Last month I had an interesting conversation with a friend’s husband. We were visiting them in their home, and I handed him my manuscript (Good Pictures, Bad Pictures) to read. I appreciated his feedback.
His main problem with the book was right on the first page—the definition of pornography. In fact, coming up with a definition of pornography for a younger child has been my most difficult challenge. In the book, I try to differentiate between photos or pictures of nude people (like a National Geographic photo of tribal women who feel perfectly comfortable walking around topless) and sexually explicit pornography.
My friend’s comment was, “To a seven year old boy, the photo of topless tribal women is pornography.” He went on to say that so were the photos of women modeling underwear in the Sears Catalog. His point was that all those photos, even if they are seemingly “innocent,” pique a young boy’s interest.
My husband agreed.
It all got me started to think about gateway porn, which is all around us. Here are a few examples: The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, the Victoria Secret’s TV ads and catalog, ads on TV (the Axe Body Spray comes to mind) and other numerous titillating visuals in movies and TV shows.
All of these fit the definition of porn because they all depict “erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement” (Webster’s Dictionary).
Lexie Kite, one of the founders of Beauty Redefined, wrote:
“When we understand that pornography includes ALL of the depictions (in images or words) that are meant to invite a sexualized interpretation and incite sexual feelings, then we see that otherwise ‘mainstream’ media choices are actually working as gateway drugs to more secret, addictive forms of pornography.”
She’s right. We all recognize the loosening of media standards on TV. And it’s not hard to see that two things are at work here.
- As viewers watch this “normalized porn” they become desensitized to images that earlier would have shocked them.
- Viewers are primed to accept and seek out even more intensely erotic material.
Way back in 1734, Alexader Pope commented on this slippery slope:
“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
So what’s a parent to do?
While some parents cut cable TV entirely, and others lock out various channels, it’s impossible to completely screen porn out.
I think the first step is to teach our children to recognize it and to name it. In What’s the Big Deal About Pornography?, Dr. Jill C. Manning, Ph.D, describes a wise teenage boy’s decision to protect himself from the grasp of pornography.
“One young man I worked with said to his father, ‘Dad, the next time we are in the mall or watching television together, if I run into a pornographic image, I am going to quietly say, ‘That’s pornography!’ and then take action right away. Will you help me to catch and name anything I miss?’ Over the next several months, this young man and his father became skilled at naming pornography when they encountered it and would help each other take steps to get away from it as quickly as possible.”
Name it! This is good advice and something parents can begin to do with their children. What’s the result? Children who are aware and actively reject the pornographic images they can’t help but see around them. In my opinion, the children who are taught to recognize and name pornography, in all its forms, will be empowered to avoid the trap of pornography addiction.