I am divorced, and my ex-wife and I have a 12-year-old son who splits his time between our two homes. He is curious about girls and has lots of questions. His mother and I have very different approaches to helping him get answers.
His mother wants him to explore any and all questions about girls and sex. Her husband has pornographic magazines my son can look at with her permission.
On the other hand, I don’t want him to get involved with porn, dating or anything like that right now, as he’s too young. So, our son is caught in the middle of this. She says “yes” and I say “no,” and he doesn’t know what to do.
I don’t know what to tell him, as she can undo everything I say. He’s stuck trying to please both parents. Any tips?
Your ex-wife might have a sincere desire to answer all of your son’s questions about girls and sex; however, her methods are illegal and could land her and your son’s stepfather in prison.
There are federal laws that protect children from being exposed to obscene material. I recommend you contact an attorney and get law enforcement involved immediately to protect your son (you can review the law here).
Even though pornography is easily accessible to any child on the Internet, it’s a crime for an adult to knowingly expose a minor to sexually explicit material. It’s a form of sexual abuse.
You hopefully wouldn’t think twice about your son’s safety if his stepfather were exposing himself to your son. Introducing sexually explicit material to a minor robs them of the chance to learn about their own sexuality and the sexuality of others in the future when they’re developmentally mature enough to process it.
Chances are, this may change the custody arrangement, depending on how the investigation proceeds. His mother and her husband need to know that what they are doing is harming this boy and it needs to stop immediately.
Plus, pornography is the worst kind of sexual educator. It’s violent, abusive, exploitative and misogynistic. It distorts what true love looks like in a committed relationship. It warps our view of men, women and bodies. There is nothing in pornography that will teach your son (or any person, for that matter) about healthy sexuality and relationships.
Let your son know that what they’ve done to him is wrong, and tell him you’re sorry you didn’t stop it sooner. Reassure him that this is not his fault. Even though he may have been aroused by it physically and emotionally, he needs to understand that he’s not bad for seeing these things.
He will blame himself, especially if there are serious consequences for his mom and stepfather. Make sure your son understands that he’s not to blame for any of this and he’s not bad for wanting to look at it. His curiosity is normal and healthy. He simply needs to know that this isn’t OK, and he was never supposed to see those images.
You can begin re-educating him on healthy sexuality and giving him age-appropriate answers to his questions. In fact, it would be helpful for you to invite him to ask you questions about what he’s seen so you can give him accurate information and help him understand that much of what he saw was acting, exaggerated, distorted and not realistic.
Wendy Maltz has free charts on her website that explain the hazards of pornography and compare the differences between healthy sex and porn-related sex. These are excellent resources to begin using to help your son learn what’s healthy and unhealthy.
Additionally, he can sign up for the free online Fortify program from Fight the New Drug to begin learning what’s happened to him and how he can undo the effects it’s having on his brain and emotions.
You not only have a legal responsibility to protect your son from adults exposing him to pornography but also a responsibility to help him unlearn and undo the effects of the unwanted exposure he’s experienced. Educate yourself and begin a lifetime of conversations and support with your son to help him prepare for healthy relationships.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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