Erika Lust

“The most obvious problem with free mainstream porn is that most of it is misogynistic.”



According to estimates, between 10% and one third of the internet are porn today. Putting a concrete figure on the percentage is tricky, but either way you look at it, one thing is certain: consuming pornographic content is easier than ever – also for adolescents. Knowing this, married couple Erika Lust and Pablo Dobner decided to start ThePornConversation.com, a project aimed at helping parents talk about this tricky topic. We interviewed Erika Lust, who is also a porn director, to learn more about the background of the project and the advice parents can take away from The Porn Conversation.


 

The Porn Conversation is a project that wants to help parents talk with their kids about pornography. Why did you feel that such a project was needed?
Erika Lust: The sad truth of our modern society is that nowadays children are learning about sex not through school, or their parents, but through pornography. And what they’re learning is unrealistic at best, and violently racist, sexist and homophobic at worst. The truth is we have yet to know how mainstream porn is affecting our children. They are the first generation to grow up with smart phones and instant access to the Internet. They are the first generation that does not have to sneak a peek into their father’s secret stash of Playboys but instead merely have to type “sex” into Google out of natural curiosity to be flung head first into a world of free videos and images.

My husband and I have two kids who will likely stumble across porn and we want them to be prepared and have critical thinking. Parents also need to be ready because they can’t have control over what their kids may see online.

Which problems could arise when teenagers watch porn without the proper education?
First of all, porn gives boys an amazingly unrealistic picture of female desires. When teens don’t have other sources for sex education, there is the danger that they copy behaviours, that they are influenced by it and porn often gives teens unrealistic expectations about how to look and act. The most obvious problem with free mainstream porn is that most of it is misogynistic. It perpetuates the idea that women exist as pleasure objects without any sexual agency, that they are and should be constantly readily available for sex without question and it normalises degrading or violent behaviour towards women. Besides, most porn doesn’t teach women nor men how to communicate their needs and desires and it can also teach girls to depend on men for pleasure or to prioritize a partner’s pleasure over her own.

Erika Lust and Pablo Dobner

Erika Lust and Pablo Dobner are the creators of The Porn Conversation

Mainstream porn is also damaging in terms of race, gender and sexuality. It is divided into categories that perpetuate racial stereotyping and racist separatism. “Regular” porn is always between white men and women, and anything outside of that is subjugated into fetishised categories. So not only are young men and women learning about sex in a completely unrealistic and violent manner, they are being taught that being attracted to a black woman is fetishistic and unusual. The same happens with gay and lesbian and queer pornography in general.

It usually also divorces sex from emotions, particularly those of kindness, respect and love while at the same time it is seen as a dirty thing cut off from the rest of life. It can confuse teens about how sex connects with sensuality and relationships. It can be damaging because it separates sex from emotions and it is left in a dark corner as it did not exist. That leads to the thought of sex and porn being a dirty thing and a taboo that can leave them with a sense of shame.

It’s almost unavoidable that teenagers come across porn on the internet. How should parents react when they notice that their kids are watching porn?
Since porn is a massive part of a teen’s understanding of sex, and yet it presents all these problems, we as parents have the responsibility to help them to think critically about it. So even if it’s uncomfortable to talk about pornography it must be addressed and we must never show negativity.

It’s key when you talk to your teens about sex and porn that you encourage understanding rather than just telling them not to watch it – because if you do that, they’ll never talk to you about it. You should let them know porn isn’t real sex and it is not a guide to sex. It’s people performing and it’s nothing like what sex is actually like. Tell them women and men are hairy – they have pubic hair (even if they don’t see it in porn) and it’s totally normal. Emphasise that contrary to what they have seen women should not be expected to perform sex acts in exchange for anything and emphasise the difference between healthy porn and unhealthy porn.

“So even if it’s uncomfortable to talk about pornography it must be addressed and we must never show negativity.”

We should always end the talk with some positivity letting them know they can always ask us doubts they have about porn and sex and letting them know it’s completely normal that they want to watch sex and to learn but that there are other more reliable ways to do so. When they offer their opinions, we should also listen non-judgmentally and talk to them if they’re disturbed by what they’ve seen. They need to trust you and see you are not angry at them.

Which kind of support do you offer on your website?
We think that prohibition and shame is not the answer, instead we believe in education and conversation and we are campaigning for more equipped and alert young beings. In order for parents to be prepared, the website so far has three in-depth guides that are age specific for parents to download to encourage them and guide them through having The Talk with their kids and teens; as well as an ever-growing collection of resources like articles and videos. In the future, we want to add a space for parents to engage with each other and share stories too and we are already talking with renowned sexologists that will contribute with their expertise to the resources section.

We think that prohibition and shame is not the answer, instead we believe in education and conversation and we are campaigning for more equipped and alert young beings.”

Why is it so important for parents to teach and talk rather than to criticise their children?
Because we all want our kids to be happy, right? We want them to have the best life possible. Does this not include their sexual future? As Cindy Gallop stated recently “This area (porn) will impact your child’s happiness more than any other for the rest of their lives” and she is absolutely right. Our kids and teens eyes are inexperienced and can misinterpret the sexual situations in porn as realistic. We want our kids to grow up respecting themselves and each other, avoiding dangerous situations and maintaining an idea that their bodies are their own, any sexual involvement should be by mutual consent and that they should never feel pressured to perform sex.

But at the same time that sex is a beautiful thing and they should not be ashamed for feeling desire, lust and sexual drives. Too often, when we talk with young kids and teens, we talk about the dangers of sexual behaviour, and we leave out the positive feelings. They also need to hear from us about the pleasure besides the responsibility of sexuality.

When is the best time to talk with kids about pornography?
The sooner the better. Some sources say boys are discovering porn at an average age of 14; others place it at as young as 11. Some researchers encountered multiple examples of children stumbling across pornographic imagery or being shown it by older friends when they were as young as 9 or 10. Last week an Austrian journalist told me they were already having an issue in her children’s school with pornography being watched by kids on their smartphones. Their kids were 7!

The truth is we can know for sure kids will first encounter porn before they are of the age of consent, and far before it’s legal. Which is long before many parents and schools are even thinking about sexual education! To make matters worse, sexual education does not include the porn talk!

 In her films, Erika Lust breaks away from the typical porn stereotypes

In her films, Erika Lust breaks away from the typical porn stereotypes

Kids and teens may already be developing the wrong ideas about sexuality and gender roles, on a seemingly safe site like Youtube, where you and your kids probably spend a lot of time. They will definitely be exposed to porn which will make it worse so the sooner we talk to them and educate them the better. You really don’t want your kids to learn anything about gender, sex or sexuality by watching what they see in porn Tubes, right?

Why do parents still find it hard to talk about sexuality with their children?
Explaining sex and sexuality to kids can feel like a minefield for parents. Some parents prefer to talk about the fears and disasters rather than the positive aspects of sexual life since many probably think that if they talk to their kids about sex, it will translate into encouraging early or inappropriate sexual behaviour; into becoming sexually active too soon.

Some others might carry sexual shame and they don’t want to talk about something related to sexual pleasure. Maybe they’re highly religious. Maybe they’re conservative and they just have very specific and poignant opinions about sex… Who knows! The important thing is that they make an effort and do it! Regardless they want it or not they kids are going to be exposed to mainstream porn, so they have to react accordingly and do their best job as parenting.

In your view, what should be the role of institutions such as schools?
Many parents don’t discuss mature topics as sex with their sons and daughters so sex education in school is essential. Schools should ensure that sexuality is understood as an essential, lifelong aspect of being human, and that it is celebrated with respect, openness, and mutuality. There should be age-appropriate sex education programs at school tackling basics to culture of consent, respect and emotions as well as pornography in my opinion.

Take Denmark for instance. Sex education is required in every school. Most schools teach an entire week of lessons about sexual health and relationships. Statistically, Denmark has a very low rate of teen pregnancy, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections. By discussing sex and demystifying it, they are reducing the potential consequences of early sexual experiences!

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