Near the end of my college career, I was living with a close friend. As we sat in the kitchen one night she said, “Sierra, I used to be addicted to pornography.”
I was floored.
I knew pornography was a problem, but I thought it was a male problem. And I know I’m not alone in this assumption. So much of what we hear about pornography focuses on protecting our sons, but pornography also affects our daughters—we can’t ignore that anymore.
During the four months my friend and I lived together, we had many, many conversations about her addiction, and I realized why I didn’t think porn affected girls.
Pornography targeted at men is easier to pick out than pornography targeted at women because it is almost always visual.
Girls who are addicted to pornography usually start with printed words. And it can start out so innocently: a romance novel, fan-created spin-offs of her favorite books or TV shows, and other ways that might be hard to detect. This reading material creates feelings that those new to these stories are unfamiliar with, but these feelings eventually begin to be accepted, and later, even become enjoyable. When the desire to experience these feelings increases, as with other addictive experiences, readers seek out more intense forms of pornography to get the same sense of gratification. This isn’t an “if your daughter’s addiction progresses” situation. Because she will become desensitized, and once her addiction starts, it will progress.
I don’t say any of this to scare you; if you want to win the battle, it is essential you know what you’re up against. So how do you help your daughters avoid pornography? How do you make sure they know what to do when they come across it? Here are five things you can do, starting today:
· Talk about it. Part of the pornography problem stems from curiosity born from a lack of communication about sex and other sensitive topics. Make sure your daughter knows she can talk to you about sex. It’s better that she learns it from you than from a book or a website. Explain to her how certain things might make her feel aroused and what to do about it. Help her understand the dangers of following unknown links online. Let her know it’s okay if she has questions and that you would rather she ask you than go online for the answers. Remind her that sex is natural and her feelings are normal, but there is a proper time and place to express them. If the topic is taboo in your household, she won’t feel comfortable talking to you about how she’s feeling. And if she won’t talk, you can’t help.
· Monitor electronics. Many people find they turn to pornography late at night, and just because your daughter’s addiction may start with books, that’s no guarantee that’s where it will stay. Keep computers in open areas of the house. Restrict internet use to public areas of your home. You can also consider having all your children turn in their electronic devices before bed time. Have a designated time when electronic use ends, and make it a family-wide guideline. One more thing, don’t feel guilty when you quickly scan your daughter’s text messages when she turns in her phone for the night. It bothered me when I learned my own mother did this, but I see the wisdom in it now.
· Ask questions. Ask your daughter what she’s been reading, what she’s been doing in her free time, who she’s talking to. Don’t worry about sounding overbearing. It’s your job as her parent to ask these things. If she knows you’re going to ask her what she’s been doing, she will think twice before she does something she won’t want to talk about.
· Know what she knows. The internet is changing so rapidly that it can be hard to keep up. Do you know what fanfiction is? Chances are your daughter does, and you need to talk to her about it. Remain tech-savvy. Join every social media site your daughter has joined and follow or friend her. Every. Single. One. Ask her about her SnapChat friends. Don’t just check her social media profiles; look at the profiles of people she is friends with. Do they post inappropriate things?
Do you know how to check the internet history? If you don’t, now is the time to learn. And if you do, decide now that you will check it regularly. If you see anything that could be potentially dangerous, talk to your daughter about it. Explain your concern, and ask her to stop visiting that site. Make it clear that if you discover anything has been deleted from the history, there will be serious repercussions. The same goes for private or incognito browsing. Browsing this way prevents things from showing up in the browser history, so make sure you take notice of when your daughter is on the computer and ask her to stop browsing privately. This should carry the same consequences as deleting the history.
· Lead by example. When you create rules for your children like no computers in bedrooms, no phones at night, or no romance novels, you need to follow them too. If you don’t, you are only instilling curiosity. Your daughter will wonder why she can’t do those things but you can, and she might start doing them in secret, too. Don’t do anything you would not want to see your daughter doing, don’t read things you wouldn’t want your daughter to read, and don’t break rules you wouldn’t want your daughter to break. Make sure there is no reason for her to believe there is a double standard when it comes to reading material and internet activity.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our children will make mistakes. What do you do if you know your daughter has a pornography problem?
· Tell her. Just come out and say it. Don’t beat around the bush because she won’t come out and say it for you.
· Express your concern. Anger isn’t going to get you very far with your daughter, but concern will. Explain your genuine concern for her, and explain why you feel this concern.
· Offer help. It is so, so important that you offer help instead of judgment. She knows what she did was wrong. What she doesn’t know is how to stop. This is where you come in. Discuss what triggers her pornography use. Does she go to it when she’s stressed? Tired? Lonely? Bored? What can you do to help her not feel those things? What can she do instead? Offer help with creating boundaries. Maybe she was allowed to have her phone or computer in her room. Perhaps changing that rule will limit her ability to access the pornography. Encourage her to speak with someone who is trained in how to overcome pornography addictions. Offer to go with her if she’s too scared to go alone.
· Work together. This struggle is hers, but you can join her on her journey to recovery. Offer to research the effects of pornography with her. Suggest coming up with a plan with her to help her overcome her addiction. Make sure she knows you are fighting with her and for her, not against her.
It’s important to celebrate your daughter’s victories with her, but never ever let your guard down. Recovery from any addiction is a life-long progress, and once your daughter gets into pornography, she will have to battle every day of her life to stay clean. Be watchful, encouraging, and always be available to provide support when she is struggling.