What’s Your Holiday Technology Plan?

From about the age of 9 or 10, I spent most of my school holidays at home with my brother.  Mum and Dad were at work and we had the run of the house.  My brother spent pretty much every day of the school holidays on the family computer (we only had one for the family from a young age until I moved out).  He played Command & Conquer and Diablo and Starcraft.  He downloaded songs from Napster.  We only had dial-up internet and so our ability to look at inappropriate content was pretty minimal.  And only one of us could use it at a time.

It might not be that long ago that we were home alone by ourselves during the holidays but the times have certainly changed.  We’ve got internet at speeds that were unimaginable 15 years ago.  We’ve got devices that lived only in the realm of sci-fi 15 years ago.  The internet is filled with all manner of content that can be viewed anonymously and freely.  And our kids are more tech-savvy than most of us ever were.

So, do you have a plan for technology in your homes these holidays?  What devices can your children use unsupervised?  When can they use them?  Will they have free reign of Netflix? YouTube? Social Media? How much screen time are they allowed each day?

If you’re a parent and regularly leave your kids at home by themselves over the holidays, it would be really wise to have a plan to set boundaries about what your kids are able to do and what they are allowed to do.  Without this, you allow your children free and full access to all kinds of material.  

You might think: “My kids wouldn’t look at that stuff!”  In fact, many parents think along that line and are then shocked to discover their child is regularly viewing porn.  But when you consider how widespread porn use is among young people these days, it shouldn’t be that surprising.  If they’re in high school they’ve most likely seen porn (at least inadvertently), and many of them are watching it several times each week.

Considering how easy it is to access porn online these days, and how many devices we have in our homes, our kids need help navigating this world.  

So firstly, what are your kids able to do?  That is, are you protecting them from the vast range of harmful material that is available online?  Have you got some sort of filtering set up at home?  OpenDNS is a great option for this.  You may want to set up Google safe search so that your child won’t inadvertently get some adult images when searching for pictures or videos of cats!  You may want to look at the parental and safety settings for each of your devices.  Do you have passwords for the Netflix accounts with clear settings established for your kids?  We need to ensure our kids are protected from adult content.

Secondly, what are your kids allowed to do?  This question is one for parents to decide for themselves. But it would be worthwhile considering what technology you’ll allow your children to use and for how long.  Be mindful of too much screen time over the holidays.  Be mindful of teenagers spending hours alone in their rooms with their devices.  Consider what content they are allowed to watch on Netflix or YouTube.

Lastly, make sure you’re talking to your kids about the fun and dangers that are lurking online.  Encourage them to talk to you when they see something adult online.  Talk to them about the boundaries you establish.  Work with them but make sure you have the final say.

The internet is a wonderful thing.  But it’s also dangerous.  Like many good things (words, food, wine, cars) it can be used for our joy and good or it can be used for our harm.  And sometimes we are naive as to what is out there and what our kids are looking at.  No parent wants to put their children in a situation where they can be harmed.  No decent parent would take their child to an adult sex shop or brothel.  But we need to realise that when we have no boundaries around technology we are allowing our children free access to unlimited pornographic material.  We wouldn’t do that in the physical world, so why would we in the digital world?    

If you want more on the nitty gritty of setting up something of these boundaries at home, check out the ‘for parents’ page.  It will give you all the info you need to help protect your kids so that they enjoy technology safely.



Should We Show Porn At School?

I once heard a story about a rugby coach from my high school showing the rugby team some porn on the bus trip back to school.  I guess they played well and he wanted to reward them?  Today it would be a sackable offence, but back then I guess it wasn’t such a big deal.  

This week, Dame Jenni Murray (a journalist and broadcaster from the UK) has publicly advocated for showing pornography to students in schools. But unlike that rugby coach, she isn’t just trying to reward the boys; she has an educational argument.

Her rationale is simple.  She says that we need to help young people analyse pornography so as to minimise its educational power.  She argues that sex education that simply focuses on biology and plumbing is failing our students.  Just as we analyse Jane Austen, so too we should analyse pornography, considering its power and ubiquity.

Now, to lay my cards on the table, I think the idea of showing students pornography is unwise in the highest order.  Perhaps Dame Jenni Murray is giving an extreme suggestion to make a point.  Either way, to show porn to minors is illegal in Australia, and we teachers (most days) would like to keep our jobs and our freedom.

However, I don’t think we should throw away everything she says.

Firstly, she’s right when she argues that sex education that is simply about plumbing is failing our students.  She’s right when says that pornography is a powerful teacher that needs to be countered.  And she’s right that we need to help students analyse the pornography we watch.

So if we’re not going to sit down in class and analyse porn, what can we do?

Here are a few suggestions.

We can talk about porn.  Finding appropriate ways within the life of a pastoral or well-being program to sit and talk about porn would help many young people.  Sure, it’s not as simple as sitting down and talking about it, but open conversation brings something hidden into the light.  We can also talk about it in PDH/PE classes and religious education classes.

We can equip students to analyse the porn they watch.  We don’t need to watch and analyse porn in the classroom with them, but schools can, in a range of subject areas, teach their students to critically analyse the media they watch.  They can pull apart other types of media, and be challenged to apply the same critical mind to pornography, and see if they agree with the message.  We can teach skills in critical analysis regarding the images that portray gender and relationships so that they are equipped to be critical of the message of pornography.

We can teach students about the harms of pornography, especially when consumed habitually.  Helping students understand the harms will help them to consider their own behaviour.

So before we consider breaking the law and watching porn with minors, there is a multitude of things we can do in our schools to help young people make healthy choices for their own well-being.



Porn & ‘I Want That One’

One of the things that most humans are good at is looking at something we don’t have and wanting it for ourselves.  We want to own what other people own.  We want to have the skills and abilities of others.  And boy, do we want to look like other people.  Like Andy in Little Britain, we look at others and say in our hearts, ‘I want that one’.

We compare ourselves to others and rate ourselves in the light of others.  And while some men have the innate ability to look at themselves in the mirror and be mightily impressed with whatever they see (I mean, shower + deodorant = looking good), for many women, the world of comparison is crippling.  On the one hand, it’s normal and we all do it.  But as my Mum once said, just because everybody is throwing deer poo at each other, doesn’t mean it is good for us or even a good idea in general.  Wise lady, my Mum. 

One of the effects of porn upon young women in our society is seen in the rise of requests for cosmetic surgery of the inner labia, which is part of the female genitals.  An article in the Huffington Post recently noted that 35% of GP’s surveyed (443 were surveyed) had had requests from young women for this kind of surgery.

Another recent article also noted that between 2000 & 2011 Medicare claims for vulvoplasty and labiaplasty nearly tripled.  To be fair, some of these procedures were medically necessary, but many of them were simply cosmetic.

These doctors noted the increased practice of women getting a Brazilian wax has played a part in this, along with pornography.  Young girls see images of naked women and compare themselves.  They then begin to believe that their own genitals aren’t normal, not realising that there is variation in how people look.

Combined with this is the reality that young men also have the belief that a woman’s genitals should look like the women in pornography, and they expect all women to look the same.  

So now we’ve just added another thing that young women are worrying about when it comes to their appearance...as if there weren’t enough reasons already.  In fact, one of the articles mentioned a young woman whose boyfriend refused to have sex with her until she got surgery.  

So what do we do?  I write a lot about the educative power of pornography.  And I think that it is this aspect of pornography that needs to be powerfully countered.  

Young women need to be educated about their bodies in ways that are healthy and honest.  Maybe it’s older women talking to younger women.  Maybe mums need to have more awkward chats with their daughters.  Maybe sexual education needs to include single-sex classes that show young women that ‘normal’ doesn’t mean ‘porn actor’ and in fact, has a broad range.  Maybe we need to get graphic in a clinical kind of way.  

Maybe young men need something similar to help them understand how pornography isn’t a real depiction of real women.

For any women reading this, please know that any man who expects your genitals to look like what he sees in pornography is not worth your time.  He will likely remain a very lonely man-boy.

At the end of the day, we all want intimacy.  And intimacy is not so much about the specific look of genitals.  It’s about two people seeking the good of each other.  It’s about being vulnerable with another human and finding acceptance.  It’s born out of sacrificial love.  These things are at the heart of healthy and rich intimacy, not designer genitals (it seems so ridiculous even typing these words, but alas, this is the world we live in).

My hope is that young people look at the healthy romantic relationships around them and think ‘I want that one’ rather than airbrushed images of people and think that that is the surefire path to happiness and intimacy.  

Is Your Peep On The Fritz?

There’s this episode of the TV show Scrubs, where the main character JD is having some problems downstairs.  Lil’ JD is not performing like he should and its causing him grief.  In the episode, when he finally shares the problem with Turk and Dr Cox, it puts their problems into clear perspective.  At least they don’t have that problem.

A few years back, I was watching the FIFA world cup, and was struck by this ad that kept being played.  Now, to be fair, it was SBS I was watching and it wasn’t prime time.  But this ad, for medicine that treats ED (erectile dysfunction - or a peep on the fritz…) featured a young man in his twenties with a beautiful woman.  The confusion for me was that I thought these pills were for older men.  But here was a young man, supposedly struggling to get it up.  Surely this company had got its target market wrong.

Here’s what’s going on.  Over the last decade, the number of young men suffering from erectile dysfunction has skyrocketed.  What was once a small percentage of the male population with sexual dysfunction issues has become increasingly common.

For example, a report recently came out that surveyed men in the US Navy, and found a large percentage of these men could not adequately stand to attention (sorry - I know this is a serious issue, but I feel at least one piece of wordplay is warranted).  The article reporting on the study pointed out that whereas 15 years ago only 2-5% of men experienced ED, the number has now risen to 30%.  These scientists reported an increase of 1000% in the number of reported cases.  

So is there something in the water?  Are men simply increasingly lacking in libido?  Are the men in the US Navy so stressed by their jobs that its impacting upon their sexual health?

One prominent theory that is backed up by this particular study, and others, is that porn is the major contributing factor.  It’s even got a name - porn-induced erectile dysfunction, or PIED for short. 

Here’s how it works: a man who frequently masturbates while watching porn slowly trains his brain to be aroused by porn, and not a real woman.  Over time, he needs increasing levels of more hardcore porn to get aroused, which is a result of porn’s effect on the reward systems of the brain.  This man eventually finds that he can’t gain and maintain an erection without pornography.  Often, upon realising the downtown issue, the man will go back to porn as that is the only time he can get an erection, and so he becomes stuck in a vicious cycle.

At this stage, some guys start taking viagra.  But viagra treats a lack of blood flow often found in older men and it does nothing for the guy whose issue is not the plumbing, but the brain.  

Add to this the complexity of a relationship, and a man will become increasingly frustrated and distanced from his partner.  He'll start to wonder whether he is the problem, or whether she is.  And this is only going to decrease intimacy within a relationship.  And as a man gets increasingly worried, and sexual intimacy becomes increasingly difficult, he will likely go back to porn because it makes him feel good for a fleeting moment and doesn't have the complexity and difficulty of a real-life relationship.  And so things just get worse.

How do you know if this is your problem?  Well, the Navy doctors suggested a simple test.  Men were asked to see if they could masturbate without porn and maintain an erection and orgasm.  It may seem ironic that continued and habitual use of pornography leads to ED, but the scientific and anecdotal evidence is clear.  

But here’s the good news.  When men stop watching porn and masturbating, their normal sexual function improves.  Just as the brain is conditioned to porn, so too can it be conditioned back to a real person.  

Porn by its very nature becomes used compulsively, and when the user is a young male, who already has a hard time exercising self-control on a good day, porn can grab hold of his mind and body and refuse to let go.  No longer can we maintain the idea that porn is harmless fun.  While the thrill for a short time might be real, the effects can be shocking.

So if you’re reading this, and can see some of the symptoms in your own life, maybe it’s time to stop.  And if the symptoms aren’t there just yet, it might be worth asking if your usage has escalated since you started viewing porn.  Because if you’re on a trajectory to watching more porn, more frequently and more compulsively, then you may be headed towards to the same problems as those men in the US Navy. 

If you want to read more why try this article from Robert Weiss, or check out Your Brain On Porn's page on ED and sexual dysfunction.  


No means yes, no?

The ABC published an article on Saturday about the rise of sexual abuse among young people. It came on the back of the horrific story of two 12 year old boys sexually assaulting a six year old girl at a school.  

There's no denying it, sexual assault regularly happens in schools. And this isn't just a problem in secondary schools, it also plagues primary schools too.

The article from the ABC pointed to porn as one of the contributing factors in the rise of sexual assaults in Australia.  In fact, one of the most shocking news quotes was from Joe Tucci, who works with “young people who have engaged in problematic sexual behaviours.”  He said, "What we see now is that pornography is a factor in 100 percent of the cases we see, whereas it used to just account for a small portion of cases 10 years ago."  

So why is pornography a factor in these cases? How can watching other people have sex contribute to sexual coercion and abuse?

One factor may be the violent and aggressive nature of much of the porn that young people are watching. One prominent study found that 88% of scenes from the most popular fifty films in 2010 contained acts of physical violence, with most of these acts committed against women. 

When children watch violent porn, and the actors appear to enjoy aggressive sex, it is no wonder that some may try and imitate.

Even more concerning than this is the way in which much porn treats (or more accurately doesn't) the vital notion of consent.

Much porn that our young people watch tells the story that when a woman says no to a sexual advance she just needs a little more convincing. Push a little more. Touch a little more. And before you know it, she will be sexually aroused and forget all about the fact that she said no several times.

Porn is clearly not the only factor. But it is undeniably part of the problem.

Dr. Michael Flood of Wollongong University has written how porn serves as rape training, as “There is now very substantial evidence that pornography is associated with sexually aggressive and violence-supportive attitudes.” 

Porn's educational power has to be countered by education from parents and schools. Sure, most kids know porn isn't real. Most kids get consent. But even a small minority who don't is a major concern. 

And porn's ability to slowly chip away at the notion of consent should be of great concern in our culture, where the average age of exposure is slowly and surely getting younger. 

Let’s work towards a day when no means no, every time.