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What Parents Need to Understand About the Porn Problem

No doubt pornography is unsettling to many, but the topic raises issues affecting parenting and the culture of the communities our children are raised in. To begin, consider a few facts:

Pornography is as old as humankind. Excavation of Pompeii revealed sexually explicit graffiti scrawled on the walls of the ancient, doomed city. Racy postcards and playing cards have been in the rucksacks of the world’s armies since Napoleon and the American Civil War. “Play Boy”, “Penthouse” and, even “Hustler” have been available alongside candy bars and cigarettes at neighborhood convenience stores for decades.

For years sex therapists viewed use of porn among consenting adults as benign, or even helpful in enlivening some relationships. But, most counseling experts now agree, for many, things have changed with the advent of a rapidly morphing, more interactive 24/7 online culture. Not only is porn cheap and easily available, sometimes it seems you have to work harder at avoiding it than finding it.

Along with digital ease and availability has come a rapidly changing menu of graphic porn imagery catering to pretty much every fantasy and obscure fetish imaginable, including the exploitation of children. Availability plus explicit imagery – often intertwined with violence – has left many pornography experts and family therapists befuddled and concerned.

“Some of the stuff out there, I mean, even I wouldn’t publish it,” reports one pornography expert.

And just who is this squeamish critic? None other than “Hustler” publisher and porn king Larry Flynt.

When Larry Flynt, whose name is on a precedent setting Supreme Court free speech case, is worried that should snare everyone’s attention.

Pornography is no longer your dad’s closet stash of old “Play Boy” magazines. Where porn used to be static imagery indulged in furtively, it is now graphic, active streaming video capable of lighting up more portions of the brain. Many users describe a kind of “rush” or “high” when watching pornography. They also report needing more and different kinds of porn as, with drug addiction, tolerance builds. Many report cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Addiction specialists and neuroscientists have found online and other forms of video porn producing a drug like effect on both body and mind of many porn viewers.

Research shows pornographic imagery ignites pleasure centers of the brain, triggering release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, an essential element of drug highs and sexual euphoria, along with other pleasurable chemicals like adrenaline, endorphins, testosterone and serotonin. What’s especially troubling is that with porn focused sexual climax the “love” hormones oxytocin and vasopressin – chemical aids to bonding and falling in love – are released. Therapists are finding increasing numbers of marriages and relationships stressed and broken by the ever available, ever compliant, ever imaginative – and never demanding – pixel mistress of pornography.

We view pornography addiction as a process addiction, like gambling, compulsive shopping or self mutilation; even though no substance is ingested, brain function is altered by behavior to produce a kind of high. Certainly not every viewer of pornography becomes an addict, and there are, to be certain, varying degrees of porn. But one thing is perfectly clear; given the emerging available everywhere digital nature of our world, porn is now an out and very common element of the culture in which our children grow.

As a perfect projection of the cultural mindset, some video game story lines geared to adolescent boys, like “Grand Theft Auto”, weave together violence with pornographic tones and sub-plots. In a recent survey 19% of teens engage in “sexting” – the sending of sexually revealing or explicit self snapshots by cell phone – which has caused all kind of headaches for courts, schools and families. A United Kingdom study of 1,000 13-16-year-olds found them cruising online porn sites an average hour and forty minutes a week.

So is banning pornography the answer? Good luck. My guess is the virtuous citizens of Pompeii were scrubbing the walls trying to eliminate the stuff way back in 79 AD. No, the answers are many and far more complex.

I am a firm believer in the old maxim: “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree.” To find answers adults must first look to themselves. The spreading prevalence of pornography and the embedding of highly sexualized “soft-core porn” messages and imagery in advertising and mass media is not created and funded by over sexed, pimply faced adolescent boys with more imagination than experience. And the kids certainly aren’t pocketing the profits. No, the reduction of humans to sexual commodities is done by adults and that can’t help but taint a child’s growing awareness of their own sexuality. When seen within the context of the larger culture Sexting is no surprise; it’s an outgrowth of the larger culture.

Fathers, and all men, need to speak out against pornography through their personal example and advocacy. For a great resource on how fathers can be an active, positive role in the lives of their daughters check out Joe Kelly’s book, “Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand and Support Your Daughter”. His website is a great resource to add to your favorites list.

The number one resource a child has is the quality of the relationship between the parents. If pornography has already fractured your relationship your children are impacted and you need help. Nationally recognized sex and relationship counselors Wendy and Larry Maltz’s book, “The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography”, is coming out in paperback this month.

A web source that can be helpful for couples is

Finally, and this will trigger letters I am sure, teens need age appropriate, useful sex education that includes not just the biology but a truthful assessment of interventions – including, but certainly not limited to, abstinence education. They also need the gift of frank discussion, geared to their developmental level, of course, about healthy, safe sexuality and the formation and nurturance of loving relationships.

Of course before that can occur adults in America need to get their act together. At some point soon, let us hope we can come to that realization because when teens are sexting indecent photos of themselves back and forth, they are also showing us our own image. And, really, it ain’t a pretty picture.

Mark L. Taylor MA LPC SAC is a Wisconsin licensed counselor who works extensively with adolescents and their families. He also founded the RoundRiver Institute LLC, a learning center near Genoa, WI. Permission is granted for personal use of this material. If you pass it on to other individuals please include a link back to this page. If you wish to use it in a newsletter or publication please contact Mark at:

© Mark L. Taylor and RoundRiver Institute LLC