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I am divorced and we have a 12 year-old son who splits his time between our two homes. He is curious about girls and has lots of questions. His mother (who has since left the LDS Church) and I have very different approaches to helping him get answers. His mother wants him to explore any and all questions about girls and sex. Her new husband has pornographic magazines my son can look at with her permission. On the other hand, I don’t want him to get involved with porn, or dating, or anything like that right now, as he’s too young. So, our son is caught in the middle of this. She says “yes” and I say “no” and he doesn’t know what to do. I don’t know what to tell him, as she can undo everything I say. He’s stuck trying to please both parents. Any tips?
Your ex-wife might have a sincere desire to answer all of your son’s questions about girls and sex, however, her methods are illegal and could land her and your son’s stepfather in legal trouble. There are federal laws that protect children from being exposed to obscene material. I recommend you contact an attorney to better understand the law in your area so you can protect your son (you can review the federal law here: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-ceos/citizens-guide-us-federal-law-obscenity)
Even though pornography is easily accessible to any child on the Internet, it’s illegal for an adult to knowingly expose a minor to sexually explicit material. It’s considered a form of sexual abuse.
Introducing sexually explicit material to a minor robs them of the chance to learn about their own sexuality and the sexuality of others in the future when they’re developmentally mature enough to process it.
His mother and her husband need to know that what they are doing is harming this boy and it needs to stop immediately. It’s not necessary to expose children to obscene materials to educate them about their bodies and healthy sexuality.
Pornography is the worst kind of sexual educator. It’s violent, abusive, exploitive, and misogynistic. It distorts what true love looks like in a committed relationship. It warps our view of men, women, and bodies. There is nothing in pornography that will teach your son (or any person, for that matter) about healthy sexuality and relationships.
Let your son know that being exposed to pornography by an adult is not okay and reassure him that this is not his fault. Even though he may have been aroused by it physically and emotionally, he needs to understand that he’s not bad for seeing these things. He might blame himself, especially if there are consequences for his mom and stepfather. Make sure your son understands that he’s not to blame for any of this and he’s not bad for wanting to look at it. His curiosity is normal and healthy. He simply needs to know that this isn’t okay and he was never supposed to see those images.
You can begin re-educating him on healthy sexuality and giving him age-appropriate answers to his questions. In fact, it would be helpful for you to invite him to ask you questions about what he’s seen so you can give him accurate information and help him understand that much of what he saw was acting, exaggerated, distorted, and not realistic.
Wendy Maltz has free charts on her website that explain the hazards of pornography (https://healthysex.com/booksdvdsposters/posters/the-hazards-of-porn/) and compare the differences between healthy sex and porn-related sex (https://healthysex.com/booksdvdsposters/posters/do-you-know-the-difference/). These are excellent resources to begin using to help your son learn the what’s healthy and unhealthy. Additionally, he can sign up for the free online Fortify program from Fight the New Drug to begin learning what’s happened to him and how he can undo the effects it’s having on his brain and emotions (https://fortifyprogram.org).
You not only have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect your son from adults exposing him to pornography, but also a responsibility to help him unlearn and undo the effects of the unwanted exposure he’s experienced. Educate yourself and begin a lifetime of conversations and support with your son to help him prepare for healthy relationships.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.com
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.