have to be part of an ongoing dialogue, where sexuality is something you’ve be comfortable talking about on a regular basis.

  • capnmarrrrk

    This post came as a request via friends for my sister. Thank you very, very much for taking the time to write this. I’ve passed it along. Thanks again!

  • AirialClark

    Happy to! I am very glad to be of help!

  • Heather Wegemer

    Personally, I think it’s far too limited. BDSM is not just about pain, either giving or receiving. An important question is whether the pain is what’s exciting, the playing of dominance and submission games, humiliation, role playing, bondage, the sensation (pain, cold, soft, hard, impact, heat, heck, even tickling all “count” as part of BDSM) . . .. Perhaps the right question to start would be, “What about this is interesting to you?

    Age depending, of course, I would be more comfortable with the child exploring written porn over visual, largely because the written form allows more penetration into the character’s feelings and emotions. Perhaps in a visual depiction it is easy to miss the point that all parties in a BDSM interaction are enjoying what is happening, but even the more incompetently written BDSM porn I’ve seen doesn’t fail to mention it. Given some researchers’ findings that girls who do not expect to find sex pleasurable are more likely to be teen mothers than those who expect pleasure, making it clear that it’s supposed to feel good for everybody seems vital.

p5rn7vb