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My Child Has Been Exposed to Porn: 5 Critical Truths You Need to Know

Last Updated: October 30, 2020

Carl Stewart

Carl Stewart is the author of the Amazon Kindle bestseller, The Porn Antidote: God’s Secret Weapon for Crushing Porn’s Grip, and Creating the Life and Marriage You Dream Of. Carl is a counselor and coach in an overflowing private practice where he works with men and marriages devastated by pornography and sexual addiction. He has advanced training and supervision in Emotionally Focused Therapy–the most empirically validated marital therapy which is uniquely suited to restoring marriages affected by sexual betrayal. Carl is a speaker at men’s events, marriage retreats, and parenting seminars. Check out Carl Stewart’s website and blog at www.thepornantidote.com.

Have you had the horrifying experience of discovering your child is looking at pornography? Are you terrified your kids will be exposed to porn?

All too often I receive calls and emails from parents who just found out their child has been looking at pornography. The parents feel shocked, scared, angry, and disappointed all at the same time. You can hear the desperation in their question: “What do I do!?”

Here are five things you need to know if your child has found pornography:

No Shaming

No matter how shocked, upset, or disappointed you are–thou shalt not shame them!

Shame is toxic. Shame drives addictions. Shame communicates “you are bad,” instead of conviction, which says “what you did is bad.”

Your child may have grown up in a solid home where morals are taught and modeled. Your house may have already been infected by porn and the pain of another person being affected is tearing you apart. No matter what–do not shame them!

You may want to scream”How could you do this?!” or berate them for not being a good Christian and doing something “so disgusting.” Do not let those words escape your mouth. If they have, you owe your child a heartfelt apology…today.

Shaming drives home the message that “I am bad.” Hearing this from someone you love, whose opinion is so deeply valued, drives every message–both good and bad–deeper into their heart.

If you believe you’re bad, you will do what bad people do. It really is that simple. “Bad people” do what they know is wrong, and they keep going back to it. It’s a hopeless state when you believe you are bad.

Dealing with shame is always a core part of the healing process. Make sure you don’t sow seeds of shame into your child’s heart and mind. If you have, make it right before the sun goes down.

If you only recall one thing from this article, make it this point: no shaming.

Pornography Shocks the Brain

Sexually explicit images are designed to fry your neurological circuits in exciting, overwhelming, confusing, and secretive ways. A powerful cocktail of chemicals are released in the brain causing the images to be quickly encoded in long-term memory.

This guilty pleasure begs to be concealed and savored alone in the dark. Hiding and being secretive adds to the danger and excitement, which drives the impact of pornography even deeper.

Proverbs 9:17 says “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!”

The men I work with continually teach me how secrecy around finding and viewing pornography strengthens their bondage to porn.

Age plays a role here. Once a child hits puberty, their brain is ready to process sexual information. Their brain and hormones are ready to begin dealing with these issues.

Before puberty (age 12 for boys, 10/11 for girls), their brains aren’t ready to process sexual information. Exposure to sexually explicit material before puberty is even more confusing and overwhelming.

Pornography at these ages is more shocking and confusing than being exposed during puberty. Intense sexual arousal, shock from what has been seen, and an inherent sense that they should not tell anyone creates fertile ground for sexual addiction.

The guys I work with who were exposed to pornography before puberty describe it this way: “I didn’t know what to do with what I saw, but I knew I liked it and I shouldn’t tell anyone. I’ve been hiding it ever since.”

Related: 5 Reasons Porn Impacts Kids More Than Adults

They Need Help Processing What They Saw

Processing what your child has seen helps “un-shock” the brain. Putting into words what was seen and what it felt like physically and emotionally helps the brain put the pieces together and calm down.

When your brain is overwhelmed it loses the capacity to make sense of your experience and encode it in a way that can be readily used in the future. Think of being in shock after a car wreck. The whole experience becomes an emotional blur.

Processing the visual, physical, and emotional experience allows the brain to organize and contain the intensity of the experience. Doing this in the context of a loving relationship with a parent is like a healing salve.

Having this conversation with your child is critical, but terribly uncomfortable for both of you.

Typically, your son or daughter wants to do anything but discuss the sexually explicit images they have seen. (Think of the Southwest Airlines commercials, “Need to get away?”)

Some keys for having this type of conversation:

  • Let them know they will not be in trouble for telling you what they viewed. It has to be safe for them to talk without retribution.
  • Ask them to describe what they saw. If they are too embarrassed or ashamed, then you describe what you know they viewed, or what you suspect they viewed. “I’m guessing you saw naked people doing things that were pretty shocking..”
  • Be specific without being graphic. Acknowledge they saw adults having sex vs graphic details about what the adults were doing.
  • Keep your composure. Your child needs to know you can handle anything they tell you–and you won’t freak out. You can freak out later. Your child needs to know that you can stay connected no mater what.

The Porn Industry Targets Young Children

You read that correctly. The pornography industry knows if they can get kids hooked early, they have a lifetime customer. Like the crack dealer that says, “The first one is free,” unwitting children are thrust into a world they aren’t prepared to handle.

What do I mean by “targeting” children? Porn distributors use domain names that are incredibly similar to characters from children’s shows. Think Barny.com versus Barney.com. One link takes you to an annoying purple dinosaur. The other plunges you into the world of “adult entertainment.”

This explains why the average age of first exposure to pornography is eight years old. At this age many kids still believe in Santa Claus. This is virtual molestation.

Pay Attention to Their Online Activity

You must check your children’s online history and install protective filtering and accountability services on all the devices they use. It’s no longer about “trusting” your kids–it’s about protecting them.

You wouldn’t drop your 8-year-old off in the middle of the Bronx and “hope” they are ok. Your child has access to an unfiltered and dangerous world online–with packs of predators looking for access to naive children.

Some healthy fear is appropriate as a parent.

I know this is pretty heavy, so how about some good news.

If your child has been exposed to pornography, there is hope. By processing what has happened with them it not only helps “unshock” the brain, it strengthens your relationship with them.

Your relationship with your son or daughter is a powerful antidote to porn’s poison. When they know they can come to you with anything and you can handle it, their world becomes safer, and they feel loved in a whole new way.

An Ounce of Prevention

What can you do to prepare your kids for a sexualized society?

Teach them about sex and the human body.

If the average age of first exposure is 8 years old, you need to talk with them about sex before then. They need to hear it from you. They will hear it on the playground, the school bus, and the ball field.

They feel loved and protected if they hear it from you. Child molesters prey on those who are ignorant about these things. These predators groom children by introducing sexual content and keeping it secret from their parents.

Ask them what they have seen and what kids are talking about.

(Remember: no freaking out.) Hiding amplifies shame. Get into their world and listen, this takes the power out of the secrets.

If you haven’t checked your kids devices for a while (including texts), do it today. If you haven’t told your kids how much you love them, and that they can tell you anything, do it today.

What they won’t tell you, or even realize in the moment, is they feel loved and protected when you check on them and ask questions. Don’t let their rolling eyes fool you.

  • Comments on: My Child Has Been Exposed to Porn: 5 Critical Truths You Need to Know
    1. Michael on

      If you really want to know the truth, porn never cause any of my problems. Being conservative and listening to religion and treating women well cause all my problems. First, I had hang ups about sex due to all the guilt that religions plant in you. Then, the nicer you treat a woman the worse they treat you. This isnt just for me. It is for a ton of guys I know. I finally learned the truth in my 30s. Just dont give a damn about them really. Then, you will have more women than you can imagine. Women treat the nicest guys the worst. Especially, when women are young they do this. When they are young and cute, they think the world bows before them. It is not until they get older and can no longer use their looks that they begin to appreciate the great guys, but by then, we are so jaded and frankly, tired of them. I am in my 40s now and very very very happy I am not married. Yes, marriage would be nice if you found that one great woman who is nice, laid back, funny, in shape and likes sex, but those women are very very very few and far between.

      Guilt from religion and putting up with the nonsense of women is what causes problems. Not porn. Any most every guy knows this and if they say it isnt so, they are lying through their teeth.

      Reply
      • Chris McKenna on

        Hi Michael – it sounds like you have experienced some relational hurt. And, maybe have received some harsh judgment from religion. I’m sorry about both of those things if they are true. It sounds like you watch porn (just based on your first sentence). If both religion and putting up with the nonsense of women causes problems, what have you learned about women as a result of watching porn? Has it benefitted you and how you view others? I’m genuinely curious to know.

        Peace, Chris

      • Carl on

        No matter the source- shame is toxic. Too often religion piles shame on with no hope of relief. In my experience, porn is a place lots of guys go to hide from shame, to feel wanted by the woman on the screen, or to feel in control. At some point, porn can become a problem in and of itself.
        Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

      • christina on

        Have you ever considered that you are attracted to the wrong kind of women? Think about these “terrible” women you constantly get hurt by, and find the connections. What things about them are similar? By making these connections, you can change who you seek after.
        Is God first in your life? Have you prayed to ask him to show you your mate?
        I get so tired of the “nice guys finish last” balony. It’s an excuse, because there are PLENTY of us wonderful women who love nice guys and don’t treat them like dirt… we usually just don’t have a ‘high maintenance ‘ image, a 36/28/32 body, and blonde hair. There are plenty of good, Christian women out there. Ask God to give you yours, and leave your expectations out of it.

      • Regina on

        Your answer was just what I nedeed. It’s made my day!

    2. restored on

      I grew up in a home where I was taught to bounce my eyes. I was first exposed to porn when I was 8 or 9, but I bounced my eyes. I got addicted to porn when I was 14 and it had nothing to do with my early exposure to porn.

      All my life the media has told me that sex is only about pleasure. When I was old enough for the church to tell me about sex all I ever heard from them was that sex was about pleasure and to reserve it for marriage. This meshed so well with what the world said for me it was inevitable that I got addicted to porn. When I was 26 or so someone gave me the book “The Crooked Stick” by marcie aiken. In her book she said that God made sex to bring two people closer than anything else could. It opened my eyes and really opened the door for me to step away from porn. God’s word constantly describes sex as knowing one another. I believe if I grew up hearing about the bond sex makes instead of how great, fun, pleasurable, awesome it is I would never have gotten addicted to porn.

      Reply
    3. Ana on

      Thanks for this. I think it’s a very good response to this situation, as well as in the event of (child) sex abuse. I really wished someone did this for me, and that I learned about what sex is meant to be, not the abuse I learned instead. Pornography was a part of it, too. The bit about “virtual molestation” is absolutely right.

      Reply
    4. Vicki Schupp on

      Here’s what I don’t understand. Why aren’t there some kind of laws regarding exposing minors to pornography? I’ve known of parents who introduced dirty magazines or rented them dirty movies as young as age 9. If this is harmful to the young, still forming brain, then why can’t the adult be held responsible for such harm? Or say when a teenager has a stash of porn hidden, make the parent responsible for it. As long as they are a minor, hold the parent accountable too.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        In many states, deliberately exposing a child to pornography is part of the definition of child abuse. However, the system that holds adults responsible for all types of child abuse is extremely overloaded, and it depends upon reporting from the community. If you know of these types of incidents, please do report to your state child safety board. Usually you can do this anonymously online, or there are abuse report phone lines you can use.

    5. Joeyslaptop on

      I once found an ad on Craigslist for a good Christian couple looking for another good Christian couple to experiment with sexually. It hit me pretty hard at that moment that the pleasure involved in sex could be converted into an addictive drug to destroy relationships and sacred covenants and vows made between a couple and God. That blinding moment when the will to instant gratification and carnal pleasure can override someone’s will to something so much greater and more precious like a marriage filled with virtue, trust, fidelity and true love. It’s literally the most heart-breaking thing I have ever witnessed. It drove me to my knees in prayer for these people and for God to never let me get to a place like that. And I got a sincere answer directly from God in a still small voice that pieced my soul to the core: “Don’t seek out pornography and turn away if you ever see it. Resist the allure.”

      Seeing porn by accident, at least for a guy like me, is like somebody sneaking up to me and injecting me with drugs or like being forced to second-hand smoke marijuana against my will. And it’s completely legal or governed by law that goes completely unenforced.

      So when I found out my child had seen it, we had the talk privately right then. We talked about the biological aspects of sex, how it bonds two people together in a way that expresses God’s greatest love for us, and how pornographers use it as a drug to destroy relationships, families, and lives – and to drive an addiction that can become a literal disability to you.

      I let him know that it’s glamorized, distorts reality, and emphasizes only the pleasure and fantasy of sex – and sometimes promotes violence and other types of sexual abuse in the process. God let’s you feel guilt as a warning so that you know that it isn’t good for you.

      He got the full facts of life, and I let him know that I love him and that he can come talk to me when he sees it again, which will possibly happen, and we can discuss it and that I won’t embarrass him or be angry.

      Reply
    6. Chuck on

      I was exposed to porn at a young age (6 or 7) when I found my dad’s Playboy and Hustler magazines. By the time I was a teen my ideas of sex were far from normal, and once the internet became commonplace I had access to every fetish imaginable. Solomon had a thousand wives, I had my porn. That’s how I’d justify it.

      Never thought it was a problem until I got married. For years I dreamed of a woman who’d satisfy all my desires, instead I got the woman God wanted for me. Sex was bland, boring, terrible. Instead of bringing us together, sex was a wedge that drove us apart. I dreaded the thought of it and hated my wife.

      That is the power of pornography. It’s sole purpose is to destroy; it is satanic in every conceivable way.

      Men, keep a journal of every time you view porn. Write down any triggers that come to mind (ie, a dream the night before, a few too many drinks, a hot girl in the office, etc). See how many days go by between sessions, which days of the week are hot spots. What at first seemed to be insurmountable may in fact come down to a problem every Sunday night after a couple beers. Learn when you’re most likely to fail, then be on guard.

      Remember men, it’s not about you. It’s about destroying your life, your marriage, your children, and your relationship with God. Stand firm and take back what is yours. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

      Reply
      • Dan Armstrong on

        Wonderful advice here, Chuck. Thanks so much for sharing.

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