Understanding How Sexually Explicit Material Affects Children: How to Prevent and React to Exposure

It is confusing and frightening for a child to be subjected to sexual engagements they cannot yet understand. Children can become confused when they experience autonomic sexual arousal while viewing sexually explicit material. Children may believe they enjoy what they have seen due to their bodies’ biological response despite their brain not yet grasping what occurred. Repeated and ongoing exposure can cause children to become desensitized to sexually explicit material resulting in additional complications such as high-risk sexual engagements or acting out sexualized behaviors with peers. Parents can prohibit pornography and other sexually explicit material from being their child’s primary source of sexual education by taking the correct courses of action. Strategies for parents include learning about the impact of sexually explicit material, monitoring exposure,  and coviewing media with their children to help facilitate how messages are interpreted.


Preventing and reacting to exposure:

  • First, parents must prepare and educate themselves to be available to discus sexually explicit material. Parents should be willing to provide accurate information and insight to children about healthy and appropriate sexual behavior.  
  • Sexually explicit material should not be accessible to children. If an adult in the home views sexually explicit material, take precautions to ensure that children are unable to access the material. Keep material locked up when not in use, use passwords, set restrictions on web browsers, and monitor device use.
  • Most parents have heard of “the talk”. I encourage parents to have a series of discussions as opposed to one big talk.
  • Take advantage of life’s teachable moments to guide a child’s understanding and behaviors. The hyper-sexualized world we live in provides ample opportunity to have discussions with children as unintentional exposure occurs. Movies, television programs, commercials, video games, songs, and music videos provide an opportunity for parents to discuss healthy sexuality, beliefs and values.
  • Just as a parent might discuss peer pressure or drugs with their children, parents would be wise to engage in proactive and preventative conversations about the risks of sexually explicit material and hyper-sexualized media. Don’t allow your child to consume sexually explicit material without questioning or analyzing it.
  • Understand children are surrounded by a culture promoting hyper-sexuality and children are often pressured to behave accordingly. Parents can discuss with their children the dangers of taking pictures of themselves and disseminating said photos through social media. Parents can assuage children from the pressures or influences to take sexually explicit images or engage in risky sexual behaviors.
  • Parents can encourage their children to make responsible decisions and discuss the consequences of posting sexual images on social media or sending to peers. Set limits with your child to limit exposure and opportunity until they are ready to make responsible decisions.

Parents can help children navigate this hyper-sexualized world by following the guidelines above with thorough education and constant open communication.


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