Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

LIFE HONESTLY

The mother’s guide to porn and why it’s essential to tell our kids about it 

In 2016, porn is everywhere – the genie is out of the bottle and getting bummed senseless. So, we owe it to our children to tell them what real sex is like, says Sali Hughes

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Last week, Woman’s Hour presenter and mother of grown-up sons Jenni Murray told the Cheltenham Literature Festival that, given the choice, she would scrap traditional sex education – or, rather, move its syllabus over to biology lessons – and focus instead on gender roles and the sexually explicit climate we live in, studying pornographic films and analysing them like Dickens or Austen. Shortly after Murray made headlines, broadcaster and mother of two Mariella Frostrup said that she spoke explicitly about porn to her 12-year-old daughter. She told The Mail On Sunday: “I live in a world where I’m inundated with sexual innuendo and imagery and objectification of young girls and, increasingly, young men. There’s nothing wrong with having fantasies. But pornography takes those fantasies and puts them into a real-life scenario with real human beings who are poverty-stricken, disadvantaged, dispossessed.”

My own children have a great sex-education programme at school, covering all manner of social (as well as biological) matters, and so I’m not convinced Murray’s view is entirely up-to-date. But I do agree with both women that there are gaps left by porn culture that aren’t filled by school and that, however distasteful it may be, it’s down to me to address them head-on. Because, when they are only ever at three clicks of separation between a Justin Bieber promo and graphic scenes of double penetration, I strongly believe that the health of their future relationships depends on it. I must separate fantasy from the reality, and unpick the myriad falsehoods in education by porn.

I want my sons to know that if they one day have girlfriends (and that it’s perfectly fine if they have boyfriends), they are statistically unlikely to date women to whom anal is an implicit part of sex and who will expect ejaculation to occur in their faces as a matter of course. Their female partners won’t moan constantly to maintain a soundtrack; they probably, in all likelihood, won’t keep their heels on while otherwise starkers and are overwhelmingly likely to have pubic hair and boobs that flatten and wobble during sex. For their own sakes as well as womankind’s, I want them to understand that she will not come in two minutes flat – a great deal more effort will almost certainly be required. They need to know that everyone is not having threesomes; that most women who have sex with other women do it for their own and their female partner’s benefit, not so nearby men can vicariously get their rocks off; that sexual partners shouldn’t be expected to send nude selfies as though posing for a porn mag. Even if their partner is sexually experienced, or even promiscuous, they still need her permission for everything (simultaneously sorry/not sorry that Ched Evans isn’t my son), and she will not be locked, loaded and ready for action whenever a man is usefully aroused. Like all women, she will have many aspects of her life that, at any given time, could be infinitely more deserving of her attention.

I want my sons to know that if they one day have girlfriends, they are statistically unlikely to date women who will expect ejaculation to occur in their faces as a matter of course

But what is of equal importance is that my sons don’t place similarly unrealistic expectations on themselves. Porn culture means that now, more than ever, boys need to know that the vast majority of men don’t have penises the size of a standard rolling pin (or a wine cork, for that matter – in fact, a good 80 per cent of them are in roughly the same area of medium). When they do have sex, even with a longterm partner, the chances of film-like choreography, where penetration magically and seamlessly occurs without any manual guidance, are relatively low. It’s neither normal nor expected that, four minutes after ejaculation, a man is ready for round two, because real life doesn’t pause for an extended camera break complete with dedicated fluffer and vacuum contraption.

I want them to know that what is normal and to be expected is condoms as standard, bodily noises from both parties, a bit of a mess around period time, women being into it without screaming the house down, soggy tissues, embarrassing interruptions, laughter when something doesn’t work or someone does a pratfall off the bed, the occasional need for lubricant and deciding you can't really be arsed because there’s a brew cooling and Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares is about to start.

I want them to know that real sex, with its imperfections and embarrassments, is one of life's greatest joys, that porn sex is a foreign language that few people speak. But what I won’t tell them is to not watch it. Our parents did, we did and, having myself known the illicit thrill of watching Fanny Hill at a teenage house party, I know that simply telling them not to go there – as Pamela Anderson did this week – is a hiding to nothing. The actress and glamour model has suggested men stop consuming porn, branding it a “public hazard” that affects men's “ability to function as husband, and, by extension, as father”. Her statements were important and brave, her personal insight into the porn industry invaluable. And she certainly has a point. But I can’t help think that, when it comes to my own kids, it would be less useful to tell them not to go near a vast expanse of water than it would to teach them how to swim. 

Porn is everywhere to some degree. Our sneaky VHS tape is now a limitless and free internet resource where every conceivable sexual proclivity is catalogued in graphic detail. Our overweight men shagging giggling women wearing a full bush and knee socks are now hardbodied nipped, tucked and modified Westworld hosts performing untypical acts to which our kids are inevitably becoming acclimatised. YouTube has racier pop promos than the porn we grew up with. Silently accepting that our kids might have a crumpled mag under their mattresses won’t cut it in 2016. The genie is out of the bottle and getting bummed senseless. We have to discuss this with our kids in the same way we so readily tell them to call home and not to go with strangers. We need to tell them that porn isn’t a sexual roadmap or a code of conduct, and fulfil our obligation to prepare them for adulthood. To let them know that real sex – and real life – are both more complicated and infinitely more fulfilling.

@salihughes

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