Ask An Expert / Sexuality

I found porn on my 11-year-old’s phone. Should I talk to him?

It might be an awkward conversation, but you shouldn't put it off

Alan Ravitz, MD, MS

I found porn on my 11-year-old son's iPhone. His dad and I are divorced and we have not had "the sex talk" with him at all yet. My question is, do I talk to my son about what I found? He is sensitive and in counseling since our recent divorce, and we are working on me being able to talk to him without him shutting down or crying. So I don't want to embarrass him. However, with this likely being his only "educator," I feel he needs to know that porn is not a real representation of sex. Please help.

The short answer is yes, talk to your son about the pornography. It might be an awkward conversation, but you don’t want him to have to hide this stuff away or be ashamed of his curiosity. And you don’t want him to be so guilty he doesn’t develop a healthy sexual identity. He’s moving into an age when that is very important.

Parents need to be as matter of fact as possible when talking about sex and sexuality with children. You want to be clear that this type of curiosity is natural and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. And the fact is that kids are going to be exposed to this — because of the ubiquity of sex on the Internet everyone is.

So it is crucial that you address this issue in a non-judgmental way. You can even utilize a little bit of humor. He’s “busted,” but the “crime” is just being normal. You just need him to know how fake and distorted pornography is, and if he’s looking at it that means it’s time to think about what he really can expect, and hope for, from a sexual relationship as he gets older. And you should offer to answer any question, however embarrassing.

I also understand your ambivalence about bringing this up with a sensitive child you are having trouble communicating with, but if you are calm and matter-of-fact at least some information will get through, which is a start. You could say: “I see that you have been looking at some pornography. I’m not upset. I know you may not want to hear it, but I really have to share some facts with you.”

In all honesty, it would be best if you and your husband could address this issue together, but if you can’t, someone has to step up.