Q: … What will you do when you find your son looking at porn on the Internet? — G.C., Houston
A: OK, so you’ve busted your adolescent son surfing the Internet for porn. Last week, when I began discussing this issue, my essential message was encouraging parents to “connect” with their son in his emerging sexuality, to normalize his desire and his curiosity. The message? — You’re OK. You’re not alone. Nothing is wrong with you.
But that’s not the whole message. There’s more. I wrote last week about the “necessary bridle” on male sexuality that is required if men are to be ultimately whole and happy. Just because it’s good and normal to be embroiled by sexual desire and curiosity does not mean it’s a good idea to indulge and inflame every random desire and curiosity.
So parents set limits, and communicate without ado the reason for those limits. We teach our values, and communicate our commitment to defend those same values. No drama. No moralizing. No Hollywood mea culpa for our failure to be proactive about the ready temptations of the Internet. Nor, conversely, do we indict or shame the boy. Competent parents simply make the necessary moves to assure that their boy’s Web access is both limited and monitored.
But what are our values? I can only tell you my own …
Adolescent boys don’t have the developmental wherewithal to cope with the raw, uninterpreted power of pornography (in Latin, literally “pictures of prostitutes”). Please note the phrase “uninterpreted power.” Modern brain research tells us that visual imagery is wired directly to our “third brain,” our “reptilian brain,” the most instinctual part of our brain. This brain has the least ability — and the least need — to interpret sensory input. It responds in sheer biological instinct.
Eyes dilate. Blood pressure up. I’m ready for you, darlin’! Men are very simple machines.
Raw visual imagery, by biological definition, quickly invites a reduction of human beings to objects and acts. Great if you’re OK with that, but I’m convinced that a truly human sexuality calls us to more. I want my sons to contain and express their sexuality in a recognition that human beings are more than the mere sum of their instincts, more than just a collection of behaviors. There are persons attached to those body parts.
This absence of interpretive capacity is why color photography of nudes or sex acts tends to be problematic for human wholeness. It’s just too literal. Not so for a sculpted nude, an erotic painting, skillfully written erotic literature or black-and-white photography. These things are not so much seen as they are interpreted. And reality, including sexual reality, must be interpreted if it is to yield meaning and have the chance therefore to become truly human.
I want my children to have access to sexuality as a deeply human reality, not a mere animal fact. Which means I must be about the business of surrounding them with experiences, images, symbols and narratives that invite, provoke and even demand interpretation.
The nurture and development of interpretive capacity is the reason that, from birth, I have touched my children so much. It’s why they have always been surrounded by music, crayons, Play-Doh, messy fingerpaints and watercolors. It’s why we play make-believe. It’s why I read them folk and fairy tales when they were little, and why I “accidentally” put their mom’s Victoria’s Secret catalog under their pillow at age 14 (oh yikes, here comes the mail).
Pornography excites, yes, but confuses and overwhelms the as yet “undeveloped self” of an adolescent. At best, it imprints ideas about men, women and sexuality that are artificial and inaccurate. At worst, it habituates a young man to a less-than-respectful view of himself and of women. It arouses, leaks and drains energy better contained and channeled in service to the emergence of an authentic manhood.
Porn isn’t good for kids. My sons know I think that and why I think that. In time, they’ll hear stories of my own tail-chasing struggles in that quicksand.
They know I’m sad for the burgeoning numbers of men in America who sit mesmerized before the glow of a computer monitor at 2 a.m. when those same men should be upstairs making love to their wives.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.