The Haven
Published in

The Haven

Parenting and The Porno

One evening before bed, while skimming through Real Simple, the premier organizational magazine, I came across a rather interesting article about kids and technology. The piece started out with a story about a kid who had broken his iPod and was all but inconsolable, so his doting mother hatched a plan to surprise him for his upcoming birthday by gifting him an iPhone. But, when the big day rolled around and the kid opened his gift, he looked over at his mom, offered up a paltry “Thanks”, and then walked up the stairs to his bedroom, leaving his new phone sitting next to a mountain of crumpled paper. Poor mom, perplexed and dismayed, was left sitting there wondering what the hell had happened to her thrilling, $750 moment.

Meanwhile, the kid was up in his room quietly freaking out, trying to figure out what he was going to do. After a few minutes, he finally got the courage to come downstairs and tell his mom the big secret he’d been keeping from her and everyone else.

Apparently this child had been watching porn on his precious iPod for lord knows how long, and upon realizing he had a problem on his hands, smashed or drowned it, and then painted the whole thing as an accident. Then Mom, unbeknownst to her, gifts the little addict with an even more powerful direct line to his drug of choice — shaved crotches and money shots. He was twelve years old. TWELVE! First of all, I’m not sure what size iPod this child had, but I’m imagining him watching gang bang videos on a postage stamp while shoveling pizza rolls in his face. And second, HE WAS TWELVE!

The best I had to work with at that age were my uncles back issues of Playboy, which were light years better than the little paper tampon diagram I would have otherwise been relegated to for a picture of someones junk. Back then porn wasn’t like some 24-hour carnal convenience store, conveniently located in your back pants pocket. If you were lucky, you might be able to get your hands on some fairly innocuous smut filled with naked, static images of people acting like they were either going to have sex with someone soon, or make a collect call on a little pink rotary phone while reading Volume E of the encyclopedia. If not, you’d have to get creative. But not anymore. Kids now have only to challenge their imaginations to come up with the dirtiest, most licentious key words they can conjure, and in a matter of milliseconds, they’ve gained entry to an online sexual commons, the likes of which my pubescent eyes could never have dreamed.

At this point in the article, Mom was faced with the impossibly sticky task of helping her depraved little spooge nozzle untether himself from the tangles of porno addiction. And all of a sudden it dawned on me — my own 14-year old kid was absolutely watching porn on his phone. How the hell had I not thought of this before? And since when did Real Simple tackle subjects like pornography? I came to them for organizational inspiration, not prurient exposes. It’s true that I never actually organized anything, but I enjoy pictures of tidied drawers, and essays on how cleaning up changes lives. I’m also sickly enmeshed with the shame and guilt of knowing, but not quite accepting, that I’ll never, not ever, be the kind of person who owns only three skirts, two white blouses, and one pair of really expensive, sensible shoes that go with everything, all hanging in a perfectly organized closet system. So it’s kind of my porn.

From there, the piece went on to give the reader — totally panic-stricken, side-lined suburban mothers — pointers on how to get their little jerk-off princes to stop beating it to raunchy footage on their devices. The first tip, really the only somewhat plausible tactic, involved contacting your internet service provider to get access to a listing of all the websites the people in your home had accessed over a certain period of time. The mere thought of this sounded wildly dangerous. Not for me necessarily, but for the other women reading the article. The women at risk of stumbling across, not just the many occurrences of Pornhub popping up on the list at the hands of their kids, but also maybe even more egregious sites, visited by their partners. Although I’m not sure how you would discern who was accessing which sites? I obviously didn’t have all the details nailed down, and finishing the article to get more info seemed an impossibility now that I knew what I definitely knew. Either way, the whole thing sounded like a rather slippery slope, one which had the potential to spark an untold number of awkward conversations all over America that issue.

As I sat there trying to rationalize how I might avoid calling the internet people, which seemed like kind of a pain in the ass, I ultimately decided it was probably totally unnecessary, and I would instead just try and bluff my way into getting my child to confess. So that’s what I did.

He was in the spare bedroom playing Shoot, Maim, or Disembowel Everyone Within a Foot Radius on the Xbox, when I walked over, stood in the doorway, and announced nonchalantly, “So, we’re gonna have a new rule going forward.”

He didn’t look up.

“Yeah? he said, visibly irritated by my presence.

“Yeah. So, I called Cox, our internet provider, and had them give me a list of all of the websites everyone in the house has visited in the last six months.”

That’s right you little shit. I got you cornered. Although in all honestly, I had nothing else planned. I didn’t have a rule. I had a gut feeling and that was it. This HAD TO STOP. Or slow down. I didn’t know exactly what was realistic, but something had to happen. And I wasn’t trying to be a killjoy. I’m all for orgasms. But there were loads of good reasons why he shouldn’t have access to a steady 24/7 flow of animated material to induce them. I mean, he’s not fucking Dionysus.

I don’t think we truly understand the effects of having wildly impressionable, dumb shit kids, watch paid actors screw on camera. Hell, I’m not even sure what effect this has on adults. I’m sure it’s not totally healthy for people whose brains haven’t even fully developed yet. And I’m not saying I’ve never watched free internet porn. Free being the somehow invisible line between total fucking debauchery and just regular debauchery. I have watched it, and feel both wildly lucky that we don’t all have to brave video store back rooms anymore, although I never had to do that, and also deeply conflicted by my viewing choices. I’ll get into that another time. But maybe most importantly, I’ve had real-life sex. The kind that’s not choreographed, waxed and oiled, lit just so, and ends with everyone covered in Elmers glue.

I had real-life sex before I ever saw the scripted kind, and that meant something. I wasn’t left to compare some fantasy with an underperforming reality; awkwardly disappointed that my partner wasn’t packing nine inches of tawny, hairless perfection, which always held at attention until the director yelled cut, and twisted and cavorted in ways I’d seen only from yellow Play-Doh. I experienced awkward disappointment like most of us did; in the form of a deeply dispiriting first time that reeked of anxiety and regret, as is befitting of the occasion. I wasn’t preoccupied with my partner’s assumption that my vagina should be shaved within an inch of my life, or that I should definitely be game for double penetration on the first go. Before free porn on the internet, teenage sex was laced with guilt and low expectations, just like the Catholic Church intended. And I think it suited most of us just fine. You sort of just got it out of the way, knowing somehow less awful experiences awaited you down the line. But now, who knows the exponentially more complicated consequences these unattainable expectations of sex are having on our kids.

***********************

By that point, I had his full attention. I knew he’d deny any reason to fear my looking into his internet browsing history. That would be smart of him. I’d start there, too.

“OK?” He said, looking at me incredulously.

“Right. Well, I know what sites you’ve been to. I know you’ve been watching porn on your phone, and so from now on, everyone’s phones will charge in the hall at night. Nobody’s gonna be taking their phones into their bedrooms with them anymore.”

His face took on a look of tempered panic. He was ensnared, but playing it off. I wondered if he caught on to the inclusivity of my new rule. I hadn’t said just he wouldn’t be aloud to have his phone in his room at night. The rule, as it tumbled out of my mouth without much forethought, implied that no-one would.

I walked over to the couch and sat down next to him.

“Look, it’s not that bad. I get it. You’re totally normal and you’re not in trouble. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to sit around all night watching random actors have sex with each other.” He glanced up, a look of puzzled dismay stained his face.

“I’m not watching that, Mom!”

This kid. He always stuck to a lie. I had to give it to him, he wasn’t a quitter.

“Honestly, I understand.” And because I had no real plan but to improvise and see where it took me, I decided to hit him with some truth.

“We’ll all just put our phones in the hall at night and it’ll be fine. I’m telling you, it’s really helped me get a handle on my own viewing.”

“Wait!” His glance whipping around to meet mine. “You watch it too!”

And just like that I had him. And he had me. I stood up and shot him a smile that said,

“Yes, Child — you’re not the only anxious, conflicted little freak in this house. We’re all a little freaky and curious and caught.

Even though I wanted to get him by the balls — to unearth this secret and to be right and to catch him and stop him and save him — I also knew that wasn’t fair. The curiosity that swirls around inside of him, swirls around inside of me, too. And inside of you and them and all of us. I didn’t want to hang him out to dry, alone and dripping. I wanted to pat him dry gently, with my own sloppy humanity.

Our children are living breathing microcosmic representations of everything that is both absolutely divine, and just plain depraved about us, and the great big world around us. When Dad or Grandpa or Cousin Brandi wanna jerk-off in the upstairs home office to free videos on the internet of Spring-Breakers Gone Wild, the XXX Edition, we need to be prepared for the reality that convenience also offers little Timmy downstairs in his car-shaped bed. And if we’re not, and we find ourselves shocked and surprised like I was, that little Timmy might have the same carnal desires as the rest of us, we might also decide that to chide only our children for their banal impulses, and for executing on the environments we’ve created for them, would be to ask more of them than we do of ourselves. And maybe that’s not the kind of reality we want to face, and maybe we can never go back to any kind of real simple ever again. I don’t know.

That night, I think ours was one of the less volatile conversations about porn to have gone down in our broken little country. That night we were just two human people sitting in a converted garage in the dark, fumbling around with something neither of us really understood. Two honest little liars. Just kind of winging it, as you do.

I’m sure he still finds time to work in the occasional late afternoon flick when I’m away at work, and I guess maybe more than controlling his every move, I just wanted him to be aware, and to know that I was aware, and that he wasn’t alone. To know that watching porn didn’t make him bad, but it didn’t mean it was good for him either. After all, curiosity is normal. Control is an illusion. All-access porn for kids cuts down on otherwise important exploration of one’s own industriousness. And all phones go in the motherfucking hall before bed.

Good Night.

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