After over a decade of working for the National Council of Jewish Women, my children have suffered through many a conversation on topics ranging from civil rights to why courts matter to reproductive justice. Add my work with the Jewish Coalition Against Sex Trafficking (JCAST) Chicago to the mix and they hear about trafficking, exploitation, violence. Let’s just say that car rides with mom are really fun!
Recently, when so many cases of college rape are making the news, and when presidential candidates and political leaders joke and excuse assault as “locker room talk,” I realized that it isn’t enough to talk to my teen daughter about how to protect herself. I needed to talk to my (almost) teen son about respect, exploitation and pornography.
I have learned from past experience that conversations with teenagers about sex, drugs, alcohol and similar topics seem to work best when you don’t face each other – car rides are good; so is sitting on the couch facing straight ahead. How to approach the subject is tricky. Do you wait until they ask; do you just bring it up? I had joked with my kids about porn in a sense – if we were watching a film or TV show together and the action took a turn towards the sexual, I would yell “PORN” and they would cover their eyes. But a flash of skin or prolonged kissing during prime time isn’t pornography – although I will say there are also shows that certainly push the boundaries! I decided that I needed to talk to my kids seriously about pornography and the only way to do that was to rip off the bandage in a sense and just go for it!
So one evening, while my boy and I were watching television, I just brought it up. It was mostly a one-sided conversation, but at least he listened. I talked with my son about how pornography is easily accessible as well as how it is totally natural to be curious about sex and nudity and wanting to seek out those things is normal, but also that pornography is exploitive and has no basis in reality. That many of the “actors and actresses” in these films or the “models” in these pictures may not be there voluntarily. There is undoubtedly a percentage who are victims of trafficking. That the images of women he might see are not representative of actual women and that the relationships depicted are not real relationships.
I read an article once (although I can no longer find the link) but the gist of the article was “Ok, we had sex; will you kiss me now?” While I didn’t save the article, the message stuck with me. Whether it’s due to pornography, lack of education, the influence of their friends or messages in the media, the issue with teen dating is no longer sex before marriage but sex before dating. Studies have found that frequent usage of pornography negatively impacts intimate relationships and affects the users’ view of women.
Pornography is readily available on the internet, but so are some great resources: Culture Framed is the first health promotion effort to recognize and address pornography as the public health crisis of the digital age. They have an amazing website (www.culturereframed.org) filled with articles and ideas for educating your children about the harm of pornography as well as how to empower them to have happy and healthy relationships. CAASE, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, has great information and fact sheets on their website caase.org including a tool kit for high school educators which can be helpful to read as a parent to further a discussion with your child about sexual and sexually violent images in the media. CAASE addresses the culture, institutions, and individuals that perpetrate, profit from, or support sexual exploitation. Their work includes prevention, policy reform, community engagement, and legal services. Check out these two organizations and email me at Communications@jcastchicago.org with any additional resources you might find!
So as painful as the conversation was with my son, I was glad I did it. It opened up a window of conversation that I hope will remain open as he develops into the amazing young man I know he will become.
~Melissa Prober, Communications Director, National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore; Staff, JCAST Chicago