“I have daughters, so I’m not worried.” I’ve heard this rationale over and over again as I’ve talked to parents about protecting children from pornography. I only wish it were true that 50% of our children were completely immune to pornography’s pull. But in fact, studies show that up to one-third of porn viewers are female, so girls may be more vulnerable than we once thought.
Sister Joy D. Jones, General Primary President, warned at a recent conference, “I am concerned that many parents may not yet realize how dangerous pornography really is or may think it’s only a problem for the boy next door. Reality is, this problem is affecting our boys and our girls and we’re not talking about it enough. The good news is that it’s never too late. We can begin today.”
Girls Are Not Immune
Cassy, a straight-A student, college graduate and active LDS member, began her struggle with pornography addiction at age 11 and for the next 10 years struggled alone. Finally, through the help of her bishop, she began the healing process.
In another example, after her parents had given her “the talk,” 8-year-old Carly* looked up the word “sex” on her internet-connected device. Unfortunately, her curiosity led her into the dark world of hard-core porn. Months later her parents were devastated to discover what she’d been viewing.
It’s clear that girls are vulnerable to the pull of pornography. Therapist Jeffrey J. Ford shared this concern with me:
“A lot of people think that girls are safe from pornography, but girls are just as susceptible as boys. In some ways, girls are more at risk because parents and religious leaders assume they aren’t as curious as boys about porn and do nothing to protect them.”
I have found this to be true. When I gathered together a focus group of LDS youth ages 14 to 18, most of the young men showed me their flip phones or said they didn’t have a phone. On the other hand, 100 percent of the young women had smartphones and social media accounts.
► Related content: Talking to Your Daughter about Pornography
What was concerning about this to me is that girls are growing up in a sexualized world that bombards them with confusing messages. Yet, they seem to have the easiest access to information that will exacerbate that confusion.
Jessica Harris, author, speaker, and advocate for women working to recover from pornography’s grasp, explains:
“Already, girls are dealing with twisted messages about love and sex. The increase in sexting reveals they believe they have to exploit themselves in order to gain acceptance, even among their peers. With abusive content being mainstreamed, an aspect of violence is added into that message.”
I recently interviewed women who had struggled with pornography and masturbation addiction. From our discussions, I learned that girls often go to pornography for different reasons than boys do—but still end up entrapped.
For instance, girls may begin an interest in pornography not by looking at videos, but by reading erotic stories such as romance novels and online fan fiction. Cassy encourages parents to realize that,
“Girls can still fall into the trap of pornography simply because they’ve been avoiding only one medium of it. You’ve taught them to stay away from bad pictures, but it’s very possible that your girls are struggling with bad words.”
Another woman I spoke to said that she had become addicted to viewing anime or cartoon porn because it wasn’t as embarrassing as “real” pornography. And one of the reasons she looked at pornography at all was to learn how to be attractive to young men.
If we don’t emphasize the dangers of these other avenues of pornography when teaching our children (especially daughters) and their use of them goes unchecked, ultimately, many young women will escalate to watching pornographic videos—including violent, hard-core material.
5 Ways to Help Girls
So now that you know there is a danger, how can you protect your daughter from pornography? Here are my five top recommendations:
#1. Realize that pornography isn’t just a male problem, it’s a human problem. Use the same protective measures with your daughter as you do with your son. Help her to develop an “internal filter” against pornography from an early age by teaching her what pornography is, why it’s harmful, and how to reject it with a plan when she’s exposed to it.
► Related content: 13 Ways Pornography Leaks into Your Home (and How to Stop It)
#2. Begin sooner than you think to answer questions about sex. Jeffrey J. Ford shares this advice: “The first thing parents and leaders need to understand is that girls are just as sexual as boys.” And they are just as curious. Sister Jones cautioned:
“For some reason, we don’t talk very much to youth and children about one of the strongest urges and biggest temptations they will face. Our reluctance sets them up to be taught primarily by the internet, other children or teenagers, or even Hollywood.”
She then encouraged parents to hold regular conversations with kids, suggesting that we take natural opportunities in the car, at bedtime, or after school to talk with them, and not at them.
I recently worked with an expert to interview several porn addicts, including females. The one thing they all had in common was a lack of education in the home about sexual intimacy and its divine purpose. With so many sexual cues in their environments, kids naturally want to discover what this great mystery of sex is. And if their parents won’t teach them, they now have options to learn about sex from the easily accessible counterfeit on the internet: pornography.
#3. Help your daughters understand that their worth is more than skin deep. Compliment them on their accomplishments or character traits as much or more than their appearance. Girls growing up today face enormous pressure to fit a certain mold of beauty. They may turn to pornography to escape to a fantasy world where they imagine themselves looking “hot” or simply to learn what might be expected of them as adults.
#4. Realize that porn use among girls is both isolating and shaming. A girl caught in a pornography addiction may believe she is a “freak” and the only girl who has this problem. Work to create a safe environment where your daughter can voice her questions and concerns about not only pornography but any sensitive topics without fear of judgment or rejection.
► Related content: What (and What Not) to Say to Someone Struggling with Pornography
#5. If your daughter opens up to you about a problem with pornography, be encouraging and supportive. As Sister Jones taught,
“When children are exposed to pornography and especially when they get caught in its web, they will be embarrassed, frightened, and tearful too. It’s difficult to take something that has been in the dark and expose it to light. It feels shameful and vulnerable. They may have failures and challenges along the way as they recover and heal. Their need for constant love is critical.”
Remember, porn is the enemy, not your daughter.
3 Video Resources for Parents
The Church has produced some excellent video resources for parents. Here are a few of my favorites:
Family Home Evening Lesson: "What Should I Do If I See Pornography." This lesson includes an engaging video by the same name. Many parents have used it to begin discussing the topic of pornography and arming their kids against it.
His Grace—Pornography Addiction: Is There Hope? This short video tells the story of an LDS young woman who struggled with pornography addiction and finally found freedom.
Landscape of the Mind: Addiction Explained. A 10-minute video that explains that addiction is truly a disease of the brain. This video is a great way to helps kids and adults begin to more fully understand this difficult condition.
The girls in your life need protection from pornography as much as the boys do. They need to understand what it is, why it’s harmful, and how to reject it with a plan. And they need to have our support through loving, mentoring relationships.
As parents, grandparents, leaders, and teachers, I pray that we’ll have the wisdom, courage, and compassion to face this problem head on so that our girls and young women won’t have to face it alone. Using our best resources, including the light of the Holy Ghost, we can help our daughters grow up prepared to reject pornography and heal from its destructive wounds.
*Name has been changed