Every drama needs a villain and a hero, an enemy and an ally, something to fight against and something to fight for.
The past two Saturdays, we’ve had the opportunity of giving the keynote addresses at two pro-family conferences: the First Lady’s Uplift Families rally in Utah and the Families Fighting Pornography conference in Arizona. Both confabs devoted significant time to warning of and combating pornography in all its forms — a worthy cause to be sure.
But the role we tried to play was not so much about what we are fighting against as it was about what we are fighting for. Because sometimes the best defense is a great offense.
So if porn is the villain and the enemy, what is the hero and the ally? We think it is committed, exclusive, marital fidelity within families. The thing to fight for — the opposite of porn’s darkness — is the beautiful light of intimate, trusting, one-person-for-life kind of sex.
And here is the point for parents: We need to effectively and positively teach our kids about sex before we can effectively and negatively teach them about porn.
It turns out that the most powerful deterrent to pornography and to early, experimental and recreational sex is not the fear-tactic of sexually transmitted diseases or of hurting your brain, but the love-tactic of how ultimately wonderful sex can be at the right time with the right person, and how any other uses and views can dilute and diminish this wonder.
And here is the second and closely related point: In our interaction and communication with our kids about sex, we should always have two goals.
First, help them avoid the dark, dangerous and damaging side, which ranges from addictive porn to promiscuous sexual experimentation.
Second, help them to one day have a full, beautiful, satisfying and unfettered sexual intimacy with their spouse.
If we use too much fear and guilt in pursuing the first goal, we may undermine the second.
Kids are wonderfully idealistic and positive. They resonate to a goal and a vision of saving themselves for a romantic, committed marriage. And not wanting to tarnish or dilute this vision with porn or experimentation makes perfect sense to them.
Of course, we should do all we can to protect our children from porn with everything from Internet filters to frequent communication about it. But we are kidding ourselves if we think we can isolate them from ever glimpsing images or hearing something we would not want them to. It would be like trying to keep a kid well by never allowing him to come in contact with germs.
What we need instead is inoculation! And the best vaccination we know for building up real immunity to porn is a good, clear, positive vision of how wonderful deeply committed marital sex can be.
Telling adolescents not to think about sex is like telling you, right now, not to think about a hippopotamus. (See, what you are thinking about?) But teaching kids how to transform a sexual thought from negative to positive is actually fairly easy. Say something like, “When you see or hear something sexual, just think for a moment how much more beautiful sex will be if you wait until marriage. Until then, look away and get away from anything less beautiful!”
And one final point: Talking to kids about sex in a positive, love-oriented way is much easier than using fear tactics. And when you keep it positive, you can have the “big talk” much earlier. We recommend the eighth birthday. While it may seem counterintuitive, the fact is that the earlier and more frequently parents talk to their kids about sex, the later they will experiment or go to other sources.
We spent a full year of our lives trying to write a clear guide for “How to Talk to Your Child about Sex” which takes the positive, “inoculating” approach. We decided to write it like a dialogue that parents could use with their young kids. You can see it at http://www.valuesparenting.com/talktokids.php.
Bottom line: As parents, we need to fight against the villain of pornography with all our might. But we also need to remember to fight just as hard for the hero of commitment and fidelity.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."