Sex and the Dictionary
Did you ever look up words in the dictionary that were about sex? I did. I remember not fully understanding what a condom was when I was about ten. I have no idea where I'd heard it but most likely at school somewhere. So my solution was obvious; The Oxford English Dictionary, fount of all knowledge. I was in a lesson when I searched for 'condom'. I must have misheard the word and was becoming increasingly annoyed. I'd generally been pretty good with a dictionary.
Anyway, I got there in the end. I've looked this up again today and see that condom means
a thin rubber tube that a man wears over his penis during sex to stop a woman from becoming pregnant or to protect against disease.
There are all manner of problems with that definition but as a ten year old I would have gone with it, been confused, but thought I sort of understood.
If I were a ten year old today I doubt a hard copy of the dictionary is something I'd use much. I have no idea where the one we have at home actually is and if I don't know, my kids certainly don't. But I would most likely have had my own tablet or use of another in the home. And I'd definitely have a friend I spent time with who had one. I imagine now using Google or any other search engine to look up 'comdom' and most likely engaging Google images so I could get a better Idea of what this strange sounding 'tube' actually looked like.
I imagine I would then see images that made me feel a bit funny and uncomfortable. I imagine I would come across links that took me to videos and pictures that left me quite troubled. I imagine being too embarrassed to tell my parents. If I couldn't ask them what a condom was (I couldn't) I definitely couldn't tell them about the pictures I had viewed online.
Our kids are going to look these things up because they are curious and want to learn. The family settings aren't that hard for some children to navigate and when they are, children are keen and interested in life and want to know about things. Everything. So they are quite likely to find a friend who doesn't have those settings.
So how do we stop our children seeing pornography, indecent images, unhealthy material and generally things that just make them feel a bit funny?
To be honest, I don't have all the answers. But what I do know is that the conversations you're putting off until your child is 12 or 13 should probably happen sooner. A child needs to know that there are things on the internet that aren't good for them to see but that are pretty interesting. Do your best to explain what sex is, so an inquisitive 9 or 10 year old doesn't have to Google new words they see or hear. Start conversations when they're little about the man on the aftershave advert and if he does look like that or need to look like that to have friends. Discuss the woman on Hollyoaks or the films they watch with the perfect breasts and gorgeous face. Why does she want to look like that? What does it mean for a woman who doesn't look like that?
I'm pretty neutral about porn but what I do know is that we have clients who have watched it since they were at primary school. That it has become so ingrained in their identity that moving away from it can be difficult and at times it has contributed to illegal behaviours online. We have clients who can only masturbate if they have a screen in front of them or are so used to an orgasm being a solo event that that level of intimacy with a partner is quite simply uncomfortable and at times a bit frightening.
So please, try to be the parent a child can go to when the idea of a tube over a penis doesn't seem to make much sense. Because if they can ask about that, they can probably ask about most things. And if you can be the one to start the conversation, well, that's pretty good going.