Not unlike a lot of families, there were several computers in Lisa Shanklin’s suburban home in Georgia, and each of them had filters designed to keep her five children from, well, inappropriate stuff.
But there it was in her 16-year-old son’s email.
“I went into a panic,” Shanklin said. “My mind started going in a million different directions.”
And that, dear reader, was her introduction to what an increasing number of parents are discovering is the new drug in their teens’ lives — pornography.
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Can you even imagine your preteen watching actors having sex with corpses, even faux corpses, before they’ve even begun to date?
Neither can I, but experts say that nearly half of U.S. families report pornography is a problem in their homes. A recent study conducted by the website Porn Pirate reported that 30 percent of all data transferred across the internet is porn, and 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites. The Pornhub website alone has over 60 million visitors a day.
Even without the numbers, you know something is amiss and why experts say pornography often leads to sexual exploitation and trafficking.
What’s fueling this fire?
Availability, said A.J. Marsden, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida.
“It’s so easy now to take out your laptop or phone and click on it whether you intended to or not because owners of these sites are really creative,” she said. “Many of the sites are very similar in name to other websites, so instead of typing in YouTube, you might type youporn. And Chatroulette, which started as a way for people across the country to talk, is now an amateur porn site where people record themselves.”
Marsden said a study published by the American Psychological Association reported that unwanted exposure to pornographic websites has risen for 10- to 17-year-olds from about 26 percent to 34 percent between 2000 to 2010.
“Previously, one would have to buy or rent videotapes, which might be embarrassing,” Marsden said. “Now, you can watch pornography without encountering that embarrassing situation. And you can search for whatever trips your trigger without fear of judgment from others.”
What’s the harm?
Marsden said it depends. On the one hand, porn is a “great way to spice up your sex life,” but on the other, it can lead to disappointment because people’s sexual expectations are heightened.
Either way, she said, we’d better get used to it.
The porn industry is too big to fail at this point, said Marsden. The best we can do is learn to adapt and live with it in a healthy way. That means parents and school officials doing their best to educate our children at an early age instead of burying their heads in the sand and pretending there isn’t a problem.
It used to be a sneak peek at Playboy or the underwear section of a J.C. Penney catalog was enough to satisfy teens nearing that curious age. Not so much these days.
These days, Shanklin and other experts on the subject say teenagers have easy access to a seemingly endless supply of porn, including things that even many of us adults don’t want to see. Bestiality. Gang rape. Mock sexual violence.
Shanklin first realized this was a problem in 2008 because it became part of her own story.
“I soon realized it wasn’t just my son, but my husband also,” she said. “I went to the library and started educating myself about the harm of pornography. It explained some of the bad treatment, the anger and disrespect toward me and what I could do to help.”
That research eventually led her to Women for Decency, a Utah-based nonprofit that educates and mobilizes women to protect families and communities from the pitfalls of pornography, and soon thereafter Shanklin created a chapter in Johns Creek, Georgia.
But instead of worrying about porn, she said parents should use this as an opportunity to talk with their child about sexual activity.
“We all have tendencies to become addicted, so it could really happen to anybody,” she said. “What parents have to realize is that during adolescence, kids’ hormones are raging. If they discover their teen is watching it, it doesn’t mean they are addicted. It does mean you should help them understand the possible damage that it can cause.”
Make no mistake, pornography is a serious issue with serious implications. Some experts believe that not only is it destroying relationships, it is fueling the sex-trafficking industry.
In April, Utah passed resolutions declaring pornography a public health crisis.
“This is a bigger problem than most people realize, and unless people start talking about it, it’s going to get worse,” Shanklin said. “It damages relationships. It impacts how men and women treat one another. My son is better, but my husband and I never recovered from it.”
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